World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Wendy Carlos

Article Id: WHEBN0000034113
Reproduction Date:

Title: Wendy Carlos  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tron (soundtrack), A Clockwork Orange (soundtrack), "Weird Al" Yankovic, Microtonal music, Electronic music
Collection: 1939 Births, 20Th-Century American Musicians, 20Th-Century Classical Composers, 21St-Century American Musicians, 21St-Century Classical Composers, American Classical Composers, American Classical Musicians, American Electronic Musicians, American Female Classical Composers, American Female Composers, American Film Score Composers, American Keyboardists, Brown University Alumni, Columbia University Alumni, Female Film Score Composers, Grammy Award Winners, Lgbt Classical Musicians, Lgbt Composers, Lgbt Musicians from the United States, Living People, Microtonal Composers, Musicians from Rhode Island, People from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Transgender and Transsexual Musicians, Transgender and Transsexual Women, Wendy Carlos, Women in Classical Music, Women in Electronic Music
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos
Birth name Walter Carlos
Born (1939-11-14) November 14, 1939 Pawtucket, Rhode Island, U.S.
Genres Ambient, jazz, classical, synthpop, electronic
Occupation(s) Electronic musician,
Instruments Synthesizer, keyboards, vocoder

Wendy Carlos (born November 14, 1939) is an American composer and electronic musician.

Carlos first came to prominence in 1968 with Switched-On Bach, a recording of music by J.S. Bach assembled phrase-by-phrase on a Moog synthesizer, at the time a relatively new and unknown instrument. The album earned three Grammy Awards in 1969. Other classical recordings followed.

Carlos later began releasing original compositions, including the first-ever album of synthesized environmental sounds, Sonic Seasonings (1972) and an album exploring alternate tunings Beauty in the Beast (1986). She has also worked in film music, notably writing and performing scores for two Stanley Kubrick movies, A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), as well as Walt Disney's Tron (1982).


  • Career 1
  • Work 2
  • Personal life 3
    • Gender transition 3.1
    • Lawsuit 3.2
  • Awards and honors 4
  • Discography 5
    • Compilations 5.1
    • Appears on 5.2
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Carlos was a musical prodigy who started piano lessons at six,[1] and at ten composed "A Trio for Clarinet, Accordion, and Piano."[2] In 1953 (age 14) Carlos won a Westinghouse Science Fair scholarship for a home-built computer, well before "computer" was a household word. After graduating from St. Raphael Academy, a Catholic high school in Pawtucket RI, Carlos earned a B.A. in music and physics at Brown University (1962) and a M.A. in music from Columbia University (1965). Carlos studied with Vladimir Ussachevsky, a pioneer in electronic music, as well as Otto Luening and Jack Beeson, working in the famed Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

Carlos met Dr. Robert Moog at the 1963 Audio Engineering Society show[3] and became one of his earliest customers, providing advice and technical assistance for his further development of the Moog synthesizer. Carlos convinced Moog to add touch sensitivity to the synthesizer keyboard for greater dynamics and musicality, among other improvements.[4]

Around 1966, Carlos met Rachel Elkind, who went on to produce Switched-On Bach and other early albums. With the proceeds from 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 where all subsequent recordings have been produced. Carlos took the unusual step of enclosing the entire studio in a Faraday cage, shielding the equipment from radio and television interference.[5]

Carlos contributed a review of the then-available synthesizers to the June 1971 edition of the Whole Earth Catalog, contrasting the Moog, Buchla and Tonus (aka ARP) systems. She was dismissive of smaller systems like the EMS Putney and the Minimoog as "toys" and "cash-ins".[3]

Carlos is also an accomplished solar eclipse photographer.[6][7]


