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Thomas Dolby – The Road to MIDI Hell is Paved with Good Inventions

Thomas Dolby will discuss some of the technologies and keyboards he has used during his 35 years in the music business. Giant monophonic synths that wouldn’t stay in tune; valve limiters that took 20 minutes to warm up; transformational innovations like the Fairlight CMI, cost-smashing revelations like ProTools and the MacBook Pro, and the seemingly limitless possibilities of a new app like Omnisphere. He concludes that he was happiest back in the days when he had to pingpong between tracks on a stereo Teac reel-to-reel, using a disco lighting switcher to play the drums.

Perhaps best known for blinding us with science, Thomas Dolby has always blurred the lines between composition and invention. As a London teenager during the early days of electronic music, Tom Robertson was fascinated with the convergence of music and technology. His experiments with an assortment of keyboards, synthesizers and cassette players led his friends to dub him “Dolby.”

That same fascination later drove him to become an electronic musician and multimedia artist whose groundbreaking work fused music with computer technology and video. Two decades, several film scores, five Grammy nominations and countless live-layered sound loops later, it’s clear Dolby’s innovations have changed the sound of popular music. He has performed with artists such as David Bowie (at Live Aid in 1985) and Roger Waters (The Wall in Berlin, 1990), and produced artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, George Clinton, and Whodini.

In the 1990s, Dolby re-created himself as a digital-musical entrepreneur, as CEO of his Silicon Valley tech startup Beatnik Inc, which developed the audio layer of Java and went on to program the polyphonic ringtone software embedded in more than two billion cell phones. Now back to touring and recording (after a 15-year hiatus), he’s using seriously retro technology — ’40s-era oscilloscopes and Royal Navy field-test equipment — to control his modern synthesizers, in shows that are at once nostalgic and cutting edge. And he recently completed a 12-year tenure as TED’s Music Director, leading the eclectic characters of the TED House Band and booking as its musical diversions acts that included Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox, Jamie Cullum and DJ Spooky.

Thomas recently released his first new music in 20 years in the form of the critically acclaimed album ‘A Map Of The Floating City’, accompanied by a multi-user online game, a solo world tour, and a self-made documentary film entitled ‘The Invisible Lighthouse.’ He now lives on the UK’s East Anglian coast and does his work in a studio converted from a 1930s ship’s lifeboat powered entirely by solar panels and a wind turbine. Read more about Thomas Dolby.

Presented by Northeastern Center for the Arts and Music.