Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos
Birth name Walter Carlos
Born (1939-11-14) November 14, 1939 (age 76)
Pawtucket, Rhode Island, U.S.
Genres Ambient, jazz, classical, synthpop, electronic
Occupation(s) Electronic musician,
Instruments Synthesizer, keyboards, vocoder
Website WendyCarlos.com

HIDDEN ERROR: Usage of "Notable songs" is not recognizedHIDDEN ERROR: Usage of "First_album" is not recognized

Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos; November 14, 1939) is an American composer and performer, known for her use of electronic instruments to play classical music, and for her film scores.

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 and other classical recordings followed.

Carlos later began releasing original compositions, including the first album of synthesized environmental sounds, Sonic Seasonings (1972) and an album exploring alternate tunings Beauty in the Beast (1986). She has worked in film music, 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 (aged 14), Carlos won a Westinghouse Science Fair scholarship for a home-built computer, well before "computer" was a household word. After graduating from St. Raphael Academy, a Catholic high school in Pawtucket, RI, Carlos earned a B.A. in music and physics at Brown University (1962) and an M.A. in music from Columbia University (1965). 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 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 (1722). A second sequel, Switched-On Bach II, was released in 1973, continuing the style of the previous two albums and 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 1962 eponymous novel by Anthony Burgess. Additional music not used in the film was released in 1972 as Walter Carlos' Clockwork Orange. Some portions of her work for this film reappeared in her Tales of Heaven and Hell (2003), in movement 3 A Clockwork Black.[]

    She worked with Kubrick again on the score for The Shining (1980). While in the end Kubrick mostly used the pre-existing music by avant-garde composers he had used as guide tracks, Carlos' contribution was notable for her reinterpretation of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique used during the opening scene. Carlos's complete contributions were finally released 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 significantly influenced 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 originally 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 scale she invented, 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, and 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 12 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 (1967) by Beaver & Krause, released 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 , a music publisher.[]

    Personal life

    Gender transition

    Carlos became aware of her gender dysphoria at an early age; she told Playboy, "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 (aged 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 transgender issues (including the work of Harry Benjamin). In early 1968, she began hormone treatments and soon began living full-time as a woman. In her Whole Earth Catalog review of synthesizers (1971), Carlos asked to be credited simply as "W. Carlos". After the financial success of Switched-On Bach, Carlos was finally able to undergo sex reassignment surgery in May 1972.

    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, has created a "Shortlist Of The Cruel" page on her website, and gave Playboy‍ '​s editors three "Black Leaf" awards, meaning "Arrogant selfish prig, with a genuine sadistic streak".

    Carlos prefers not to discuss her transition 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, released that year), 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.


    • 1968 Switched-On Bach
    • 1969 The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
    • 1972 Sonic Seasonings
    • 1972 Wendy Carlos's Clockwork Orange (all the music composed or realized for the film.)
    • 1973 Switched-On Bach II
    • 1975 By Request
    • 1979 Switched-On Brandenburgs (first album originally issued as 'Wendy Carlos')
    • 1982 Tron (soundtrack)
    • 1984 Digital Moonscapes
    • 1986 Beauty In the Beast SYNCD 200, Jem Records, South Plainfield, NJ
    • 1987 Secrets of Synthesis CBS Records, MK42333.
    • 1988 Peter and the Wolf (with "Weird Al" Yankovic)
    • 1992 Switched-On Bach 2000 Telarc Int. Co., CD80323.
    • 1998 Tales of Heaven and Hell (contains a track using 15 equal temperament)


    • 1999 Switched-On Boxed Set (compiles Switched-On Bach, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Switched-On Bach II and Switched-On Brandenburgs, with 144-page book)
    • 2005 Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 1 (compiles previously unreleased music from The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and several UNICEF films)
    • 2005 Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 (compiles previously unreleased music from The Shining, Tron, Split Second, Woundings and 2 Dolby demonstration tracks)

    Appears on

    • 1965 Electronic Music LP. Vox Turnabout. Includes two compositions by Wendy Carlos: Dialogues for Piano and Two Loudspeakers (with Phillip Ramey, pianist) and Variations for Flute and Tape (with John Heiss, flutist).
    • 1967 Moog 900 Series – Electronic Music Systems (demonstration disc displaying the capabilities of the first commercially available Moog synthesizer)
    • 1972 A Clockwork Orange (soundtrack)
    • 1980 The Shining: Score Selections (soundtrack)