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Music / Switched-On Bach

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The first album cover, which was pulled because it was deemed too clownesque.
The second, more common, album cover shows Bach in a more dignified way than the first one.
Switched-On Bach is the 1968 debut album by American electronic musician Wendy Carlosnote , released through Columbia Records' Classical Music imprint, Columbia Masterworks. This Cover Album performs the music of Johann Sebastian Bach on a Moog synthesizer, which at the time was a new and controversial move. Bach was held in high esteem among music fans and the very idea that someone who dared to tamper with his work by giving it a modernized sound was considered blasphemous by some. Others believed that Bach would have approached a synthesizer as just another type of organ. Indeed, in his own day, Bach was closely involved with instrument makers, and followed technical innovations; The Well-Tempered Clavier was written to show off new techniques in piano building and tuning that would allow an instrument to be played in tune in any key.

Still, the album was a colossal best-seller in a way that Classical Music had never experienced in decades. Many youngsters who felt that Classical Music Is Boring did enjoy listening to it in this format. Furthermore, the album proved that Electronic Music could be profitable and merited according to its own terms. Carlos herself followed it up with similar albums in this vein, including the soundtrack for the film A Clockwork Orange, and countless other electronic composers have tried to imitate her by also making synthesizer renditions of other classical works. Even renowned classical performers E. Power Biggs, Zoltán Rozsnyai, Pablo Casals and Glenn Gould, who liked the work, released a classical music album called "Switched Off Bach" (1972).

Switched-On Bach won three Grammy Awards, including "Best Classical Album", and it was inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2005 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It was one of the first uses of an electronic instrument in a way that could be taken seriously by musical purists i.e. not used as for sound effects in sci-fi movies, thus demonstrating what a synthesizer could really do. To some listeners, the clean and precise tones produced by the analog circuits gave increased clarity to Bach's original writing, even if producing the recordings was incredibly difficult.note 


Side One
  1. "Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29" (3:20)
  2. "Air on a G String" (2:27)
  3. "Two-Part Invention in F Major" (0:40)
  4. "Two-Part Invention in B-Flat Major" (1:30)
  5. "Two-Part Invention in D Minor" (0:55)
  6. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (2:56)
  7. "Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in E-Flat Major" (from The Well-Tempered Clavier) (7:07)

Side Two

  1. "Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor" (from The Well-Tempered Clavier) (2:43)
  2. "Chorale Prelude "Wachet Auf" (3:37)
  3. "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Allegro" (6:35)
  4. "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Adagio" (2:50)
  5. "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Allegro" (5:05)

Switched-On Tropes:

  • Alternate Album Cover: The initial release featured a cover photo of a man dressed as Bach sitting and listening to the album through Carlos' synthesizer, bewildered at the results. Carlos had the cover pulled both because of its silliness and because of its inaccurate depiction of how one would use a synthesizer. The replacement photo instead features a more traditionally dignified Bach standing upright.
  • Anachronism Stew: Bach is portrayed on the album cover standing/sitting in front of a Moog modular synthesizer.
  • Artistic License – Music: The original cover features Bach reacting in disgust at the sounds of the synthesizer. However, the earphones are plugged into the input jack of a 914 Filter module, which is itself connected to nothing. This, combined with the fact that he is not playing anything at the moment the picture is taken, means that Bach wouldn't have heard anything. These inaccuracies is one of the reasons the cover was replaced.
  • Classical Music: Carlos was criticized for daring to mess with centuries-old masterpieces, but in fact she actually popularized the genre for people who normally perceived it as boring.
  • Classical Music Is Cool: Bach's compositions brought gravitas to the emerging genre of Electronic Music. The result became wildly popular, showing there was plenty of life in Baroque Music many people might have thought was old and stuffy.
  • Cantata: "Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", from "Cantata No. 147".
  • Cover Album: All music is by Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • Covers Always Lie: As discussed, the original cover photo was replaced for failing at Artistic License – Music, and for giving the impression that Bach would have been displeased with the synthesized sounds.
  • Double Meaning: The album is prominently credited to “Trans-Electronic Music Productions, Inc.” Some time after its release, Wendy Carlos came out as a trans electronic musician.
  • Electronic Music: Popularized the genre.
  • Instrumentals: The whole album, owed to Classical Music's natural propensity for this trope.
  • In the Style of: For the re-release, Carlos wrote a Second Movement for the Third Brandenburg (which doesn't have a Second Movement) which sounds as if Bach wrote it.
  • New Sound Album: Not so much in content, as this is music everyone already heard before, but in sound, as this was the first full electronic music rendition of classical music.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Johann Sebastian Bach is portrayed by an actor on the cover.
  • Remake: The 1992 Switched-On Bach 2000 is a remake of the original with the same tracks, but with different digital sounds.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: Music by the baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach played on a Moog synthesizer.
  • Sequel: Switched-On Bach (1968) was followed by similar electronic Bach versions, such as The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969), Switched-On Bach II (1973), Switched-On Brandenburgs (1979) and Switched-On Bach 2000 (1992).
  • Synth-Pop: One of the landmark albums.
  • Updated Re-release: After Carlos publicly came out as trans in 1979, this and her other albums were reissued under her preferred name.