Thomas Dolby's Passion for Music and Technology Shines at Design West 2012 Keynote

I always expect to be inspired when attending a Keynote address at an industry trade show, but never to be entertained. Thomas Dolby's keynote accomplished both. I'm not a musician myself, so the idea of listening to a musician/technologist speak for an hour made me wonder if I should attend the keynote at all. I'm very glad I did.

If you're not familiar with Thomas Dolby, you might make the same mistake I did when I first saw him listed on the Design West web site. I thought he was affiliated in some way with Dolby Laboratories. He's not, although he said that he's had some business dealings with them in the past. For Thomas Dolby Robertson, "Dolby" is just a nickname.

Dolby the musician got involved with technology through his forays into electronic music. But the way he began developing this new found passion impressed me. When he first got the idea to explore this area, he built his own electronic equipment. Then later when he needed more horsepower to develop his ideas, he bought early synthesizers from Moog and Roland.

Regarding the entertainment aspect of the Keynote, Dolby actually performed three of his songs: Europa and the Pirate Twins, She Blinded Me with Science and HyperActive (all of which you can find on YouTube, of course). Not only did he sing and play the music onstage, but he also showed how he put the elements of the song together, which was quite a treat to see. I had never heard any of these songs before, but thoroughly enjoyed listening to them.

His quest to integrate music and technology led his company to develop an audio engine called Beatnik, which he referred to as Sound Blaster in software. In the 1990’s, he convinced Netscape to use Beatnik an add-on to the Netscape browser, and then later convinced Nokia to use it in its phones. By 2005, he said that he had licensed Beatnik to all of the phone manufacturers. Finally, in 2008 he licensed the Beatnik Audio Engine IP to chip manufacturers.

Not content with just the music end of the business, Dolby got into multi-player video games with his futuristic "A Map of the Floating City." He said that the game, which takes place after global warming has forced everyone on land to take up residence on the ocean, had 11,000 players at one point. Players would build ships from those discarded on land while trading ship items and working collaboratively to create the floating cities.

Dolby admits that he has gotten out of the technology end of the business to concentrate on his music now, but listening to his journey made me feel that almost anything is possible when you combine technology with your passion and talent. He joked about the demographic of the audience being the same as the one that might attend an oldies concert, but I saw enough young men and women in attendance who might be inspired to use their own creativity and talent to develop technical innovations in the future.

Newsletter Signup

Please or Register to post comments.

What's Joe Desposito's Blog?

Blogs by Electronic Design's Editor-in-Chief


Joe Desposito

Joe Desposito has held the position of editor-in-chief of Electronic Design since July, 2007. He first joined the publication in 1998 as a technology editor covering test and measurement but quickly...
Commentaries and Blogs
Guest Blogs
Nov 11, 2014

How to Outsource Your Project to Failure 4

This article will address failure to carefully vet a potential manufacturing or “turnkey” partner and/or failure to transfer sufficient information and requirements to such a partner, a very common problem I have seen again and again with my clients over the years, and have been the shoulder cried upon by several relatives and clients in the past....More
Nov 11, 2014

Transition from the Academe to the Industry Unraveled 1

There have been many arguments here and there about how short-comings of universities and colleges yield engineers with skill sets that do not cater to the demands of the industry. There have been many arguments here and there about an imminent shortage of engineers lacking knowledge in the sciences. There have been many arguments here and there about how the experience and know-how of engineers in the industry may vanish due to the fact that they can’t be passed on because the academic curriculum deviates from it....More
Nov 11, 2014

Small Beginnings 5

About 10 years ago I received a phone call from an acquaintance. He had found a new opportunity selling some sort of investments and he wanted to share it with me in case I was interested. Ken had done fairly well for many years as a contract software developer primarily in the financial services sector. His specialty was writing RPG code. (RPG is often referred to as a write only language.) But he was seeing the handwriting on the wall as the industry moved on to other methods, and saw himself becoming a fossil....More

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×