From the Library… Wendy Carlos Retrospective

in Daily Programme

by Elrik Merlin on Monday, 17 March, 2008

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, or simply visit any Caledon Library branch in-world and press Play on your embedded music player.


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