I knew the name Wendy Carlos as a little kid. Mainly because of The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and Tron. Hers was a name that stood out in the credits of films I watched and sort of rewired my brain as a kid. I knew that Wendy was a musician, but I never quite understood how significant of a musician she was till I was much older and the internet allowed at-home snooping.
Just prior to the snooping and before I was fully aware of the musical wizardry of Wendy Carlos there was a time I thought Wendy Carlos might’ve been Wendy Melvoin. Like, I thought possibly during the day Wendy Melvoin was a keyboardist with the Revolution, but at night she did soundtracks for films under the name Wendy Carlos. I quickly righted that wrong before I would’ve made a fool of myself in some embarrassing conversation with someone that knew more than I did on the subject.
Carlos, it turns out, is one of the premier synth pioneers(and not a band mate of Prince Rogers Nelson.) Her take on classical music in modular synth form on the albums Switched-On Bach, Switched-On Bach II, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Sonic Seasonings, Switched-On Brandenburgs; as well as her soundtrack work in two of Stanley Kubrick’s most iconic films and an early special effects marvel from Disney completely changed the game for electronic music.
Wendy Carlos legitimized modular synths and electronic music in general, which in turn opened the doors for modular synths and the Moog to be used in sci fi films, prog rock(see ELP, Yes, Rush, Genesis), and even beer commercials.
All of this to say that the great and powerful Wendy Carlos turned 80-years young yesterday, November 14th. This incredibly thoughtful, talented, and forward-thinking artist that pretty much ripped open a hole in the fabric of time and reality with a crazy record called Switched-On Bach has quietly been blowing minds for at least 5 out of those 8 decades. Let’s not forget what she’s done for us fans of synth music, as well as those currently making noise with these electronic beasts.
Happy belated birthday, Wendy Carlos. Thanks for rewiring my brain, and making Bach interesting to me. And not playing in the Revolution.