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Walter/Wendy Carlos (Synthesizer)

Born: Pawtucket, R.I, USA

From the beginning, composer and synthesist Wendy Carlos has not followed a conventional music course. Born in Pawtucket, R.I., she started piano lessons at age 6 and exhibited talents for graphic arts and the sciences, winning a Westinghouse Science Fair scholarship for a home built computer. After pursuing a hybrid major in music and physics at Brown University, she earned an M.A. in music composition at Columbia University, studying with pioneers Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky at the first electronic music center in the USA. Upon graduation, Carlos worked as a recording engineer and befriended Robert Moog (who currently manufactures many instruments at Big Briar,) becoming one of his first clients.

In collaboration with Rachel Elkind, who served as her producer for a dozen years, Carlos hit platinum sales status with her 1968 recording Switched-On Bach, which propelled the Moog synthesizer into the public consciousness and won three Grammy Awards. She refined her techniques in The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, and introduced the use of vocoders for synthesized singing in her score for Stanley Kubrick's film, A Clockwork Orange, long before space war movies made synthetic voices common. Her haunting Sonic Seasonings in 1972 predated the now popular environmental-ambient forms of New Age music by over a decade.

After recording several more albums in a classical vein, Carlos wrote horror music for Kubrick's The Shining, and composed the score for the 1982 Disney film Tron. The latter score established a continuous blend between symphonic orchestra and digital and analog synthesizers, an often imitated combination. Digital Moonscapes followed in 1984, introducing the "LSI Philharmonic Orchestra," a digital replica of orchestral timbres virtually indistinguishable from their acoustic instrumental counterparts.

In 1986, Carlos turned to a lifelong interest in alternate scales and musical tunings, combining music from old world cultures with new ideas in Beauty In The Beast,. She next collaborated with (Weird) Al Yankovic on a humorous musical album, coupling a parody of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with a whimsical extension of a Camille Saint-Saëns classic, called Carnival of the Animals - Part Two. This tongue-in-cheek blend of verbal and musical parody continued her LSI Philharmonic timbres and orchestral recreation, was performed directly into a Macintosh computer, using all the latest MIDI and SMPTE technology, allowing both precision and human feel in the instrumental ensembles.

With 1992's Switched-On Bach 2000. Carlos came full circle by applying modern techniques and equipment to look back at her early classic, this time using the non-equal temperaments Bach himself preferred. It provides listeners with an opportunity to experience how far the new medium progressed in 25 years, and contains a performance of the much-requested Toccata & Fugue in d minor.

Over 1992-1995, in collaboration with synthesist and friend Larry Fast, Carlos developed a state-of-the-art digital process of soundtrack restoration and surround stereo conversion called: Digi-Surround Stereo Sound. The novel techniques have proven invaluable on recent film and music projects, and in the remasterings of older works.

The latest works by Wendy Carlos are Tales of Heaven & Hell, an unusual musical dramatic work which combines themes from A Clockwork Orange with a dark and forbidding gothic Mass, and the score to the British film, Woundings. She is also remastering most of her back catalog for reissue on East Side Digital, with many albums available on CD for the first time. The first two of these were Clockwork Orange, the Complete Carlos Score, and the constantly requested Sonic Seasonings. The most extensive album project is the definitive boxed set collection of her pioneering Bach & Baroque albums. More recent remasterings include Beauty in the Beast, and Digital Moonscapes.

The latest remasterings have included all of the unbundled Bach and Baroque albums in new editions just as you remembered them: Switched-On Bach, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Switched-On Bach II, and the 2-CD set, Switched-On Brandenburgs. A definitive edition of the score to Disney's TRON has also been released. All of these Hi-D 20-bit ESD albums are Enhanced-CDs, containing expanded historical notes as well as previously unreleased bonus material. Further re-releases and new albums have continued, including By Request and Secrets of Synthesis, a new edition of Switched-On Bach 2000, and two brand new albums of Rediscovered Lost Scores, filmscore music never before available.

Among her other recent projects is the year long design and construction of a custom hybrid musical assembly, the four manual WurliTzer II. 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 is now learning how to play the instrument, while at the same time composing new music for it.

In April of 2005, Wendy was presented with the SEAMUS 2005 Life Achievement Award, in recognition of her groundbreaking work in the electro acoustic world since the '60s. She has delivered papers at New York University, the Audio Engineering Society's Digital Audio Conference, Dolby's NYC Surround Sound demonstration and panel, and other music/audio conferences. Carlos is a member of the Audio Engineering Society, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Carlos consults for several Macintosh developers including Mark of the Unicorn, Opcode, and Coda, has designed PostScript music fonts for Casady & Greene, and has developed libraries and tunings for Kurzweil/Young Chang. Other interests include solar eclipse chasing, surround sound, astronomy, color vision, photography and other visual arts, map making, reading, gourmet food, film, and a love of animals.

Source: Wendy Carlos Website (2005)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2006)

Walter/Wendy Carlos: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal & Instrumental Works | General Discussions

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Wendy Carlos Homepage


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