You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Online game amps up Dolby’s new music effort

Music for Screens: Summer 2011

Thomas Dolby, whose 1980s hits “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive” cemented his status as a pop icon, decided to step away from the music business in the early ’90s and forge another fruitful career as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

His company, Beatnik Inc., invented the ringtone synthesizer embedded in billions of mobile phones, and he served as music director for the California-based TED conferences, a renowned lecture series named for its roots in technology, entertainment and design.

Now back in his native U.K. and retired from Beatnik at age 52, Dolby is gearing up to release his first album in more than two decades, titled “A Map of the Floating City,” which is accompanied by an online multimedia video game.

“The Floating City” allows players to use Web browsers, social networks, smart phones and tablets to explore a fictional Google map, forming tribes and trading relics in a sea-going barter society while interacting with Dolby’s music and winning concert tickets and other prizes.

Dolby, who has produced albums for Joni Mitchell and Prefab Sprout and has been nominated for five Grammys, says the game currently has about 4,000 players that will influence the direction of the new album.

“The album is sort of like a soundtrack to the game,” he says. “A lot of the game is driven by the players themselves. It’s kind of a collaborative fiction environment, so what the players democratically decide is the truth becomes the truth. A lot of the songs have stories to them and I’m a bit reluctant to finish the stories until I see how the game unfolds.”

During his 20 years away from the music biz, Dolby noticed that his online fan forums continued to flourish, creating mythologies based on the characters in his songs, with some people claiming to actually be the characters.

“Looking at online forums and my core fanbase, I realized they love the mythology in my songs and the richness of the stories and the characters,” Dolby says. “But making a video seemed very 20th century somehow — it’s a very passive, one-way experience. People aren’t buying music and watching movies as much but they’re spending a lot of time playing games and a lot of time in social networks. So it seemed to me I needed to find a 21st century idiom in which to create an immersive environment where people could bury themselves in that mythology.”

In “Floating City” Dolby departs from his trademark synth-driven pop sound to experiment with an array of musical textures, including honky-tonk piano and fiddle, classical guitar flourishes and jazzy saxophone solos. That said, Dolby fans will immediately recognize his literate, storytelling, songwriting style and the gorgeous soundscapes he effortlessly creates. The album features several notable guests including Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap.

Dolby recruited game designer Andrea Phillips and longtime friend J.J. Abrams, director and creator of “Alias” and “Lost,” to advise him on the direction of the game.

“You can tell from the game there’s a very strong flavor of J.J.’s ‘Lost’ worlds and the whole mystery behind everything he does,” says Dolby, who traveled to Santa Monica to meet Abrams and his staff at Bad Robot Prods. to talk through ideas for the game.

Although the current cycle of the game is due to culminate in late August so Dolby can complete the album and dole out prizes (including a private concert for the winning team), he envisions it entering a new phase and taking on a life of its own. Dolby plans to offer pre-concert lectures about the game when he tours the U.S. following the album’s October release.

More Digital

  • Calibra app

    Spotify: Facebook's Libra Cryptocurrency Will Help Subscription Services

    When Facebook officially announced its plans for a new cryptocurrency called Libra Tuesday, it also revealed that Spotify was part of a consortium of companies called the Libra Association that is backing the project. The music service hopes that digital money can help subscription services sign up new customers. “One challenge for Spotify and its [...]

  • And Then We Danced

    Swedish Outfit French Quarter Steps Into TV With Graphic Novel Adaptation

    Swedish production company French Quarter, the outfit behind Cannes Directors’ Fortnight entry “And Then We Danced,” is venturing into TV with a web series adapted from Henrik Bromander’s graphic novel “Kurs I självutplåning” (“Course in self-annihilation”). The comedy series has been commissioned by the Swedish broadcaster SVT, as first reported by Nordic Film & TV [...]

  • tivo logo

    Tivo Preps Series 7 'Tivo Edge' DVR Made by Arris

    Tivo is getting ready to introduce the next generation of its DVR, if a new FCC filing is any indication. The new device, which is being called the Tivo Edge, is once again being made by set-top-box manufacturer Arris. A Tivo spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Arris’ FCC filing is heavily [...]

  • soulcycle image

    SoulCycle to Launch Station on SiriusXM, Bring Playlists to Pandora (EXCLUSIVE)

    SoulCycle devotees will soon be able to listen to their favorite spinning soundtrack all day: SiriusXM is getting a dedicated SoulCycle Radio station this summer, and the two companies will also bring playlists from select SoulCycle instructors to Pandora. SoulCycle Radio is said to feature music curated by SoulCycle instructors, as well as inspirational messages [...]

  • Jorge-Franco-and-Adrian-Suar

    Pol-ka Expands Outside Argentina, Optioning ‘El Cielo a Tiros’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    PAMPLONA, Spain  —  Taking a new expansive step as an international content player, top Argentine production house Pol-ka, has optioned small-screen rights to “El cielo a tiros,” the latest novel from “Rosario Tijeras” author, Colombian novelist Jorge Franco. Pacted via Scenic Rights, the deal sees Pol-ka planning to shoot a drama series based on the [...]

  • Tencent Music presentation at Shanghai

    Shanghai: Tencent Proposes Alliance of Music and Film

    All tech companies strive to be ubiquitous. Within China, behemoth Tencent is a clear leader of the pack. From the company’s “pan entertainment strategy” in 2012 to its 2018 equivalent “neo-creativity strategy,” Tencent keeps unveiling new master plans, each time with more in-house platforms and business approaches involved. On the margins of the Shanghai International [...]

  • Genius Spars With Google Over Lyric

    Genius Accuses Google of Scraping Song Lyrics, Music Data Company Hits Back

    Lyrics annotation service Genius.com has accused Google of scraping its site and stealing its content, the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. However, a lyrics data provider at the center of the controversy claimed on Monday that those allegations were without merit. The Journal reported that Genius had been complaining to Google about the alleged [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content