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Wendy Carlos: A Biography

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With her debut album Switched-On Bach, composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos (b. 1939) brought the sound of the Moog synthesizer to a generation of listeners, helping to effect arguably one of the most substantial changes in popular music's sound since musicians began using amplifiers. Her story is not only one of a person who blazed new trails in electronic music With her debut album Switched-On Bach, composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos (b. 1939) brought the sound of the Moog synthesizer to a generation of listeners, helping to effect arguably one of the most substantial changes in popular music's sound since musicians began using amplifiers. Her story is not only one of a person who blazed new trails in electronic music for decades but is also the story of a person who intersected in many ways with American popular culture, medicine, and social trends during the second half of the 20th century and well into the 21st. There is much to tell about her life and about the ways in which her life reflects many dimensions of American culture. Carlos's identity as a transgender woman has shaped many aspects of her life, her career, how she relates to the public, and how the public has received her and her music. Cultural factors surrounding the treatment of transgender people affected many of the decisions that Carlos has made over the decades. Additionally, cultural reception and perception of transgender people has colored how journalists, scholars, and fans have written about Carlos and her music for decades.


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With her debut album Switched-On Bach, composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos (b. 1939) brought the sound of the Moog synthesizer to a generation of listeners, helping to effect arguably one of the most substantial changes in popular music's sound since musicians began using amplifiers. Her story is not only one of a person who blazed new trails in electronic music With her debut album Switched-On Bach, composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos (b. 1939) brought the sound of the Moog synthesizer to a generation of listeners, helping to effect arguably one of the most substantial changes in popular music's sound since musicians began using amplifiers. Her story is not only one of a person who blazed new trails in electronic music for decades but is also the story of a person who intersected in many ways with American popular culture, medicine, and social trends during the second half of the 20th century and well into the 21st. There is much to tell about her life and about the ways in which her life reflects many dimensions of American culture. Carlos's identity as a transgender woman has shaped many aspects of her life, her career, how she relates to the public, and how the public has received her and her music. Cultural factors surrounding the treatment of transgender people affected many of the decisions that Carlos has made over the decades. Additionally, cultural reception and perception of transgender people has colored how journalists, scholars, and fans have written about Carlos and her music for decades.

44 review for Wendy Carlos: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Pickens

    Wendy Carlos is electronic music composer who specialized in the use of synthesizers, and wrote movie soundtracks including a long collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. When I was in high school, I listened to the music of Walter Carlos, and Walter transitioned to Wendy Carlos. This was in mid 1970s, and most people just commented "oh you can do that?" Noone really cared except for some repressive people who thought it was some kind of disease. Nowadays everyone makes a fuss over Kaitlyn Jenner, Wendy Carlos is electronic music composer who specialized in the use of synthesizers, and wrote movie soundtracks including a long collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. When I was in high school, I listened to the music of Walter Carlos, and Walter transitioned to Wendy Carlos. This was in mid 1970s, and most people just commented "oh you can do that?" Noone really cared except for some repressive people who thought it was some kind of disease. Nowadays everyone makes a fuss over Kaitlyn Jenner, and you really wonder why its anyone's business. Wendy Carlos wanted to be remembered for music, not for her gender identity. I have a lot of respect for her, not just for her talent, but for her self assurance in the face of narrow minded people.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    4.0 for the subject matter. 2.0 for the composition style and editing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Geeta Dayals review: http://4columns.org/dayal-geeta/wendy... Geeta Dayal’s review: http://4columns.org/dayal-geeta/wendy...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Harold Head

