Wendy Carlos (born Walter Carlos, November 14, 1939) is an American composer and electronic musician. She is one of the first famous performers of electronic music using synthesizers.


Switched-On Bach (1968) was an early album demonstrating the use of synthesizers as a genuine musical instrument. As an early user of Robert Moog's first commercially available synthesizer, Carlos helped pioneer the technology, which was significantly more difficult to use than it is today. Multitrack recording techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album. Switched-On Bach became the first classical album to sell 500,000 copies, and (eventually) to go platinum. A sequel of additional synthesized baroque music, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer followed in 1969. (Its title is a play on Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier".)

1972's Sonic Seasonings was packaged as a double album, with one side dedicated to each of the four seasons, and each side consisting of one long track. It blended recorded sounds with synthesized sounds, without melodies, to create an ambient effect. Not as popular as some other albums, it was however very influential on other artists who went on to create the ambient genre. Also in 1972, Carlos composed and recorded music for the soundtrack of the film A Clockwork Orange. She worked with Stanley Kubrick again on the score for The Shining, although in the end, Kubrick used mostly pre-existing music cues from other composers.

In 1982, she scored the theatrical film Tron for Disney. This score incorporated orchestra, chorus, organ, and both analog and digital synthesizers. Some of her end title music was replaced with a song by the rock group, Journey, and the music that originally was composed for the lightcycle scene was dropped. 1984's Digital Moonscapes switched to digital synthesizers, instead of the analog synthesizers that were the trademark of her earlier albums. Some of the unused material from the Tron soundtrack was incorporated into it.

1986's Beauty In the Beast saw Carlos experimenting with various alternate tunings, including just intonation, Balinese scales and several scales she invented for the album. One of her scales involved setting a "root note", and retuning all of the notes on the keyboard to just intonation intervals. There are a total of 144 possible notes per octave, from 12 notes in a chromatic scale times 12 different home keys. Other scales included Carlos' Alpha & Beta scales, which experimented with dividing the octave into odd numbers of equally-spaced intervals.

1987's Secrets of Synthesis is a lecture by Carlos, with audio examples (many from her own recordings), expounding on topics she feels to be of importance. Some of the material is an introduction to synthesis, and some (e.g., a discussion of hocketing) is aimed at experienced musicians.

Beginning in 1998, all of her catalogue was remastered. In 2005, the two-volume set Rediscovering Lost Scores was released, featuring previously out-of-print material, including the unreleased soundtrack to Woundings, and music composed and recorded for The Shining, Tron and A Clockwork Orange that was not used in the films.

Personal life

Carlos was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Carlos's musical education began when she started playing the piano at the age of six. Her formal education included Brown University where she studied music and physics, and Columbia University where she earned a MA in music. At Columbia, Carlos was a student of Vladimir Ussachevsky, a pioneer in electronic music. After graduation, she met Robert Moog and was one of his earliest customers, providing feedback for his further development of the Moog synthesizer. Around 1966, Carlos met Rachel Elkind who produced her early albums. Carlos has lived in New York since 1962.

Her first six recordings were released under the name Walter Carlos. In 1972, Carlos underwent sex reassignment surgery.[1] The last release to be credited to 'Walter' Carlos was By Request (1975). The first release credited to her as Wendy Carlos was Switched-On Brandenburgs (1979). Carlos's first public appearance after her gender transition was in an interview in the May 1979 issue of Playboy magazine, a decision she would come to regret because of the unwelcome publicity it brought to her personal life. On her official site, her transition is discussed in an essay stating that she values her privacy on the subject.[2]

In 1998, Carlos sued the songwriter/artist Momus for $22 million[3] for his satirical song "Walter Carlos" (which appeared on the album The Little Red Songbook), which suggested that if Wendy could go back in time she could marry Walter. The case was settled out of court, with Momus agreeing to remove it from the CD and owing $30,000 in legal fees.[4]

Carlos is also an accomplished solar eclipse photographer.[5]


(Albums released during years 1968–1975 were originally released under name "Walter Carlos". Later albums and all re-issues have been released under the name "Wendy Carlos".)

  • Switched-On Bach (1968)
  • The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969)
  • Sonic Seasonings (1972)
  • A Clockwork Orange (soundtrack) (1972)
  • Wendy Carlos's Clockwork Orange, (1972), all the music composed or realized for the film.
  • Switched-on Bach II (1974)
  • By Request (1975)
  • Switched-On Brandenburgs (1979)
  • The Shining: Score Selections (soundtrack) (1980)
  • Tron (soundtrack) (1982)
  • Digital Moonscapes (1984)
  • Beauty In the Beast (1986)
  • Land of the Midnight Sun (1986 composition, released on the 1998 Sonic Seasonings reissue)
  • Secrets of Synthesis (1987)
  • Peter and The Wolf (1988) (with "Weird Al" Yankovic)
  • Switched-On Bach 2000 (1992)
  • Tales of Heaven and Hell (1998)
  • Switched-On Boxed Set (1999)
  • Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 1 (2005) (The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, UNICEF)
  • Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 (2005) (The Shining, Tron, Split Second, Woundings)


  1. "Playboy Interview: Wendy/Walter Carlos" (fee required), Playboy, Playboy Enterprises, May 1979. 
  2. Carlos, Wendy. On Prurient Matters. Retrieved on 2007-04-29.
  3. Shepherd, Fiona. "The World Can Change in a Matter of Momus", The Scotsman, The Scotsman Publications Ltd., 1999-09-10, p. 23. 
  4. Selvin, Joel; Vaziri, Aidin; Heller, Greg. "$1,000 Bought a Custom Song on Momus' Latest Album", The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chronicle Publishing Co., 1999-11-07. 
  5. Carlos, Wendy. The Wendy Carlos Total Solar Eclipse Page. Retrieved on 2007-04-29.

External links

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