BALTIMORE (AP) — Before composing his 1982 synth-pop hit “She Blinded Me With Science,” Thomas Dolby sketched out the story line for the music video. That’s not just rock-and-roll trivia – it’s one of the experiences Dolby can lean on as he teaches film and music students at Johns Hopkins University, a school known more for medical science and research than the arts.
Not bad for guy whose formal education ended at age 16.
“When I saw the arrival of music videos, I thought it was actually a new opportunity for me to, you know, break through. And I was very lucky that I caught the crest of that wave,” Dolby said last week. “‘She Blinded Me With Science’ was really, truly a soundtrack for a music video.”
The wacky video, about a home for demented scientists, became a favorite on MTV, then about a year old, helping propel the song to No. 5 on Billboard’s U.S. charts. Dolby, 55, released three more albums over the next 10 years that cemented his reputation as an electronic music pioneer.
In the 1990s, Dolby moved on to film and video-game scoring, and founded a Silicon Valley company that created software enabling cellphones to produce musically rich ring tones.
Last year, he released a short film, “The Invisible Lighthouse,” inspired by the decommissioning of a lighthouse near his home in Suffolk, England. He shot it with inexpensive cameras.
“I’ve always been very much a DIY artist,” said Dolby, whose real name is Thomas Robertson. He earned the nickname Dolby because when he was young because he lugged around a portable cassette tape deck featuring Dolby Laboratories audio technology.
Never comfortable with music industry middlemen, Dolby relishes the freedom his 12 students have to market their work online.
“The bad news is that there’s 10,000 other guys trying to do the same thing,” he said.
Dolby began teaching his “Sound on Film” class Friday at Hopkins’ Peabody Institute music conservatory.
“Somebody that is a concert pianist and composer, but knows nothing about marketing, about branding, about technology, is going to have more of a challenge,” he said. “And so, part of the goal of the course that I’ll be teaching here is to give students practical skills that will enable them to get the job done, and in this case it’s all about filmmaking and film score composition.”
School administrators can hardly believe they’ve landed a bona fide rock-star professor. Paul Mathews, a Peabody associate dean, said he was stunned when Dolby applied for the post in January. Mathews said he still listens to Dolby’s albums.
Students were less familiar with his work.
Jameson Dickman, a string bassist from Washington state pursuing degrees in recording arts and acoustics, said he did a little research on Dolby to prepare for the class but, “I actually, honestly don’t know a whole bunch” about him.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to meet a professional who’s done a lot of interesting work,” he said.
Linda Delibero, Hopkins’ director of film and media studies, said Dolby’s pioneering work and commercial success makes him an extraordinary resource.
“He knows how to get his work out there. And I think that’s one really valuable lesson that the students can get from him that they might not get from somebody who’s within academia,” she said.
By David Dishneau | Associated Press
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WASHED OUT’S ERNEST GREENE FINDS FULFILLMENT IN 9-5 GRIND, ‘PORTLANDIA’
Anyone who’s seen IFC’s Portlandia’s opening credits might recognize Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around,” the dreamy tune with bright synths and heavy bass that opens every show. “I was really blown away when I got an email from Fred Armisen really early on when the Washed Out project was taking shape,” Ernest Greene, better known as atmospheric dream-pop outfit Washed Out, tells Yahoo Music. “I thought it was someone messing with me!
“They were still in pre-production with the show. They didn’t expect that much from it. But it’s been an amazing thing for Washed Out. I think it’s almost daily that people write comments [on social media] about discovering us through the show.”
Greene may have initially thought the Portlandia offer was a joke, but he takes his job creating gorgeous, dreamy soundscapes very seriously. His workdays usually begin at 9 a.m. and he doesn’t knock off until 5 p.m. — much like those who punch a clock for a living.
“I have a small studio set up in my house in Athens,” says the Georgia-based musician. “I’ll wake up, have a nice breakfast, and I won’t surface until dinnertime. I’m very domesticated in that way.”
Greene used to be more of a night owl, but now that he’s married and “domesticated,” as he puts it, things have changed. “To shift toward doing [music] professionally was quite a weird adjustment,” he says. “So the reality is I work all day. It’s the ultimate fantasy. I sit down and write by myself. It’s like a painter with various layers of paint. I start with a drum loop and add keyboards, and then melodies start to take shape. The vocals happen later. I’ve never really done therapy before, but it’s a form of therapy. Everything else falls away.”
Of course Greene’s schedule changes significantly when he’s touring, which he’s been doing plenty of lately. Rather than living a solitary nine-to-five existence, he plays late-night shows with a group of four touring musicians who bring Washed Out’s songs to life: guitarist Dylan Lee, bass player Chris Gardner, drummer Cameron Gardner, and keyboardist Blair Greene, who also happens to be Ernest’s wife.
“They’re really talented musicians,” he says. “They breathe life into [the music] in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”
The band has been performing in support of Washed Out’s critically acclaimed 2013 album, Paracosm, at major festivals throughout the year including Coachella and Bonnaroo. “It was our first time playing most of these festivals,” says Greene. “Bonnaroo was a personal highlight because I grew up in Georgia and the Southeast. It felt kind of close to home. It was incredibly hot and humid… but it was a lot of fun. We did a pop-up acoustic show in the middle of the campground, which was a first for me. People were having a blast and offering us beers.”
Greene says that Washed Out has never fit into one particular genre. “The music is at this weird intersection of dance music and indie music,” he says. “It’s not quite dancey enough to do a full-blown DJ set, and it wasn’t quite rock enough for a rock band. But I guess it’s what makes us unique — drawing from a lot of different influences.”
Washed Out has several tour dates lined up around the country through October. But as much as Greene enjoys touring, he’s looking excited about getting off the road and focusing on Washed Out’s next album.
“I’m looking forward to being back at home and starting the writing process over again,” he says. “When you’re traveling, the ideas are building up and you don’t have time to sit down and work through them. I’m looking forward to being at home with no other obligations.”
By Laura Ferreiro | The New Now
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THE WORST ALBUM COVERS OF ALL TIME
Fact is, there are hundreds if not thousands, of terrible album covers. A Web search suggests that 90 percent of them come from religious artists who believe that competent artwork is akin to committing the sin of vanity. Enjoy these album covers that dare you to enjoy the music held within their confines. ~ Rob O’Connor