Sound Advice: Thomas Dolby and 'The Speed of Sound'

Thomas Dolby will read and perform at the Swedish American Hall Oct.14.

If you've ever grinned somewhat guiltily and turned up the volume when the irreverent, synth-driven 1982 single "She Blinded Me With Science" comes on the radio, you already have an appreciation for Thomas Dolby.

The British singer-songwriter, keyboardist and producer is perhaps less known for his other contributions to music, though one of his innovations has been famous -- truly, instantly recognizable in every industrialized country in the world -- for the better part of three decades.

Dolby, 57, has had a long and varied career since his charting singles in the '80s. He's been a successful session musician and educator (he's currently a professor of the arts at Johns Hopkins University), a composer for video games and films, and a technology entrepreneur. His passion for innovation in sound recording and engineering intersected nicely with Silicon Valley's first tech boom in the '90s when he founded Headspace, then Beatnik, a company that created the RMF, a groundbreaking new file format for digital music. It was there, too, that Dolby adapted the nearly 100-year-old classical guitar composition "Gran Vals" into the first polyphonic ringtone, now commonly known as the "Nokia tune."

Dolby will regale audiences with this tale, among others, when he reads from his new autobiography The Speed of Sound on Friday, Oct. 14 at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco. The event, just one of Litquake's many music-related offerings, will see Dolby in conversation with Mythbusters' Kari Byron; he'll also perform a handful of songs.


Perhaps worth noting, for those more drawn in by the book name than anything: Oct. 14 just so happens to be the anniversary of the 1947 flight that broke the sound barrier, too.

Thomas Dolby appears on Friday, Oct. 14 at the Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St. in San Francisco. 8:30pm. Tickets ($15) and details here