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Wendy Carlos (born November 14, 1939) is an American composer and electronic musician. Carlos' fame originated in the late 1960s with recordings made on the Moog synthesizer, which was a relatively new and unknown instrument at the time; most notable were L.P.'s of synthesized Bach, and the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's controversial film A Clockwork Orange. Several years before this, two original 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.


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), Carlos helped pioneer the technology, which was significantly more difficult to use than it is today. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album. Switched-On Bach was the last project in Carlos's 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. A sequel of additional synthesized baroque music, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, followed in 1969. (Its title is a play on Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier".) A second sequel entitled Switched-On Bach II was released in 1973, continuing the style of the previous two albums, adding a Yamaha Electone organ to the Moog for certain florid passages in Bach's 5th Brandenburg Concerto).

1972's Sonic Seasonings was packaged as a double album, with one side dedicated to each of the four seasons, and each side consisting of one long track. The album blended recorded sounds with synthesized sounds, occasionally employing melodies, to create an ambient effect. Not as popular as some other Carlos albums, it was however influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre. Also in 1971, Carlos composed and recorded music for the soundtrack of the film A Clockwork Orange. She worked with Stanley Kubrick again on the score for The Shining, although in the end, Kubrick used mostly pre-existing music cues from other composers.

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 which featured the Royal Albert Hall Organ was replaced with a song by the rock group, Journey, and the music that originally was composed for the lightcycle scene was dropped. 1984's Digital Moonscapes switched to digital synthesizers, instead of the analog synthesizers that were the trademark of her earlier albums. Some of the unused material from the Tron soundtrack was incorporated into it.

1986's Beauty In the Beast saw Carlos experimenting with various alternate tunings, including just intonation, Balinese scales and several scales she invented for the album. One of her scales involved setting a "root note", and retuning all of the notes on the keyboard to just intonation intervals. There are a total of 144 possible notes per octave, from 12 notes in a chromatic scale times 12 different home keys. Other scales included Carlos' Alpha & Beta scales, which experimented with dividing the octave into a non-integer number of equally-spaced intervals. These explorations in effect supplemented the more systematic microtonal studies of the composer Easley Blackwood, whose etudes upon all twelve equal-tempered scales between thirteen notes per octave and twenty-four notes per octave had appeared in 1980.

1987's Secrets of Synthesis is a lecture by Carlos, with audio examples (many from her own recordings), expounding on topics she feels to be of importance. Some of the material is an introduction to synthesis, and some (e.g., a discussion of hocketing) is aimed at experienced musicians.

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.

Personal life

Carlos was born as Walter Carlos in Pawtucket, Rhode Islandmarker, and began musical education at age six with piano lessons. Following undergraduate studies of music and physics at Brown Universitymarker accompanied by early explorations of electronic music, Carlos earned a master's degree in composition at Columbia University, studying there with Vladimir Ussachevsky, a pioneer in electronic music (other teachers included Otto Luening and Jack Beeson). Remaining in New Yorkmarker after graduation, Carlos met Robert Moog and was one of his earliest customers, providing feedback for his further development of the Moog synthesizer. 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.

The artist's first recordings were released under the name Walter Carlos. Carlos underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1972 but was billed as 'Walter' on the album By Request (1975). 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, notably in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, where her surgery was described in anatomical detail. On her official site, her transition is discussed in an essay stating that she values her privacy on the subject.

In 1998, Carlos sued the songwriter/artist Momus for $22 million for his satirical song "Walter Carlos" (which appeared on the album The Little Red Songbook), which suggested that if Wendy could go back in time she could marry Walter. The case was settled out of court, with Momus agreeing to remove it from the CD and owing $30,000 in legal fees.

Carlos is also an accomplished solar eclipse photographer.

Awards and honors

Switched-On Bach was the winner of three 1969 Grammy Awards:
  • Album Of The Year, Classical
  • Best Classical Performance - Instrumental Soloist Or Soloists (With Or Without Orchestra)
  • Best Engineered Recording, Classical

In 2005 Carlos was the recipient of the SEAMUS Award "in recognition of lifetime achievement and contribution to the art and craft of electro-acoustic music" by the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States.


(Albums released during years 1965–1975 were originally released under name "Walter Carlos". Later albums and all re-issues have been released under the name "Wendy Carlos".)


  1. "Composer Changes More Than Tune" New York Magazine, Apr 2, 1979, Vol. 12, No. 14; ISSN 0028-7369.

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