Welcome to Grandmothers of electronic music, Part 2: Wendy Carlos
Last week I brought you Delia Derbyshire, sonic experimenter and BBC soundtrack writer supreme. Today, we’ll take a look at the work of American, Wendy Carlos (née Walter Carlos).
Wendy, like Delia, has a distinguished educational background (Brown and Columbia) combining—surprise—music AND science (physics in Carlos’ case). After school, Carlos worked as a recording engineer where she befriended famed synthesizer-maker, Robert Moog—she became one of his first customers in fact and offered critical feedback for him to improve his instruments.
Wendy’s breakout recording, made in collaboration with her longtime producer, Rachel Elkind, came in 1968—with Switched on Bach. Taking classic Bach pieces, Carlos reworked them with her Moogs and produced, perhaps, one of the most unique classical albums ever released. The album served as a sort of introduction to synthesized music for the masses and earned 3 Grammy Awards. It was also one of the first classical albums to go platinum. An entry in Wikipedia about Switched on Bach says:
Switched-On Bach, or “S-OB” as Carlos referred to it, was recorded on a custom-built 8 track recorder (constructed by Carlos from superseded Ampex components), using numerous takes and overdubs. This was long before the days of MIDI sequencers or polyphonic keyboards. Recording the album was a tedious and time-consuming process — each of the pieces had to be assembled one part at a time, and Carlos, Elkind and Folkman devoted many hours to experimenting with suitable synthetic sounds for each voice and part.
From there, Carlos composed the music for A Clockwork Orange, Tron and The Shining, as well as non-film projects like Digital Moonscapes, Beauty in the Beast and even a Weird Al Yankovic collaboration for Peter and the Wolf.
Carlos continues to push herself creatively and intellectually. In addition to remastering her own classics, giving papers on audio engineering, and releasing further Switched on… titles she is currently working on refining her techniques for a custom hybrid musical assembly, the four manual WurliTzer II. Says her website:
This combines the finest of pipe organ technology with the latest digital synths in one convenient package, allowing the spontaneity of a live instrument. She has been continuing to develop the skills to play the instrument, as it evolves and is expanded continually, while at the same time composing new music for it.
It is likely to appear on her next album project, in one way or another.
Keep up the exploring Wendy, and we’ll keep listening!
To find all things Wendy, head over to her website.