New Wendy Carlos biography

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New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by Rob_C » Fri May 29, 2020 4:20 pm

For those interested in Wendy Carlos, author Amanda Sewell has written a new (March 2, 2020) book about the reclusive electronic music artist. This is a biography and not an autobiography, and the introduction to the book states "Wendy Carlos did not respond to repeated requests for interviews for this book."

Amazon does not (yet) list the hardcover edition but it is available in Kindle format: Wendy Carlos: A Biography

Barnes@Noble has the Nook or hardcover edition available for pre-order for September 2, 2020: Barnes&Noble

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by starthief » Mon Jun 01, 2020 7:27 am

I read this a couple of months ago, and I kind of have mixed feelings about it. I feel like it could have used a little more editing. It was a bit inconsistent about the level of synth knowledge it seemed to expect from readers -- explaining a few basic concepts, but inaccurately, and then not explaining other terms that a layperson wouldn't be familiar with. And it kept emphasizing how she didn't want her gender to be the thing that interviews and publicity focused on, and yet it repeated that point so often that it kinda became the focus of the book. :bang:

I have mixed feelings about her too. She is a talented composer for sure, and she worked very hard to achieve something new at a time when it wasn't easy to put together something like Switched-On Bach. But she was also a snob who thought synthesizers were terrible, unmusical instruments and even her Moog modular was barely adequate, only rescued by her own genius. I feel like in many areas she was a pioneer, bitter about the rest of the world lagging behind and yet determined enough to keep pushing boundaries anyway. But in an era where we all seem to be enthusiastic about gear, and something like a Casio SK-1 or a Space Echo has elevated prices because "perfect" synth gear lacks character, her attitude comes off as especially strange.

I also recall some of her ranting about MIDI (which... wasn't entirely wrong) and CDs in magazine articles, before she went all in on both of them. And also, her attitude that people preferred Switched-On Bach to her other work only because they weren't sophisticated enough to appreciate it -- while also refusing some opportunities to distribute her music where people can actually listen to it. I'm missing several of her releases myself.

The criticism she leveled against Silver Apples of the Moon -- that it was a fine composition ruined by a poor performance (because supposedly Buchla synths were unexpressive toys) is exactly how I feel about her Digital Moonscapes. I'd love to hear an actual orchestra perform it, but the emulated instruments were weirdly awful even at its release and have definitely not aged well. I feel like Isao Tomita was a much better synthesist in an "orchestral" vein, though his original compositions were not as interesting as hers.

Anyway, I don't want to sound totally negative -- I did enjoy the book overall and will probably fire up Digital Moonscapes at some point this morning now that I've mentioned it. :)

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by Rob_C » Mon Jun 01, 2020 6:39 pm

Starthief, for someone already familiar with her work, and has read her website, and knows about the issues she faced in the early days, does the biography add anything that we don't already know, given that Wendy Carlos declined any interview?

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by doombient.music » Wed Jun 03, 2020 4:30 pm

There seems to be another biography, written by someone who apparently did not know too much about synthesisers (and who wanted to stylize Wendy Carlos as some kind of gender role model for up and coming transsexuals in the first place):

https://www.perfectcircuit.com/33-1-3-w ... -bach.html

After having watched excerpts from a lecture held by the writer, I decided not to buy this book as the lecture didn't bode well for the contents of the book:



She seems a bit grumpy, doesn't she?

