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Notebook Soundtrack Mix #9: Secret Synthesis — The Lost Worlds of Wendy Carlos

Celebrating the music soundtracks by electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos.
Florence Scott-Anderton
Part of our on-going series Notebook Soundtrack Mixes.
Wendy Carlos
Wendy Carlos sits away from the limelight. Some might say she is somewhat a mysterious figure in the realms she is recognized in: film composition, classical composition, and electronic music. A pioneer of electronic music invention and application, Carlos is behind the development of much that we now take for granted in contemporary music, helping open up a word of new possibilities for future generations of composers and bedroom producers alike.
Studying music and physics at Brown in the 1960s, Carlos went on to earn a masters in music at Columbia under the tutelage of electronic composer pioneer Vladimir Ussachevsky. It was there, a year before graduating, that Carlos met Robert Moog. The two began a partnership with a mutual vision: to create an instrument with the same expression as the piano, to update the form in the same way the piano updated the clavichord. Carlos played a pivotal role in the development of the instrument, giving advice on things such as using a touch sensitive device for greater dynamics. The result was the Moog synthesizer, one of the most important developments in modern music production of the 20th century (Moog gives Carlos most of the credit for their partnership).
What followed were collaborations with Rachel Eldkin and the release of the LP Switched On Bach, a groundbreaking approach to classical music, using the synthesizer to create familiar works of art with a contemporary twist. It was during this time Carlos began her collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, her and Eldkin creating the iconic scores for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980). In those scores, the synthesizer and vocoder reimaged classical sounds through modern hardware, juxtaposing both the playful and horrorifc, the tense and beautiful within Kubrick’s vision, and helping create film music which still to this day is immediately identifiable. Kubrick, renowned for sudden changes within his productions, did not use all of the music Carlos and Eldkin created for the two films but these have subsequently been released under the title Wendy Carlo’s A Clockwork Orange and Rediscovering Lost Scores Volumes 1 & 2. Work from these discographies features throughout this mix, as well the iconic Tron (1982), a chance for us to uncover the vast array of moods and ideas on display in Carlos’ filmography.
It is surprising that an important figure as Carlos, who had a heavy impact on the development of 20th century music, is incredibly absent from wider public recognition and music and film dialogue. During the 1970s Carlos underwent gender reassignment surgery and opened up about her identity for the first time. In a long form interview in a 1979 issue of Playboy, Carlos, a guarded figure, discussed her transition and life very openly. Carlos wanted to liberate herself and felt at the time that Playboy, with its concern for liberation, was the right platform to share her experience with. This moment became a turning point for Carlos, feeling the experience with Playboy and the subsequent interview was negative and that the magazine “betrayed a cruel indifference to anyone’s interests but their own.” Since then Carlos receded from interviews and public appearances but the impact Carlos has had as the first trans woman working in the Hollywood music industry cannot be understated.
This mix is a tribute to Carlos' genius. Over the course of the mix we find ourselves dipping in and out of the haunting, the elated, the romantic, the terrifying, the regal and the subdued. Brilliant swooshes of electronics that give us the full spectrum of emotion. The many masterful effects Carlos helped to pioneer through electronic hardware ring to the surface of this rollercoaster ride, alongside some classical instruments and snippets of Carlos explaining synthesizer technology from a wonderful rare BBC interview from 1989.
  1. Wendy Carlos BBC excerpt (0:00)
  2. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “Theme from A Clockwork Orange (Beethoviana)”  (0:17)
  3. Wendy Carlos, Woundings (Brand New World), “Scattering Ashes” (1:53)
  4. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “Biblical Daydreams” (3:17)
  5. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “Timesteps” (edit)  (5:13)
  6. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Dark Winds and Rustles” (8:44)
  7. Wendy Carlos, Split Second, “Return to the Morgue” (edit) (10:26)
  8. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “Timesteps” (edit)  (13:04)
  9. Wendy Carlos BBC excerpt  (20:41)
  10. Wendy Carlos, Woundings, “Angela’s Walk” (21:28)
  11.  Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Paraphrase for Brass”(22:28)
  12.  Wendy Carlos, Woundings, “Fly Away and End” (23:58)
  13.  Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “The Overlook” (25:27)
  14.   Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Setting With Medea” (29:05)
  15.  Wendy Carlos, UNICEF film, “The Children of Peru” (31:10)
  16. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “Country Lane” (33:40)
  17. Wendy Carlos, Tron, “Creation of TRON” (38:25)
  18. Wendy Carlos, Tron, “Anthem” (edit) (39:01)
  19. Wendy Carlos, Split Second, “Visit to a Morgue” (40:33)
  20. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Heartbeats and Worry” (41:47)
  21. Wendy Carlos, Tron, “Anthem for Keyboard Solo” (43:35)
  22. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Paraphrase for Cello”(44:33)
  23. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Nocturnal Valse Triste”(47:52)
  24. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Postlude”(49:08)
  25. Wendy Carlos, Tron, “Love Theme” (50:05)
  26. Wendy Carlos BBC excerpt (52:03)
  27. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “A Ghost Piano”(53:03)
  28. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Clockworks (Bloody Elevators)” (edit) (54:52)
  29. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “Title Music From A Clockwork Orange” (edit) (56:59)
  30. Wendy Carlos, The Shining, “Fanfare and Drunken (Dies)” (edit) (59:01)
  31. Wendy Carlos, Woundings, “Louise” (1:02:25)
  32. Wendy Carlos, Tron, “Miracle and Magician” (1:03:14)
  33. Wendy Carlos, Tron, “Magic Landings” (edit) (1:06:01)
  34. Wendy Carlos BBC excerpt (1:09:09)
  35. Wendy Carlos, A Clockwork Orange, “La Gazza Ladre”(1:09:57)


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