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Famous Like Me > Composer > C > Wendy Carlos

Profile of Wendy Carlos on Famous Like Me

Name: Wendy Carlos  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 14th November 1939
Place of Birth: Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA
Profession: Composer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Wendy Carlos in 1980

Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlossee Personal life section below—November 14, 1939 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island) is an American composer and electronic musician. Carlos was one of the first famous performers of electronic music using synthesizers.


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, Carlos helped pioneer the technology, which was significantly more complex and difficult to use than it is today. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album. On its release, Switched-On Bach became the best-selling classical album of all time, and the first 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 a wider variety 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, it was however very 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 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 an alternate 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. 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.

Personal life

Carlos' musical education began when she started playing the piano at age 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 began designing the prototype of the Moog synthesizer. Around 1966, Carlos met Rachel Elkind with whom she began a lifelong professional relationship. 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 as it brought unwelcome publicity to her personal life. On her official site, her transition is discussed in an essay stating that she values her privacy on the subject .


(Albums released during years 1968-1975 were originally released under name "Walter Carlos". Re-issues and later albums have been released under name "Wendy Carlos")

  • 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) (Now on Recovering Lost Scores)
  • 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)
  • Recovering Lost Scores, Volume 1 (2005) (The Shining, Clockwork Orange, UNICEF)
  • Recovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 (2005) (The Shining, Tron, Split Second, Woundings)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Wendy Carlos