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Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos is an American composer and electronic musician. She was one of the first famous performers of electronic music using synthesisers.

Wendy Carlos in 1980
Wendy Carlos in 1980.

Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos, November 14, 1939 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island) is an American composer and electronic musician. Wendy Carlos was one of the first famous performers of electronic music using synthesisers.


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, she was able to pioneer the technology, which was significantly more complex and difficult to use at the time. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in creating this album. Switched-On Bach became the best-selling classical album of all time, and for many years it had sold more copies than all other classical albums combined. A sequel of additional baroque music played on synthesizers, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (the title being a play on Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”), followed in 1969, and while it sold well, it hasn’t achieved the near-legendary status that Switched-On Bach has. For new listeners The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is anyway more recommendable since it contains more varied use 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, this was extremely 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 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. 1984’s Digital Moonscapes switched to entirely 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 a 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

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