“I was in the forums lurking around reading their conspiracy theories,” said Dolby, “and if I saw something I liked, the Floating City Gazette would publish it, and they became true.”
Dolby is now on tour promoting the new album, his first in 20 years. He travels with a trailer “that looks like it was designed by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.” It acts as a portable studio, recording 30-second video clips from fans as part of a time capsule for the Floating City.
The electronic music era had a rocky start in the early 1980s when Dolby was starting his career. “Electronic instruments were quite bulky, they didn’t stay in tune, and they were quite expensive,” he said, noting one of his first synthesizers was the size of a refrigerator and cost twice as much as his first London flat.
About the time the commercial Internet was being born, Dolby snagged a one-year grant from Paul Allen’s Interval Research group to explore some concepts at the nexus of music and technology. That led to the forming of Headspace, a company that created the Beatnik audio engine Dolby described as “a SoundBlaster card in software.”
In 1994, Dolby met Netscape founders Jim Clarke and Marc Andreessen and was subsequently able to convince them to support audio in their browser. “But companies said if audio takes an extra second to load their front page, that’s too long.”
The resistance pushed Dolby’s Headspace to make its code as tight and efficient as possible, an effort that paid off after Sun Microsystems licensed the technology for use in Java. Nokia heard the news and contacted Headspace for help getting the code running on its phones.