In addition to the aforementioned "Trio for Clarinet, Accordion and Piano," Carlos composed numerous student works. Two which saw later release (on 1975's By Request) are "Dialogues for Piano and Two Loudspeakers" (1963) and "Episodes for Piano and Electronic Sound" (1964). Others include "Variations for Flute and Electronic Sounds" (1964), "Episodes for Piano and Tape" (1964), "Pomposities for Narrator and Tape" (1965) and "Noah" (1965), an opera blending electronics and normal orchestra. Her first commercial release was "Moog 900 Series – Electronic Music Systems" (R. A. Moog Company, Inc., 1967), an introduction to the technical aspects of the Moog synthesizer,[8] part of her compensation for this recording was in Moog equipment.[3]

Switched-On Bach (1968) was Carlos' break-through album, one of the first to draw attention to the synthesizer as a genuine musical instrument.[9][10] Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album, when it was significantly more difficult than it is today.[9] Switched-On Bach was the last project in a 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, going gold in August 1969, and platinum in November 1986.[11] It remained at the top spot on the Billboard Magazine classical album chart for two years and 49 weeks.[12]

A sequel of additional synthesized Brandenburg Concerto.

In 1971, Carlos composed and recorded music for the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess. Additional music not used in the film was released in 1972 as Walter Carlos' Clockwork Orange. Some portions of her work for this film re-appeared in her Tales of Heaven and Hell in 2003, in movement 3 A Clockwork Black.

She worked with Kubrick again on the score for The Shining (1980). While in the end Kubrick mostly used the pre-existing music by avant-garde composers he had used as guide tracks, her contribution was notable for her reinterpretation of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique used during the opening scene. Carlos's complete contributions were finally released 25 years later in 2005.

Sonic Seasonings (1972) 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 field recordings with synthesized sounds, occasionally employing melodies, to create an ambient effect. Though not as popular as Carlos's earlier albums, it was extremely influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre.[13]

In 1982, she scored the film 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.

Beauty in the Beast (1986) saw Carlos experimenting with various tunings, including just intonation, Balinese scales and several scales she invented for the album. One of her scales, the Harmonic Scale, involved setting a "root note", and retuning all of the notes on the keyboard to just intonation intervals from the root note. There are a total of 144 possible notes per octave in this system: 12 notes in a chromatic scale times 12 different keys. Other scales included Carlos' Alpha, Beta & Gamma scales, which experimented with dividing the octave into a non-integral number of equally-spaced intervals. These explorations in effect supplemented the more systematic microtonal studies of the composer Easley Blackwood, Jr., whose etudes on all twelve equal-tempered scales between 13 and 24 notes per octave had appeared in 1980.

Secrets of Synthesis (1987) 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 hocket) is aimed at experienced musicians. This release harkens back to The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music by Beaver & Krause, some 20 years earlier.

Beginning in 1998, all of her catalog was digitally remastered by Carlos herself, requiring that she retrieve and in some cases purchase her masters from Columbia Records. 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. These reissues have since gone out-of-print because of changes to the music business involving East Side Digital, a music publisher.

Personal life

Gender transition

Carlos became aware of her gender dysphoria from an early age, stating "I was about five or six...I remember being convinced I was a little girl, much preferring long hair and girls' clothes, and not knowing why my parents didn't see it clearly".[14] In 1962 (age 22) when she moved to New York City to attend graduate school at Columbia University, she came into contact for the first time with information about transgender issues (including the work of Harry Benjamin). In early 1968 she began hormone treatments and soon began living full-time as a woman.[15][16][17] In her Whole Earth Catalog review of synthesizers (1971), she asked to be credited simply as "W. Carlos".[3] After the success of Switched-On Bach, in May 1972 Carlos was finally able to undergo sex reassignment surgery.[18]

Carlos chose to announce herself as the featured interview in May 1979's Playboy magazine, picking Playboy because "The magazine has always been concerned with liberation, and I'm anxious to liberate myself."[14] She has since come to regret the interview, creating a "Shortlist Of The Cruel" page on her web site, and awarding the editors of the magazine three "Black Leafs" indicating that she believes they are "Arrogant selfish prig[s], with a genuine sadistic streak".[19]

