Official Wendy Carlos Online Information Source
May 31, 2016 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Wendy Carlos is one of the most important composers living today. While primarily connected to the fields of electronic music, sound design, and alternate tunings, her compositions transcend these genres. It is certain that her music will be included among the major milestones of 20th century music.
posted by Sokka shot first (25 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- Brandon Blatcher

Before anyone panics, note the word "living" in the blurb.
posted by SansPoint at 8:39 AM on May 31, 2016 [15 favorites]


(now going to look for recordings)
posted by amtho at 9:18 AM on May 31, 2016

Blows my mind this has never been an FPP :-) I've shared links here on mefi for a few years now hahaha.

So awesome, thanks for sharing!
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:49 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

My first exposure to Wendy Carlos was at an incredibly young age, as the composer for Weird Al Yankovic's retelling of "Peter and the Wolf" which I still maintain is one of the better versions ever created.
posted by Phineas Rhyne at 10:32 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I first heard Wendy Carlos in my music class in, oh, 8th grade back in the 1980s. I loved it, and Tomita, all the weird synthesizer sounds and the re-appropriation of classical music into something new and modern. Our music teacher explained at the time that Wendy used to be Walter and being stupid 8th graders, we all sniggered and mocked. But I always remembered the compassion our music teacher used in mentioning this fact, off-hand. She may well have been the first transgender person I learned about.

Also the Tron soundtrack is totally great. The Tron Scherzo is the bit you probably remember, but her whole soundtrack was as important a part of the film's design as the art direction and animation. (If not, sadly, the script.)
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on May 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Sadly, most of the albums appear to be out of print. The Amazon links feature only third-party sellers sometimes charging over $100.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:28 PM on May 31, 2016

I actually would have liked to be a fly on the wall when Kubrick met with Wendy post transition.

When Wendy did the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange, she had begun to transition, but was wearing fake sideburns and drawing on stubble. She was pretending to be a man because she was afraid. She had fully transitioned and gone public by the time they worked together on the soundtrack to The Shining.

I would just have loved to hear what Kubrick's reaction to that was.
posted by aristan at 12:29 PM on May 31, 2016

It's too bad the site hasn't been updated lately, and that she lost the distribution deal with East Side Digital (which was associated with Rykodisc.) It was fun to read updates when she was actively posting about her enthusiasm for solar eclipses.
posted by larrybob at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2016

@aristan: google is your friend:,,20091206,00.html

The answer is that time was most likely hard as hell for her, harder than you will ever possibly be able to imagine. I don't know that Kubrick's reaction matters one teensy fuck, to be honest?
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:41 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

@Annika Cicada, Google and I well acquainted, but sadly that article doesn't provide any other information that what I shared. During her first meetings with Kubrick, Wendy Carlos dressed like a man. And the article is hard to read with the sudden jumps between gender. (A relic of the time it was written because it assumes Wendy wasn't Wendy until the moment she announced she was in Playboy.)

And while no, Kubrick's reaction doesn't matter one teensy fuck, I would still like to know what it was. I admire both Carlos and Kubrick greatly for their work and I would find it interesting to know more about their working relationship, especially since they worked together on a movie where Kubrick seemed intent on driving another woman (Shelley Duval) to the breaking point.

Sadly, Carlos and Kubrick are extremely private, so we're never going to know.

Hopefully I'm wrong, but it seems like you feel my being interested in a meeting between two people I greatly admire is transphobic.
posted by aristan at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

It feels salacious to me. like the reveal is some dramatic thing. That reinforces a lot of dominant views in our society that adds difficulty to an already difficult process. That reaction that you (and millions of others no doubt) seek is the same curiosity that forced Wendy to basically hide indoors for almost ten years. Here we are forty years later and people still have trouble connecting the dots between how the "curiosity of the reveal" is a form of a burden that trans people have to unduly carry, all to serve the idly curious a moment of gratification. I'm not saying you are transphobic, because you're not. But that feeling you have, that curiosity of the reveal, there's an opportunity for deeper understanding there.

