From the Library… Wendy Carlos Retrospective

This week in ‘From The Library’ we will be tak­ing a look at the work of vir­tu­oso elec­tron­ic music artist Wendy Car­los in a pro­gramme that fea­tures a broad spread of Car­los’s work from the sem­i­nal Switched-On Bach (1968) onwards – by no means every­thing (vis­it the Discog­ra­phy on her web site for the cur­rent list) but quite an exten­sive overview, includ­ing orig­i­nal record­ings, audio notes on the mak­ing of the record­ings by Car­los her­self, and cov­er­ing the artist’s work from the late 1960s up to more recent works which explore the tun­ing and har­mon­ic pos­si­bil­i­ties of mod­ern dig­i­tal elec­tron­ic instru­ments.

Car­los was already well-known in the more abstract elec­tron­ic music field by the late 1960s when Robert Moog invent­ed the first Moog Syn­the­sis­ers. These were to change the face of pop­u­lar music in due course – but it was the appli­ca­tion of the mod­u­lar Moog III sys­tem by Car­los to the work of J S Bach that had the great­est impact. Switched-On Bach – or ‘S‑OB’ as it has become known – became the best-sell­ing clas­si­cal album of all time and brought the Moog into the con­scious­ness of the music indus­try. What fol­lowed was a vast col­lec­tion of Moog albums, all painstak­ing­ly record­ed line by line (these were mono­phon­ic instru­ments) on mul­ti­track, and rang­ing from inno­v­a­tive musi­cal expres­sions to rather tedious syn­the­sised warm-overs of pop tunes. Sud­den­ly elec­tron­ic music was pop­u­lar and tune­ful, rather than the “bloop-bleep” – to use S‑OB A&R Rachel Elkind’s phrase – abstract approach that had pre­vi­ous­ly large­ly char­ac­terised the field (with some notable excep­tions such as Per­rey & Kings­ley, whom we will dis­cuss in a broad­er elec­tron­ic music per­spec­tive in a cou­ple of weeks’ time).

As part of the pro­gramme we are includ­ing two radio doc­u­men­taries from the ear­ly 1970s: Elec­tron­ic Music Syn­the­sis­ers parts 1 and 2 by Pyra­me­dia Pro­duc­tions. Part 1 cov­ers the ear­ly his­to­ry of elec­tron­ic music and takes us up to ear­ly Moog albums of the late 1960s and ear­ly 70s; while Part 2, pro­duced a year or so lat­er, reviews the con­tin­u­ing impact of the syn­the­sis­er in pop and rock music. We can promise you exam­ples from the hideous to the sub­lime, and some rare mate­r­i­al includ­ing audio exam­ples of such devel­op­ments as the Vodeur in the 1930s, and Rachel Elkind inter­viewed by Alan Free­man on BBC Radio 2 in 1968, on the release of S‑OB.

Elec­tron­ic musi­cal instru­ments have always led a dual life, on the one hand often used to imi­tate or replace con­ven­tion­al instru­men­ta­tion while on the oth­er offer­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cre­at­ing new sounds lim­it­ed only by the imag­i­na­tion of the musi­cian (along with some tech­ni­cal stric­tures, of course). Wendy Car­los has explored both sides of the syn­the­sis­er’s char­ac­ter and has excelled par­tic­u­lar­ly in the lat­ter as we hope you will hear this week. Arguably no sin­gle musi­cian has been so impor­tant in push­ing back the bound­aries of musi­cal explo­ration.

From The Library is pre­sent­ed by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library in Sec­ond Life, and this week’s pro­gramme was pro­duced by Elrik Mer­lin. For more infor­ma­tion on the Cale­don Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Sec­ond Life ref­er­ence libraries in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Cale­don Library Web site, or one of their loca­tions in-world.

• You can lis­ten to the pro­gram now at http://music.radioriel.org, or sim­ply vis­it any Cale­don Library branch in-world and press Play on your embed­ded music play­er.

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