Carlos prefers not to discuss her transition, and has asked that her privacy regarding the subject be respected.[20]


In 1998, Carlos sued the songwriter/artist Momus for $22 million[21] 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 the song from subsequent editions of the CD and owing $30,000 in legal fees.[22]

Awards and honors

Switched-On Bach was the winner of three 1969 Grammy Awards:[23][24]

  • 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 Lifetime Achievement 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.[25]



  • 1999 Switched-On Boxed Set (compiles Switched-On Bach, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Switched-On Bach II and Switched-On Brandenburgs, with 144-page book)
  • 2005 Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 1 (compiles previously unreleased music from The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and several UNICEF films)
  • 2005 Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 (compiles previously unreleased music from The Shining, Tron, Split Second, Woundings and 2 Dolby demonstration tracks)

Appears on

  • 1965 Electronic Music LP. Vox Turnabout. Includes two compositions by Walter Carlos: Dialogues for Piano and Two Loudspeakers (with Phillip Ramey, pianist) and Variations for Flute and Tape (with John Heiss, flutist).
  • 1967 Moog 900 Series – Electronic Music Systems (demonstration disc displaying the capabilities of the first commercially available Moog synthesizer)
  • 1972 A Clockwork Orange (soundtrack)
  • 1980 The Shining: Score Selections (soundtrack)


  1. ^ "Wendy Carlos: Biographical Notes". Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  2. ^ Tucker, Mark S. (May 2007). "The Burden of Faltering Genius". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d Stewart Brand, ed. (June 1971). The Last Whole Earth Catalog. pp. 330–331.  
  4. ^ Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture. (New York: Routledge, 2008): 218.
  5. ^ Carlos, Wendy. "Studio Collection". Retrieved June 27, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Solar Eclipse Images". Solar Data Analysis Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Retrieved October 9, 2008. 
  7. ^ Carlos, Wendy. "The Wendy Carlos Total Solar Eclipse Page". Retrieved April 29, 2007. 
  8. ^ "Walter Carlos – Moog 900 Series – Electronic Music Systems". Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Barbrick, Greg. "Book Review: Keyboard Presents Synth Gods". Seattle Post-Intellegencer. Retrieved 25 July 2012. Switched On Bach almost single-handedly revolutionized the public’s perception of synthesizers... 
  10. ^ Henahan, Donal (November 3, 1968). "Switching On to Mock Bach". The New York Times. p. Page D26. Retrieved 25 July 2012. ...possibly one of the year's more significant records 
  11. ^ Searchable Database. RIAA.
  12. ^ "Music: Switched-Off Bach". February 14, 1972. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  13. ^ Bush, John. "Sonic Seasonings". All Music. Retrieved January 20, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b  (subscription required)
  15. ^ Playboy 1979, p. 84.
  16. ^ Analog Days. The Invention And Impact Of The Moog Synthesizer. Trevor Pinch / Frank Trocco
  17. ^ Studio Innocenti - Wendy Carlos
  18. ^ "Composer Changes More Than Tune". New York Magazine 12 (14): 65. April 2, 1979.  
  19. ^ Carlos, Wendy. "A Shortlist Of The Cruel". Retrieved May 22, 2012. 
  20. ^ Carlos, Wendy. "On Prurient Matters". Retrieved April 29, 2007. 
  21. ^ Shepherd, Fiona (September 10, 1999). "The World Can Change in a Matter of Momus". The Scotsman (UK). p. 23. Retrieved April 15, 2013 – via  
  22. ^  
  23. ^ "Grammy Award Winners". 
  24. ^ "Blood, Sweat and Tears beat out Beatles, Cash".  
  25. ^ "Wendy Carlos receives the 2005 SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award". April 15, 2005. Archived from the original on January 26, 2006. Retrieved August 27, 2010.  (Summary at the Wayback Machine (archived January 30, 2006)).
  26. ^ a b c Sethares, William A. (2004). Tuning, timbre, spectrum, scale. Springer ; 2nd edition. p. 395.  

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.