Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos on 14 November 1939) is an American composer and electronic musician. Carlos first came to notice in the late 1960s with recordings made on the Moog synthesizer, then a relatively new and unknown instrument; most notable were LPs of synthesized Bach and the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick‘s film A Clockwork Orange. Several years prior, two Carlos compositions using classical (pre-Moog) electronic techniques had been issued on LP (Variations for Flute and Tape and Dialogues for Piano and Two Loudspeakers). Although the first Carlos Moog albums were interpretations of the works of classical composers, she later resumed releasing original compositions.
Carlos’ first release was entitled “Moog 900 Series – Electronic Music Systems” (R. A. Moog Company, Inc., 1967) and it was an introduction to the technical aspects of the machine.
Switched-On Bach (1968) was an early album demonstrating the use of the synthesizer as a genuine musical instrument. As an early user of Robert Moog’s first commercially available synthesizer modules (Moog assembled these as custom installations that differed greatly from user to user), Walter Carlos helped pioneer the technology, which was significantly more difficult to use than it is today. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album. Switched-On Bach was the last project in his 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, and (eventually) 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.) 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 florid passages in Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto).
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 recorded sounds with synthesized sounds, occasionally employing melodies, to create an ambient effect. Not as popular as some other Carlos albums, it was influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre. In 1971, Carlos composed and recorded music for A Clockwork Orange. Portions of her work for this film in addition to its classical material re-appeared in her Tales of Heaven and Hell in 2003 in movement 3 A Clockwork Black. She worked with Stanley Kubrick again on the score for The Shining, though in the end Kubrick mostly used pre-existing music cues by other composers.
In 1982, she scored the film Tron for Disney. 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’s 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, 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.
Beginning in 1998, all of her catalogue was remastered. 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.