So, answering your question, from that article, it would appear that they would have seen each other after she came out publicly sometime in the 80's after the playboy article came out?
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:17 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wendy Carlos has also done some really cool work with alternate tunings. In the West the standard is 12 equal divisions of the octave where the octave has a frequency ratio of 2:1. There are really interesting things about her three of her tunings (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma) but the one that jumps out to most people is that the octaves are not at the standard 2:1 ratio. So your middle-C sounds a tiny bit different than the C an octave higher or lower. This does weird and cool things to your music. I could probably whip something up and post it in a comment if anyone is interested.

Her work is well-respected in the field of alternate tunings (which is a huge rabbit hole that I recommend against getting too deep into).
posted by bfootdav at 1:30 PM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

That would be great, bfootdav.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:45 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Would love to see it, bfootdav! Err... hear it, I guess.
posted by aristan at 1:46 PM on May 31, 2016

posted by Annika Cicada at 1:46 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok, here is the grand tour Wendy Carlos's tunings that do not respect the octave. For each audio file I played a chromatic scale (all the notes in an octave) starting from the A above middle-C to the A an octave higher which allows you to hear all the notes in each tuning. Then I played that lower A and then the higher A again so you can hear the difference in the octave.

The first is the standard tuning in the West known as 12-TET or 12-EDO. It should sound pretty normal:


Alpha.mp3 -- instead of 12 notes in an octave we now have 15. Notice that the octave is slightly flat.

Beta.mp3 -- here there are 19 notes in the octave and the octave is slightly sharp.

Gamma.mp3 -- now we've got a whopping 35 notes in the octave (it might be difficult to tell consecutive notes apart!) and the octave is slightly sharp again but this one is the least noticeable.

All.mp3 -- and here they are played one after the other for ease of listening.
posted by bfootdav at 4:37 PM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Having followed her career casually since "Walter's Switched On.." (one of the few albums I bought from the Classical section), I'm glad she's keeping on, because (clears throat for Schwarzenegger impression) "She'll be Bach."

And since she's already worked with Weird Al, I wish she would team up with Peter Schickele while they're both still around for "Switched On P.D.Q. Bach".
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:36 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

My brother's album of Switched-On Bach was my introduction to Bach and classical music in general, for which I will always be grateful.
posted by pmurray63 at 6:39 PM on May 31, 2016

Thanks for the scales. Gamma would make a sick dubstep drop.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:49 PM on May 31, 2016

When Wendy did the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange, she had begun to transition, but was wearing fake sideburns and drawing on stubble.

I believe Wendy was already transitioning by the time Switched-On Bach was released in 1968, but would appear in public in Walter. The process of going through male-to-female transition was one of the reasons that Carlos didn't tour more extensively to capitalize on the success of that album. At least, that's what I remember from reading Analog Days, a really interesting book about the history of the Moog synthesizer.
posted by jonp72 at 7:18 PM on May 31, 2016

Oh yeah. Thank you!
posted by mrgrimm at 9:29 PM on May 31, 2016

Oh gawd now I'm going to have to haul out my vinyl of Sonic Seasonings and caress it with deaf fingers...

Edit: And now I just noticed the going price. I have a small fortune on my hands.
posted by arzakh at 5:23 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Huh, I have a copy of Beauty in the Beast on vinyl somewhere in a box. That's an album exploring alternate tunings. I don't remember it being very good, TBH, but it's a thing she did. Here's one track online.
posted by Nelson at 8:10 AM on June 1, 2016

It alway bothers me that she is so feverishly devoted to catching and DMCA-blocking her music on YouTube, because Beauty In The Beast is an astonishing piece of work, but it's out of print and having to merely describe it in words without being able to share even a snippet as an example stops us from promoting something amazing. She's protecting her rights in a truly Pyrrhic victory, alas.
posted by sonascope at 8:53 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

She's so good. And, yeah, the Tron soundtrack.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:38 AM on June 1, 2016

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