Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos; 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).
Carlos was a musical prodigy who started piano lessons at six, and at ten composed "A Trio for Clarinet, Accordion, and Piano." In 1953 (age 14) Carlos won a Westinghouse Science Fair scholarship for a home-built computer, well before "computer" was a household word. Carlos earned a B.A. in music and physics at Brown University (1962) and a master's degree in composition from Columbia University (1966). 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 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.
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.
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".
Carlos is also an accomplished solar eclipse photographer.
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, part of her compensation for this recording was in Moog equipment.
Switched-On Bach (1968) was Carlos' break-through album, one of the first to draw attention to the synthesizer as a genuine musical instrument.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.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. It remained at the top spot on the Billboard Magazine classical album chart for two years and 49 weeks.
A sequel of additional synthesized baroque music, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, followed in 1969. The title is a play on Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. A second sequel, 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 passages in Bach's 5th 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 Wendy 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), though in the end Kubrick mostly used the pre-existing music by avant-garde composers he had used as guide tracks. Carlos' contributions would finally see release 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' earlier albums, it was extremely influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre.
In 1982, she scored the film Tron for The Walt Disney Company. This score incorporated orchestra, chorus, organ, and both analog and digital synthesizers. Some of her end-title music featuring the Royal Albert Hall Organ was replaced with a song by 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 ESD.
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". 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 transgenderism (including the work of Harry Benjamin). In early 1968 she began hormone treatments and soon began living full-time as a woman. Although Carlos never included a photo on her early albums, publicity photos for Switched-On Bach show her with distinctly feminine features. In her Whole Earth Catalog review of synthesizers (1971), she asked to be credited simply as "W. Carlos". After the success of Switched-On Bach, in May 1972 Carlos finally was able to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
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." 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 prigs, with a genuine sadistic streak".
Carlos prefers not to discuss her reassignment, and has asked that her privacy regarding the subject be respected.
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 the song from subsequent editions of the CD and owing $30,000 in legal fees.
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 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.