Walter/Wendy Carlos - Switched On Bach

Posted By: avoros
Walter/Wendy Carlos - Switched On Bach

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The Artist

Carlos' musical education began when she started playing the piano at the age of six. Her formal education included Brown University where she studied music and physics, and Columbia University where she earned an MA in music. At Columbia, Carlos was a student of Vladimir Ussachevsky, a pioneer in electronic music. After graduation, she 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 her early albums. Carlos has lived in New York since 1962.

Her first six recordings were released under the name Walter Carlos, although, being a transsexual woman, she had already changed her name from Walter to Wendy. In 1972, Carlos underwent gender reassignment therapy. The last release to be credited to Walter Carlos was By Request (1975). The first release 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 would come to regret because of the unwelcome publicity it brought to her personal life. On her official site, her transition is discussed in an essay stating that she values her privacy on the subject .

The Album

Switched-On Bach was perhaps the first album to demonstrate the use of synthesizers as a genuine musical instrument. As an early user of Robert Moog's first commercially available synthesizer, 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 eventually became the first classical album 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".) While it sold well, it did not achieve the near-legendary status that Switched-On Bach did. For listeners new to synthesized music The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is more recommended since it contains refined techniques in the use of synthesizer sound.

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, it was however very influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre. Also in 1972, Carlos composed and recorded music for the soundtrack of the film A Clockwork Orange.

In 1982, she scored the theatrical film 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, 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 rejected material from the Tron soundtrack was incorporated into it.

1986's Beauty In the Beast saw Wendy Carlos experimenting with just intonation, using alternate tuning scales she invented for the album. The system involves 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 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. In 2005, the two-volume set Rediscovering Lost Scores was released, featuring previously out-of-print material (The Shining score), the unreleased soundtrack to Woundings, and music recorded for Tron and A Clockwork Orange that was left out of the films.

Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29
Air on a G String (from orchestral suite no. 3)
Two-Part Invention in F Major
Two-Part Invention in B Flat Major
Two-Part Invention in D Minor
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (from Cantata No. 147)
Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in E Flat Major (from Well-Tempered Clavier)
Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor (from Well-Tempered Clavier)
Chorale Prelude "Wachet Auf"
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Allegro
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Adagio
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Allegro

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