Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos, November 14, 1939 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island) is an American composer and electronic musician. Wendy Carlos was one of the first famous performers of electronic music using synthesisers.
Switched-On Bach was perhaps the first album to attempt the use of synthesizers as an alternative to an orchestra; having assisted Robert Moog in the development of his first commercially available synthesizers, she was able to pioneer the technology, which was significantly more complex and difficult to use at the time. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in creating this album. Switched-On Bach became the best-selling classical album of all time, and for many years it had sold more copies than all other classical albums combined. A sequel of additional baroque music played on synthesizers, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (the title being a play on Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier"), followed in 1969, and while it sold well, it hasn't achieved the near-legendary status that Switched-On Bach has. For new listeners The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is anyway more recommendable since it contains more varied use of synthesizer sound. These first albums were a crucial source of inspiration for japanese composer Isao Tomita, who later recorded and released his own interpretations of numerous classical works performed with synthesizers.
1972's Sonic Seasonings pushed the envelope further. This was packaged as a double album, with one side dedicated to each of the four seasons, and each side consisting of one long track. It blended recorded sounds with synthesized sounds, without melodies, to create an ambient effect. Not as popular as some other albums, this was extremely influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre. Also in 1972, music by Carlos was released on the soundtrack for the film A Clockwork Orange.
In 1982, she scored Tron for Disney; this score incorporated orchestra, chorus, organ, and both analog and digital synthesizers. Some of her end title music was replaced with a song by the rock group, Journey. 1984's Digital Moonscapes switched to entirely digital synthesizers, instead of the analog synthesizers that were the trademark of her earlier albums. Some of the rejected material from the Tron soundtrack was incorporated into it.
1986's Beauty In the Beast saw Wendy Carlos experimenting with just intonation, using a tuning system she invented for the album. The system uses two keyboards, one on which the notes are played. The other keyboard is used to set the "root note", and retune all of the notes on the keyboard to just intonation intervals. The are a total of 144 possible notes per octave, from 12 notes in a chromatic scale times 12 different tunings.
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 a good introduction to synthesis, and some (i.e., a discussion of hocketing ) is most useful to experienced musicians. In the early 2000s, most of her catalogue was remastered.
Her first recordings were originally released under her birth name—being a transsexual woman, she changed her name to Wendy Carlos. She underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 1972, though she had lived as a woman for many years beforehand, and had been taking hormone treatments prior to that. The last release to be credited to her old name was By Request (1975). The first as Wendy was Switched-On Brandenburgs (1979). On her official site, there is an answer to the question of why original LPs "have a different name on them", suggesting that a male name on a classical LP would have been accepted more eagerly. Her transition is not discussed, beyond statements to the effect that she values her privacy on the subject.
- Switched-on Bach (1968)
- The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969)
- Sonic Seasonings (1972)
- A Clockwork Orange (film) (soundtrack) (1972)
- Switched-on Bach II (1974)
- By Request (1975)
- Switched-on Brandenburgs (1979)
- The Shining: Score Selections (soundtrack) (1980) (no longer available)
- Tron (soundtrack) (1982)
- Digital Moonscapes (1984)
- Beauty In the Beast (1986)
- Land of the Midnight Sun (1986) (available on the Sonic Seasonings reissue)
- Secrets of Synthesis (1987)
- Peter and the Wolf (1988) (with "Weird Al" Yankovic)
- Switched-On Bach 2000 (1992)
- Tales of Heaven and Hell (1998)
- Switched-On Boxed Set (1999)
- Woundings (soundtrack) (2004) (not yet released; from 1998)
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