Thomas Dolby has spent his career at the intersection of music and technology. He was an early star on MTV, then moved to Silicon Valley, then went back on the road with his album, "A Map of the Floating City."

Why you should listen

Perhaps best known for blinding us with science, Thomas Dolby has always blurred the lines between composition and invention. As a London teenager, 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.

In the 1990s, Dolby re-created himself as a digital-musical entrepreneur, founding Beatnik, which developed the polyphonic ringtone software used in more than half a billion cell phones. From 2001 to 2012, Dolby served as TED's Music Director, programming great music for the TED stage, assembling a wide variety of house bands and collaborations to play between speakers. At TED2010, backed by the string quarter Ethel, he premiered the song "Love Is a Loaded Pistol," from his sweeping, A Map of the Floating City. The album marked his return to recording and touring after a 15-year hiatus, and used seriously retro technology -- '40s-era oscilloscopes and Royal Navy field-test equipment -- to control modern synthesizers, in shows at once nostalgic and cutting edge.

In 2014, Dolby took on a new name: professor. He was named the Homewood Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University, teaching the course "Sound on Film."

What others say

“Dolby enjoys the enviable position of not having to make music for a living, and that allows him to give serious consideration to what's important to him about being a pop artist.” — San Francisco Chronicle

Thomas Dolby’s TED talks

More news and ideas from Thomas Dolby


TED News in Brief: Olafur Eliasson puts sunshine in your pocket, Thomas Dolby launching a center for technology + arts

March 5, 2014

[youtube=] This week, so much TED-related news hit the transom. Below, some of the highlights. Artist Olafur Eliasson (watch his TED Talk) muses on his latest work — “Little Sun,” a miniature solar-powered lamp that puts five hours of sunlight in your pocket — in this awesome video from our friends at The Creators Project. […]

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Thomas Dolby retires as musical director of TED Conferences

September 19, 2012

Thomas Dolby, TED’s longtime musical director, has retired from his post. Dolby recently returned to recording after a break of nearly two decades, and has been enjoying a personal musical renaissance with the release of his new album, A Map of the Floating City, and a worldwide concert tour. Over the past 12 years, Dolby […]

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