Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos, November 14, 1939) American composer and electronic musician. Carlos was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Wendy Carlos was one of the first famous performers of electronic music using synthesisers. Her first recordings were released under her birth name - being a transsexual woman, she changed her name to Wendy Carlos.
She underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 1972, though she had lived as a woman for three years beforehand, and had been taking hormone treatments prior to that. The last release to be credited to her old name was “By Request” (1975). The first as Wendy was “Switched-On Brandenburgs” (1979). This was due to an agreement with CBS records for her not to disclose her transgender status for ten years as a condition of her record contract. She revealed her new name and status in an interview in the May 1979 issue of Playboy magazine. However, on her official site, there is an answer to the question of why original LPs “have a different name on them", suggesting that a male name on a classical LP would have been accepted more eagerly.
Her transition is not discussed.
“Switched-On Bach” was perhaps the first album to attempt the use of synthesizers as an alternative to an orchestra; having assisted Robert Moog in the development of his first commercially available synthesizers, she was able to pioneer the technology, which was significantly more complex and difficult to use at the time. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in creating this album. “Switched-On Bach” became the best-selling classical album of all time, and for many years it had sold more copies than all other classical albums combined. A sequel of additional baroque music played on synthesizers, “The Well-Tempered Synthesizer” (the title being a play on Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier"), followed in 1969, and while it sold well, it hasn’t achieved the near-legendary status that “Switched-On Bach” has.
1972’s “Sonic Seasonings” pushed the envelope further. This was packaged as a double album, with one side dedicated to each of the four seasons, and each side consisting of one long track. It blended recorded sounds with synthesized sounds, without melodies, to create an ambient effect. Not as popular as some other albums, this was extremely influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre.
Also in 1972, music by Carlos was released on the soundtrack for the film A Clockwork Orange.
1984’s “Digital Moonscapes” switched to entirely digital synthesizers, instead of the analog synthesizers that were the trademark of her earlier albums.
1986’s “Beauty In the Beast” saw Wendy Carlos experimenting with just intonation. A system she invented for the album is described as having 144 notes per octave. This is a little misleading. The system uses two keyboards, one on which the notes are played. The other keyboard is used to set the “root note", and retune all of the notes on the keyboard to just intonation intervals. The 144 comes from 12 notes in a chromatic scale times 12 different tunings.
1987’s “Secrets of Synthesis” 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 a good introduction to synthesis, and some (i.e., a discussion of hocketing) is most useful to experienced musicians.
In the early 2000’s, most of her catalogue was remastered.