Thomas Dolby: The Speed Of Sound Review

The Speed of Sound is a memoir from the iconic and pioneering Thomas Dolby. We turn the pages for an intimate look at his unbelievable life…

the speed of sound

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Subtitled ‘Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology’, this book initially looks like it has our magazine philosophy at its core. But if you think it’s a guide to doing that, then think again. Instead, it’s a memoir by the great Thomas Dolby and it’s as crazy, fun and as much of a rollercoaster ride as you might expect, if you have any knowledge of the man and his music.

Dolby was at the forefront of bringing technology and the synth to the masses in the very early 80s and later, he bought a different kind of technology to the masses by way of the mobile-phone ring tone. And those are just the bookends – there’s a huge dollop of life in the middle, too.

He might have scored a Top 5 hit Stateside with She Blinded me With Science, but we like him better for his brooding synth epic Windpower and the much darker and melancholic Screen Kiss. Whatever side of Dolby you like, you’ll discover another side to the man in this book.

He takes us through a period that goes from his early work in a shop in the 70s through to the 2000s and covers literally everything you can imagine. There’s dramatic prose in every chapter, written almost like an adventure rather than autobiography.

And no wonder: Dolby gets into different scrapes with different big names on every page, emailing Michael Jackson songs from the arse end of nowhere on one, playing synths with Bowie the next.
We get everything: the story behind the early music success, the record production, the film scoring, right through to how he ended up having software used on half the world’s mobile phones.

There’s even a passage about how a Morris Minor he owned ended up being used for sound effects on Skywalker Ranch. Yes, you really did read that. And as you plough through the book in one sitting – because passages like that really do keep you hooked – you realise that perhaps it is a guide to music and technology after all. Dolby has a habit of prodding the unusual at every step, often with a technology angle that no-one has considered.

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The Speed Of Sound is extraordinary, and full of tech at every turn. There’s a Hollywood film in here somewhere. Or at the very least a magazine…

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