(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, as a technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, and as the Music Director for the TED Conference. He is currently a Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University.Professional music career beginningsEarly in his career, Dolby played keyboards with Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club and is credited on their debut album. The instrumental track "WW9" in the album 'English Garden' is the first recorded example of Thomas' writing. He also wrote Lene Lovich's hit single "New Toy" and played keyboard as part of the backing band for her tour. Dolby played some synthesizer parts on the Thompson Twins album Set
and co-wrote "Magic's Wand" with Whodini, and played keyboards on one track ("Love") on Robyn Hitchcock's first solo album, 1981's Black Snake Diamond Role
. Around this time, he also formed a short-lived band called The Fallout Club.By far the most significant session relationship for Thomas in the early days was when he contributed the signature synthesizer sound on the track "Urgent" on Foreigner's 1981 album 4
. On the same album he played the atmospheric synthesizer intro to the mega-hit "Waiting for a Girl Like You". The fees from this work, including tour dates, bankrolled the studio time for the recording of the 1980s benchmark album The Golden Age of Wireless
from which his solo career began.Dolby also worked as session keyboard player on Def Leppard's 1983 Pyromania
album. Dolby appeared on Pyromania
using the alias Booker T. Boffin, as his affiliation to another record label restricted the use of his real name.
1985 Grammy Awards and Live Aid
In 1985, Dolby appeared at the Grammy Awards, which were televised, along with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Howard Jones. All four musicians were successful in the mid-1980s music scene, and they were also all keyboard and synthesizer experts. That same year, Dolby performed at the Live Aid concert in London as part of David Bowie's band.
Other live appearances
In a 1985 news clip about synthesized music Dolby was shown (along with the industrial musician, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame) with Trent's early band, The "Exotic Birds".He also appeared onstage playing keyboards with George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic during the band's lone appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1986.Dolby continued to perform live in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including an appearance supporting Depeche Mode at their June 18, 1988 Pasadena Rose Bowl concert which was released as the 101 concert album and movie.In 1990 he appeared in Roger Waters' charity performance of Pink Floyd's The Wall
album in Berlin. Dolby, in costume as the Teacher played a keyboard solo during "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" (sung by Cyndi Lauper) and then reprised the role for the closing "The Trial" sequence.He appeared on-stage with the reunited Soft Boys in San Francisco on April 7, 2001 and played synthesizer on "You'll Have To Go Sideways", "Evil Guy" and Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine". "Evil Guy", from that evening's sound-check, wound up on the Soft Boys' 2002 EP Side Three
. It was not the first time Dolby and members of the Soft Boys appeared on record together. Dolby had played keyboards on former Soft Boys member Robyn Hitchcock's first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role
. Meanwhile Hitchcock appeared on Dolby's The Flat Earth
, performing the role of Keith on "White City". Soft Boys bassist Matthew Seligman recorded and toured with Dolby in the 1980s, including the Live Aid performance.Dolby also performed a portion of "The Sole Inhabitant" show for the Bob Moog Foundation Moogfest 2007 in New York City.In 2012, Dolby headlined the first "Steamstock" outdoor steampunk music festival in Richmond, California, alongside steampunk favourites Abney Park, Vernian Process, Lee Presson and the Nails and others. Dolby is considered one of the early pioneers of retro-futurist (i.e. steampunk and dieselpunk) music. Amanda Palmer was once quoted as saying, "Thomas Dolby is to Steampunk what Iggy Pop was to Punk!"
Other production credits
In 1985, Dolby was credited as co-producer on Joni Mitchell's album Dog Eat Dog
. He was credited as producer for Prefab Sprout's albums Steve McQueen
, From Langley Park to Memphis
, and Jordan: The Comeback
. He also played keyboard on George Clinton's 1985 album, Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends
.Scores for Film and Video GamesThomas Dolby has also worked as 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 1992 Dolby co-created and performed "The Mirror Song" with Robin Williams and Joan Cusack for Toys
alongside Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley.In 1995, Dolby composed the score to the cult video game The Dark Eye
.In 2009, Dolby's song "One Of Our Submarines" appeared in the horror film The House of the Devil, but not on the official soundtrack release.
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".
The Invisible Lighthouse
In 2012, Dolby learned of the decommissioning of the Orfordness Lighthouse near his Suffolk home, and proceeded to film a documentary, The Invisible Lighthouse
, to chronicle the shutdown of the lighthouse as well as his childhood growing up in the area. Dolby took this film on the road through the US and UK in the Fall of 2013, accompanying the film with live music, narration, and sound effects by Blake Leyh. The film won the DIY Film Festival award for Best Picture Headspace and BeatnikIn 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 RetroFolio 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 RetroFolio 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.
Since 2001 Dolby has acted as Musical Director of The TED Conference, an annual event held first in Monterey, California, and subsequently in Long Beach, California that attracts some of the world's foremost thinkers, inventors, and speakers. In this capacity he provides live musical introductions to sessions, sometimes with an eclectic TED House Band, as well as helping secure guest musicians and entertainers for the event.In March 2012, Dolby spoke at the DESIGN West conference in San Jose, California at the McEnery Convention Center, produced by UBM Electronics.
In March 2014, Dolby was named Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University.
In July 1998, Thomas received a "Lifetime Achievement in Internet Music" award from Yahoo! Internet Life
.In 2012 he performed at Moogfest and was the recipient of The Moog Innovation Award, which celebrates "pioneering artists whose genre-defying work exemplifies the bold, innovative spirit of Bob Moog".