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Music / Wendy Carlos

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Wendy Carlos (born November 14, 1939), is an American composer, electronic musician, and synthesizer engineer.

She is one of the pioneers in adapting Classical Music to Electronic Music, and is notable for being one of the first Transgender public figures to be open about their gender affirming surgery; for a while after her transition, Carlos' works were still being published under her birth name, with Carlos not publicly coming out until 1979 thanks to her personal concerns surrounding how her identity would be received. After coming out, however, these and previous works have since been republished under her current name (as for the public response, she described it as "surprisingly indifferent").

Carlos first gained notoriety with the landmark album Switched-On Bach (1968), which interpreted music by Johann Sebastian Bach in a futuristic way, played entirely on a Moog synthesizer. This was a controversial move, especially because of Bach's divine status among music lovers and the fact that nobody ever tried to play these 200 year-old works in such a modern fashion. In spite of this, the album sold well, won three Grammys, and introduced many young people to the genre, those who normally would never listen to classical music.

In 1971, Carlos was approached by Stanley Kubrick to score A Clockwork Orange; she gave Ludwig van Beethoven's 9th Symphony, "Funeral Music for Queen Mary" by Henry Purcell and the final of Gioachino Rossini's "William Tell" Overture a similar approach. The distinctive and recognizable musical style led to that score becoming a Cult Soundtrack, and has been imitated and covered by countless other electronic musicians since. Kubrick hired Carlos again to electronicize Hector Berlioz's "Dies irae" for The Shining. Another famous movie she was involved with was the Cult Classic TRON, for which she composed an original score.


  • Switched-On Bach (1968)
  • The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969)
  • Sonic Seasonings (1972)
  • Switched-On Bach II (1973)
  • By Request (1975)
  • Switched-On Brandenburgs (1979, first album issued as Wendy Carlos)
  • Digital Moonscapes (1984)
  • Beauty In the Beast (1986)
  • Secrets of Synthesis (1987)
  • Peter and the Wolf (1988, with "Weird Al" Yankovic)
  • Switched-On Bach 2000 (1992)
  • Tales of Heaven and Hell (1998)


Wendy Carlos' work provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Title: Her 1972 album Sonic Seasonings.
  • Alternate Album Cover: After disclosing her 1972 gender reassignment surgery in 1979, Carlos' previous works were re-released to replace all instances of her birth name, including those on the covers, with her preferred one.
  • Ambient: The album Sonic Seasonings, an early example of the genre, blended field recordings with synthesized sounds.
  • Classical Music: Carlos was criticized for daring to mess with centuries-old masterpieces, but in fact she actually popularized the genre with people who normally perceived it as boring. So far, she has adapted:
  • Cover Album: Her electronic renditions of famous classical pieces are effectively this.
  • Covers Always Lie: Her collaboration with "Weird Al" Yankovic on "Peter and the Wolf" seems like a straight rendition of both "Peter and the Wolf" and "Carnival of the Animals". They are, in fact, both parodies that have little to do with the original stories or music.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Scored the electronic music for seminal films such as Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. She also composed the soundtrack for TRON, where she provided both the orchestral as well as the electronic music.
  • Cyber Punk Is Techno: Her score for TRON.
  • Double Meaning: Carlos’s recordings were credited to “Trans-Electronic Music Productions, Inc.”, which took on more significance after she came out as a trans electronic musician.
  • Electronic Music: A pioneering figure in the field, helping bring all-synthesizer music to mainstream prominence with Switched-On Bach.
  • Genre Motif: Carlos intentionally scored all scenes in TRON that are set in the real world only with orchestral music, saving the electronic music for cyberspace. Daft Punk didn't follow this convention in TRON: Legacy, instead saving the orchestral music for the more emotional moments of the movie, on or off the grid.
  • In Harmony with Nature: Sonic Seasonings combines music with field recordings, such as rushing wind, birdsong and sounds of insects.
  • Instrumentals: A given.
  • Mickey Mousing: Carlos did this a few times in TRON, notably during Sark walking to the MCP core, where his footstep punctuations are actually in the score, not sound effects. According to the liner notes of the CD release of the soundtrack, she actually used this much more in the original drafts of the score, but the production staff asked her to tone it down.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Her rendition of Henry Purcell's "Funeral Music for Queen Mary", famously used as the intro to A Clockwork Orange, and Hector Berlioz' "Dies Irae" from "Symphonie Fantastique", used as the intro to The Shining are extremely creepy, especially compared to the original music.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Switched-On Bach 2000 was released eight years earlier than the title indicates.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Carlos is better known for scoring work of other, more famous composers than for her own music. The fact that she was one of the first celebrities to undergo a sex change and openly disclose it has also made her more notable than her music in some circles.
  • Pop-Star Composer: For a given definition of "pop," Carlos not only made a name for herself as an electronic classical musician, but also composed songs for A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and TRON (though granted only two of the songs she wrote for The Shining — "Dies Irae" and "Rocky Mountains" — made it into the final film).
  • Pun-Based Title: Her second album, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, is a pun on J. S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: Carlos's most famous pieces are her Electronic Music renditions of Classical Music compositions.
  • 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).