Music / Thomas Dolby

The man who never dreams, goes slowly mad.

Thomas Dolby is an award-winning English musician known for his steampunk style, his eclectic musical style, and his ability with electronic instruments. And his goggles.

Thomas Dolby (born Thomas Morgan Robertson; 14 October 1958) is an English musician and producer. Best known for his 1982 hit "She Blinded Me with Science", and 1984 single "Hyperactive!", he has also worked extensively in production and as a session musician. Robertson was born in London, England, contrary to information in early 1980s press releases that reported his birthplace as Cairo, Egypt. His father, Martin Robertson, was an internationally distinguished professor of classical Greek art and archeology at the University of London and Oxford University, and in his youth Thomas lived or worked in France, Italy and Greece. He attended Abingdon School in 1975-76, completing his A Levels whilst there. He later married actress Kathleen Beller in 1988; the couple have three children together.

Dolby is member #00001 of the current incarnation of the Flat Earth Society, a pseudoscientific group. His best known song came from the album "The Golden Age of Wireless" (1982), frequently re-released and revision with varying tracks available - it was released five times, in fact! He has produced a variety of albums since then, along with video games based on his steampunk settings.

Thomas Dolby has also worked as a producer and a soundtrack composer for both films and video games, most notably "The Gate To The Mind's Eye", the third installment of the CGI collection, the Mind's Eye (series). Dolby also wrote the songs for the 1986 George Lucas film Howard the Duck and chose the members of the film's fictional band, Cherry Bomb. Dolby wrote and produced three tracks for the 1992 soundtrack of the animated movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest. He also created the score for the 1993 Sega CD interactive movie "Double Switch". Additionally, the song "Hyperactive!" is featured in the 2002 PlayStation 2 videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as part of the New Wave radio station Wave 103.

In 1990 Dolby played the role of the villain Stanley in the movie Rockula as well as contributing the songs "Stanely's Death Park" and "Budapest by Blimp". In 1993, Dolby successfully established the Headspace company. Headspace developed a new downloadable file format designed specifically for Internet usage called Rich Music Format with the RMF file extension. It had the advantage of small file size like MIDI but allowed recorded sampled sounds to be included at a higher bitrate for better overall reproduction. RMF music files could be played in a browser using the free Beatnik Player plug-in. Later versions of RMF permitted artists to place an encrypted watermark in their files that were supposed to prevent unauthorized duplication. In 1999, Headspace, Inc. was renamed Beatnik, Inc., and now specializes in software synthesizers for mobile phones, which it has licensed to mobile phone manufacturers including Nokia.

While still remaining on the company board, Dolby stepped down from his position as CEO of Beatnik Inc. to pursue other technologically innovative interests, such as founding Retro Ringtones LLC in 2002, which produces the Retro Folio ringtone asset management software suite for companies involved in the mobile phone ringtone business. At the second annual Mobile Music Awards, Miami, Florida, in 2004 Retro Folio won "Best of Show" and "Best New Technology" awards.

Dolby's musical talents have also been put to use creating hundreds of digital polyphonic ringtones now found on mobile phones everywhere (including the polyphonic version of the infamous Nokia signature theme). He is often a major speaker at technology conferences such as Comdex, Websphere, and Nokia. Starting in 2013, he became the Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University.

This musician provides examples of:

  • Album Title Drop: "All I want is the keys to your Ferrari / because Aliens Ate My Buick"
  • Badass: In 1990, he played the Schoolmaster in Roger Waters: The Wall Live in Berlin 1990. His performance in "The Trial" involved singing his lines while suspended on kirby wires in a Teacher costume with cartoonishly long arms and legs. And he pulled it off quite marvelously.
  • Bilingual Bonus/Critical Research Failure: The latter of these two tropes is invoked in "Airhead" - after the line, "Quod Erat Demonstrandum, baby", a voice can be heard saying, "Oh! You speak French!", ignoring the fact that the statement is Latin.
  • Car Song: Subverted (or perverted) by "The Keys To Her Ferrari".
  • The Ditz: The subject of "Airhead". While Dolby is impressed with her looks, he still can't deny that she's not the brightest.
  • Fantastic Drug: The titular "cube" in "May The Cube Be With You".
  • Genre Roulette: Dolby has done songs in many different genres. His recent album Map Of The Floating City is possibly the best example of it:
    • Nothing New Under The Sun (Rock/Pop)
    • Spice Train (Dubstep / Indian Music)
    • Evil Twin Brother (Club music with low key verses)
    • A Jealous Thing Called Love (Latin music)
    • Road To Reno (Upbeat folk rock with soul horns and guitar echo)
    • Toadlickers (Country rock)
    • 17 Hills (Country ballad)
    • Love Is A Loaded Pistol (Piano and string ballad)
    • Oceanea (Autotune and synth ballad)
    • Simone (Latin ballad)
    • To The Lifeboats (Ballad with rock mid section)
  • Dumb Blonde: Played with in one of the lines of "Airhead" - people only think the girl in the song's subject is a dumb blonde, "But they don't know she dyes her hair".
  • Mood Whiplash: Deliberately done on The Flat Earth, where the smooth and jazzy I Scare Myself is followed by the loud and raucous Hyperactive!. This is made more jarring by the fact that Hyperactive! begins with two scarechords.
  • New Wave: Dolby's early work falls within this category due to the period and some of his more pop tunes.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • Flying North is about Dolby's real fear of flying.
    • Cloudburst At Shingle Street is about a real beach Dolby used to go to on the East Anglian coast, where the phenomenon of cloudbursts would occur.
    • One Of Our Submarines is about an uncle of Dolby's who went missing in his submarine during World War II.
    • Hyperactive! apparently is partly based on Dolby's life.
    • Simone is about a male to female transexual. A short time after he recorded the song (but before he released it) his daughter Harper announced that she wanted a sex change. The song carries special poignancy for him now.
  • Scare Chord: "Hyperactive" opens with two of these. See the above Mood Whiplash example.
  • Sequel Song: "Eastern Bloc" is a sequel to "Europa and the Pirate Twins".
  • Steampunk: Dolby's sense of style usually includes goggles, whimsy, antique brass items and truly classic album covers
  • Surreal Music Video: Most of them, though She Blinded Me With Science is particularly known for it.
  • Synth Pop: Most of Dolby's songs are composed on synthesizer, and many of his live performances involve... well... him. And a lot of synths.
  • The '80s: The rerelease of his album The Golden Age of Wireless provided one of the fundamental hits of 1982, "She Blinded Me With Science"
  • Shown Their Work: Dolby is known for making his work available on Youtube, dissecting his song concepts, explaining how he arranged tracks, and showing how he used various gadgets. From his 2011 album, ''A Map of the Floating City'', he here explains the idea he wanted to play with for the track 'The Toad Lickers', then gets into all the technical bits
  • Train Song: "Spice Train"