05:28
TED2010

Thomas Dolby: "Love Is a Loaded Pistol"

Filmed:

To write his first studio album in decades, "A Map of the Floating City," Thomas Dolby has been working in the inspirational setting of a restored lifeboat. At TED2010 he premieres a gorgeous, evocative song from that album -- about one night with a legend. He's backed by members of the modern string quartet Ethel.

- Electronic music pioneer
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." Full bio

I've been playing TED for nearly a decade,
00:21
and I've very rarely played
00:24
any new songs of my own.
00:27
And that was largely because there weren't any.
00:30
(Laughter)
00:33
So I've been busy with a couple of projects,
00:35
and one of them was this:
00:37
The Nutmeg.
00:39
A 1930s ship's lifeboat,
00:41
which I've been restoring in the garden
00:43
of my beach house in England.
00:45
And, so now,
00:47
when the polar ice caps melt,
00:49
my recording studio will rise up like an ark,
00:52
and I'll float off into the drowned world
00:56
like a character from a J.G. Ballard novel.
00:58
During the day,
01:01
the Nutmeg collects energy
01:03
from solar panels on the roof of the wheelhouse,
01:05
and from a 450 watt turbine
01:08
up the mast.
01:10
So that when it gets dark,
01:12
I've got plenty of power.
01:14
And I can light up the Nutmeg like a beacon.
01:16
And so I go in there until the early hours of the morning,
01:19
and I work on new songs.
01:22
I'd like to play to you guys,
01:25
if you're willing to be the first audience to hear it.
01:27
(Applause)
01:29
It's about Billie Holiday.
01:35
And it appears that,
01:37
some night in 1947
01:39
she left her physical space
01:42
and was missing all night,
01:45
until she reappeared in the morning.
01:47
But I know where she was.
01:50
She was with me on my lifeboat.
01:52
And she was hot.
01:55
(Music)
02:00
♫ Billie crept softly ♫
02:27
♫ into my waking arms ♫
02:30
♫ warm like a sip of sour mash ♫
02:34
♫ Strange fruit for ♫
02:40
♫ a sweet hunk of trash ♫
02:43
♫ Panic at the stage door ♫
02:51
♫ of Carnegie Hall ♫
02:54
♫ "Famous Jazz Singer Gone AWOL" ♫
02:58
♫ Must have left the building ♫
03:05
♫ body and soul ♫
03:09
♫ On a creaky ♫
03:16
♫ piano stool tonight ♫
03:19
♫ as the moon is my ♫
03:22
♫ only witness ♫
03:24
♫ She was breathing ♫
03:29
♫ in my ear ♫
03:32
♫ "This time it's love" ♫
03:35
♫ But love is a loaded pistol ♫
03:42
♫ By daybreak she's gone ♫
03:46
♫ Over the frozen river, home ♫
03:50
♫ Me and Johnny Walker ♫
03:56
♫ See in the new age ♫
03:59
♫ alone ♫
04:02
♫ Stay with me ♫
04:08
♫ again tonight ♫
04:11
♫ Billie, time, ♫
04:14
♫ time is a wily trickster ♫
04:16
♫ Still an echo ♫
04:21
♫ in my heart says, ♫
04:24
♫ "This time it's love" ♫
04:27
(Applause)
04:40

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About the Speaker:

Thomas Dolby - Electronic music pioneer
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."

More profile about the speaker
Thomas Dolby | Speaker | TED.com