    Disappointed. Although its obvious how much care and hard work went into this biography, it feels hasty and incomplete, like the editor was asleep at the keyboard. Each chapter feels isolated from the others, as if theyre all separate, standalone graduate student research papers. Tremendous time and attention goes into explanation (often repeated in subsequent chapters, which is an annoyance) of certain details, while other details are left completely undefined. Large swaths of her life are Disappointed. Although it’s obvious how much care and hard work went into this biography, it feels hasty and incomplete, like the editor was asleep at the keyboard. Each chapter feels isolated from the others, as if they’re all separate, standalone graduate student research papers. Tremendous time and attention goes into explanation (often repeated in subsequent chapters, which is an annoyance) of certain details, while other details are left completely undefined. Large swaths of her life are omitted, and the very topics Ms Carlos appears to explicitly desire be de-emphasized from conversations about her life and work end up being the indirect focus of this work, despite what I’m sure are the best intentions by the author. At the end, what could’ve been the portrait of a tremendously gifted and multifaceted artist is diminished to that of a contentious and difficult recluse. If I’d never heard Ms Calos’ music or seen her photography, I strongly doubt, after having read this, that I’d be inclined to even attempt to seek it out. Fortunately, I know better and this biography, despite what I believe is a good and honest attempt to uphold Ms Carlos’ vision and integrity, ultimately paints an ugly picture of an artist who has painfully struggled to present her music and herself with the greatest fidelity possible.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    A well researched and written biography on the electronic pioneer. This is the first biography on Wendy Carlos and has been disavowed by Carlos herself. Neither Carlos nor any of the other key collaborators or acquaintances would submit to interviews for the book so it was written based on published interviews and articles. I was only familiar with her albums from the 70s and 80s and knew almost nothing about her life, so the book was very informative to me. But Carlos probably dislikes the book A well researched and written biography on the electronic pioneer. This is the first biography on Wendy Carlos and has been disavowed by Carlos herself. Neither Carlos nor any of the other key collaborators or acquaintances would submit to interviews for the book so it was written based on published interviews and articles. I was only familiar with her albums from the 70’s and 80’s and knew almost nothing about her life, so the book was very informative to me. But Carlos probably dislikes the book because she only wants to talk about the music and is very private about her life and a biography of course has to discuss her gender. Amanda Sewell writes very respectfully of her subject and made me re-listen to such classics as Sonic Seasonings, Beauty In The Beast and her soundtracks for Clockwork Orange and Tron.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    Sewells book is the first full-length biography on Carlos and chronicles her career as a pioneering electronic musician and composer. After studying physics and music composition during the 1950s, often experimenting with alternate tunings and microtonality, Carlos would achieve world renown for her Moog synthesizer renditions of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Notoriously reclusive and a workaholic, Carlos would continue to push the boundaries of electronic music with her own original Sewell’s book is the first full-length biography on Carlos and chronicles her career as a pioneering electronic musician and composer. After studying physics and music composition during the 1950s, often experimenting with alternate tunings and microtonality, Carlos would achieve world renown for her Moog synthesizer renditions of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Notoriously reclusive and a workaholic, Carlos would continue to push the boundaries of electronic music with her own original compositions, film scores, and ongoing re-imaginings of classical pieces on the latest and greatest digital synthesis technology. Though Sewell took amazingly delicate care with this academic profile, Carlos has considered this book a work of fiction. Sewell’s introduction notes that numerous attempts were made to contact Carlos. Sewell’s book is deeply researched and properly cited, relying heavily on what little published information there is on Carlos. While the book suffers from a lot of editing errors, it still is the most complete and just look into a truly legendary 20th century music pioneer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    A brief and rather dry biography taken solely from secondary sources (the author didn't interview Carlos or anyone who has worked with her), this book provides most of the factual information (and an occasional speculation) about the musician's career but gives very little sense of the real person behind "Switched-On Bach" and other landmark albums. Unless Carlos' writes an autobiography or authorizes a biography, this may be the only account of her life we'll ever see.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Wendy Carlos calls this book Fake News.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Meloche

    A very well researched biography of a pioneer of electronic music. A review can be found on my blog at: http://www.chrismeloche.com/?p=594

  10. 5 out of 5

    David

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris Ingalls

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ianna Matney

  14. 4 out of 5

    Niklas Pivic

  15. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Nelson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Clarke-willson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Flesch

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jack Bussert

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ingrid

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  23. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lyndon Goodacre

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ann

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maurice

  28. 4 out of 5

    Francesco

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kentucky Frager

  30. 5 out of 5

    Coloslab

  31. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

  32. 4 out of 5

    James

  33. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  34. 4 out of 5

    Mckenzie Ragan

  35. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  36. 5 out of 5

    Lane_

  37. 4 out of 5

    Ian Deleon

  38. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  39. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

  40. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  41. 5 out of 5

    War

  42. 4 out of 5

    Aujury

  43. 4 out of 5

    Dog

  44. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

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