Into Electronic Music? Then You Need to Know About Wendy Carolos

So much of today’s electronic music–everything from technopop to industrial to EDM to pop–starts with two people: Dr. Bob Moog, the inventor of the modern synthesizer and Walter (now Wendy) Carlos, the musician who released the first successful all-synth albums.  Vice takes a look at this important musical pioneer.

In 1968, Wendy Carlos took a Moog synthesizer, an unknown instrument at the time, and electronically reconstructed Johann Sebastian Bach’s six “Brandenburg Concertos” into the first ever platinum-selling classical album, “Switched on Bach.” The album became the most influential “electronic” classical recording of all time, smashing the borders between classical and synthesized music. It won her three Grammys and sent a message to the world that a synthesizer was a musical instrument, rather than just an obscure machine used by professors in labs to make weird robot sounds.

Carlos was born in a working-class family in Pawtucket, R.I., and started piano lessons at age six. She went on to study music and physics at Brown University and music composition with pioneers Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the first electronic music center in the U.S.A. She started working as a tape editor at Gotham Recording and struck up a friendship withRobert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer, consequently becoming one of his first clients.

Throughout the years, Carlos influenced Moog and helped him refine his synthesizers, ultimately convincing him to add touch sensitivity to the synth keyboard for better dynamics and musicality. “Wendy has built up lyrical sounds nobody ever heard coming out of a digital synthesizer before,” Moog said in a 1985 interview with People Magazine. “Nobody is in her league.”

Here’s a sample of Carlo’s work. Listen as you keep reading.

Thanks to Tom for the link.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Into Electronic Music? Then You Need to Know About Wendy Carolos

  • November 14, 2015 at 10:25 am

    The link is NOT a Wendy Carlos performance. Her recordings are hard to come by these days. Her CDs are out of print, and she vigilantly protects her ownership of her music by preventing its use on Youtube or other social media. CDs are still available — at collector’s prices — on Ebay and Amazon.


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