As for the title by Amada Sewell, I tend to expect the book to be a collection of facts, gathered from various interviews conducted elsewhere over the years, so -- in response to the question Rob_C posed -- I do not expect it to contain much which would be new to those in the know.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by starthief » Thu Jun 04, 2020 6:13 am

Rob_C wrote:
Mon Jun 01, 2020 6:39 pm
Starthief, for someone already familiar with her work, and has read her website, and knows about the issues she faced in the early days, does the biography add anything that we don't already know, given that Wendy Carlos declined any interview?
Hard to say. I learned a bit that I didn't know, beyond a few half remembered old interviews and articles.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by rplktr » Mon Jun 08, 2020 1:35 pm

starthief wrote:
Mon Jun 01, 2020 7:27 am
her attitude that people preferred Switched-On Bach to her other work only because they weren't sophisticated enough to appreciate it -- while also refusing some opportunities to distribute her music where people can actually listen to it. I'm missing several of her releases myself.
Speaking of which: what's up with that? I'm trying to get a hold of "Beauty in the Beast" and there's just one used CD on Amazon for $100. If this is so niche, why is nothing available digitally?
Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by Rob_C » Mon Jun 08, 2020 8:53 pm

rplktr wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 1:35 pm
... I'm trying to get a hold of "Beauty in the Beast" and there's just one used CD on Amazon for $100. If this is so niche, why is nothing available digitally?
Probably easiest to just purchase the LP, or the cassette tape (Ebay) and convert to digital.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by thetwlo » Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:44 am

She attacks all with takedown notices for anything synth and classical, Bach. on youtube?
Fuck off.
She hates this community.
What's your favorite Wendy Carlos composition?
exactly.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by doombient.music » Tue Jun 09, 2020 3:08 am

thetwlo wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:44 am
[...] What's your favorite Wendy Carlos composition? [...]
Actually, I quite liked Country Lane and Timesteps, and the opening music to Shining wasn't all too bad, either.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by starthief » Tue Jun 09, 2020 7:46 am

thetwlo wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:44 am
What's your favorite Wendy Carlos composition?
exactly.
The TRON soundtrack, but as reinterpreted and performed by Stemage.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by MarcelP » Tue Jun 09, 2020 10:49 am

doombient.music wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 3:08 am
thetwlo wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:44 am
[...] What's your favorite Wendy Carlos composition? [...]
Actually, I quite liked Country Lane and Timesteps, and the opening music to Shining wasn't all too bad, either.

Stephen
Yes - Country lane and Timesteps especially. I still listen to Sonic Seasonings and wish she had followed that route a little further. Digital Moonscapes is unlistenable (for me). At which point I gave up.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by doombient.music » Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:38 pm

When I found Digital Moonscapes at a record store, I was excited. After listening to it, I couldn't help thinking that this was easily one of the worst pieces of music I had ever listened to.

Sonic Seasonings… it must count as one of the first ambient music albums of all times but, to me, it sounded more like a half-baked affair. The thunderstorm in the Summer section is quite impressive to listen to, though (and it makes a return in Country Lane). I wonder what was used for the field recordings.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by SynthBaron » Mon Sep 14, 2020 3:43 pm

So I guess "that thread" is mentioned in the book...lol.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by kindredlost » Sun Sep 27, 2020 2:54 pm

Beauty In The Beast and Timesteps are well worth repeated listening. Especially the title track of Beauty In The Beast. What is annoying is the fervent shark attacks from her law team against anyone even trying to analyze her work. I guess due mostly to New York lawyers W.Carlos will suffer the Van Gogh legacy... only safe to discuss post mortem. A shame when there are many who would gladly celebrate her work in a respectful way.

She has commented nicely about some aspects of her music in private letters as well as specifics of the tone arm pitch device, although not an original idea. I was grateful for that but I also am sad about not being afforded a way to use her electronic music techniques and composition ideas as clinical tools for analysis. Something she did in an off-hand way in "Secrets of Synthesis". I guess that is the sole domain of hers too.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by Rob_C » Sun Oct 25, 2020 1:45 am

Wendy posted a response on her website about the biography by Amanda Sewell. As far as I can tell, this is the only change to Wendy's website in years (decade?).

