December 12, 2008

Wendy Carlos (aka Walter Carlos)

Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos on 14 November 1939, in Pawtuckett, Rhode Island) is one of the first famous performers of electronic music. "Switched-On-Bach", the electronically generated versions of works by Johann Sebastian Bach was contained one of the first albums that made attempt, synthesizers to use as an alternative to an orchestra.

As an assistant to Robert Moog in developing its first commercially available synthesizer, Carlos advance the technology of sound synthesis.
Switched-On Bach was the best selling classical album of all time.
In 1972, Carlos underwent after a long preparation for a gender reassignment surgery and changed his name officially.
The artist's first recordings were released under the name Walter Carlos. The first release credited to her as "Wendy" was Switched-On Brandenburgs (1979). Carlos's first public appearance after her gender transition was in an interview in the May 1979 issue of Playboy magazine, a decision she regrets because of the unwelcome publicity it brought to her personal life, where her surgery was described in anatomical detail.

Carlos began musical education at age six with piano lessons. Following undergraduate studies of music and physics at Brown University accompanied by early explorations of electronic music, Carlos earned a master's degree in composition at Colunbia University, studying there with Vladimir Usschevsky, a pioneer in electronic music (other teachers included Otto Luening and Jack Beeson). Remaining in New York after graduation, Carlos met Rober Moog and was one of his earliest customers, providing feedback for his further development of the Moog synthesizer. Carlos convinced Moog to add touch-sensitivity to the synthesizer keyboard, to allow a greater level of dynamics and musicality.

Around 1966, Carlos met Rachel Elkind, who produced Switched-On Bach and other early albums. With the proceeds of Switched-On Bach, the two renovated a New York brownstone, which they shared as a home and business premises, installing a studio for live and electronic recording on the bottom floor. Carlos took the unusual step of enclosing the entire studio in a Faraday cage, shielding the equipment from radio and television interference.

Carlos first came to notice in the late 1960s with recordings made on the Moog synthesizer, then a relatively new and unknown instrument; most notable were LPs of synthesized Bach and the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange. Several years prior, two Carlos compositions using classical (pre-Moog) electronic techniques had been issued on LP (Variations for Flute and Tape and Dialogues for Piano and Two Loudspeakers). Although the first Carlos Moog albums were interpretations of the works of classical composers, she later resumed releasing original compositions.
Carlos' first release was entitled "Moog 900 Series - Electronic Music Systems" (R. A. Moog Company, Inc., 1967) and it was an introduction to the technical aspects of the machine.
Switched-On-Bach (1968) was an early album demonstrating the use of the synthesizer as a genuine musical instrument. As an early user of Robert Moog's first commercially available synthesizer modules (Moog assembled these as custom installations that differed greatly from user to user), Walter Carlos helped pioneer the technology, which was significantly more difficult to use than it is today. Multitracking recording techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album. Switched-On Bach was the last project in his four-year-long collaboration with Benjamin Folkman and won gold records for both Carlos and Folkman. The album then became one of the first classical LPs to sell 500,000 copies, and (eventually) to go platinum.
Carlos composed and recorded music for "A Clockwork Orange" (1971). She worked with Stanley Kubrick again on "The Shining". In 1982, she scored the film "Tron" for Disney. This score incorporated orchestra, chorus, organ, and both analog and digital synthesizers. Some of her end-title music featuring the Royal Albert Hall Organ was replaced with a song by the Rockgroup Journey, and the music that originally was composed for the lightcycle scene was dropped. Digital Moonscapes (1984) switched to digital synthesizers from the analog synthesizers that were the trademark of her earlier albums. Some of the unused material from the Tron soundtrack was incorporated into it.

Beginning in 1998, all of her catalogue was remastered. In 2005, the two-volume set Rediscovering Lost Scores was released, featuring previously out-of-print material, including the unreleased soundtrack to Woundings, and music composed and recorded for The Shining, Tron and A Clockwork Orange that was not used in the films.


Khaela said...

Thanks for your article on Wendy Carlos. The photograph at the top of the page is not actually of her though.

Also, it would be nice to see Rachel Elkind's collaboration with Wendy Carlos mentioned- Carlos credits her clearly on her own site, and mentions how Elkind's work has been sorely overlooked.

Scott Dugdale said...

The image a the top is not of Wendy Carlos, but instead, is a photo of Roger Manning Jr.. Roger is a pioneering keyboardist of the group, Jellyfish, The Moog Cookbook, and Beck, among others.