Bogus "Bio" Alert
Please be aware there’s a purported “Biography” on me just released. It belongs on the fiction shelf. No one ever interviewed me, nor anyone I know. There's zero fact-checking. Don’t recognize myself anywhere in there—weird. Sloppy, dull and dubious, it's hardly an objective
academic study as it pretends to be.
This slim, mean-sprited [sic] volume is based on several false premises. All of it is speculation taken out of context. The key sources are other people’s write-ups of interviews done for magazine articles. There’s simply no way to know what’s true or not—nothing is first-hand.
The book is presumptuous. Pathetically, it accepts as “factual” a grab-bag of online urban legends, including anonymous axes to grind. The author imputes things she doesn’t understand, misses the real reasons for what was done or not done. She’s in way over her head, outside any areas of expertise, and even defames my dear deceased parents—shame!
Well, now you know, and have the victim's honest reactions. Wish there were more one could do
about needless personal attacks, but we have to understand how essential freedom of speech is,
even when it permits such abuse. Have dealt with stereotyping most of my life, a pretty tough
hide by now. But aren’t there new, more interesting targets?
Unless you consider “academic” books a form of contact sport, you really might want to reconsider your time and money.
—Wendy Carlos, August 2020.

In Amanda Sewell's defense, it's made clear in the book that Wendy did not respond to requests for interviews, so Wendy claiming "No one ever interviewed me" rings hollow. And Wendy characterizes the book as an "objective academic study," something the author never claims. If Wendy wants us to "reconsider your time and money" then she should write her own damn book rather than lamenting that someone else filled the vacuum first.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by 3hands » Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:04 am

Wendy Carlos has become a crazy cat lady and demands respect, instead of earning it. Synth Keren ftw. I don’t own any of her work, and never will. The level of pretentious comments From her is utterly hilarious, given the fact that she has done very little in the grand scheme of things. I would say Vince Clarke has done much more in our little corner of the world than she ever will. And he’s a good guy!
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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by SynthBaron » Mon Oct 26, 2020 3:37 am

I'm glad there won't be a frivolous civil suit filed against the author and/or publisher. Momus was allegedly bullied into a legal fees settlement because he couldn't afford to fight a plainly obvious free speech parody case. Oxford University Press has deeper pockets to fend off any potential half-baked libel complaints written by Annemarie. I can only assume the author was told to put such a hilariously huge and thorough notes/references section in each chapter because of the ridiculous litigiousness of the subject.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by dml » Tue Oct 27, 2020 7:09 pm

3hands wrote:
Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:04 am
given the fact that she has done very little in the grand scheme of things.
Fact is she has done very MUCH in the grand scheme of things. Carlos made the synthesizer popular and her work was influential to many keyboard players of the late 60s and early 70s. You like the touch sensitivity of your keyboard? Thank Carlos for pushing Bob Moog on developing that. In fact, Wendy was one of Bob's most important collaborators who's comments and suggestions helped to improve the Moog synthesizer. Fixed Filter Bank, anyone? Thank you, Wendy. Also, kinda doubtful that the Prophet 6 (among others) would've bothered with microtonal scales had not it been for Wendy's work in this area in the 80s. She pushed and our tools are better for it.
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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by 3hands » Tue Oct 27, 2020 7:17 pm

dml wrote:
Tue Oct 27, 2020 7:09 pm
3hands wrote:
Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:04 am
given the fact that she has done very little in the grand scheme of things.
Fact is she has done very MUCH in the grand scheme of things. Carlos made the synthesizer popular and her work was influential to many keyboard players of the late 60s and early 70s. You like the touch sensitivity of your keyboard? Thank Carlos for pushing Bob Moog on developing that. In fact, Wendy was one of Bob's most important collaborators who's comments and suggestions helped to improve the Moog synthesizer. Fixed Filter Bank, anyone? Thank you, Wendy. Also, kinda doubtful that the Prophet 6 (among others) would've bothered with microtonal scales had not it been for Wendy's work in this area in the 80s. She pushed and our tools are better for it.
Fair enough. Definitely see your point. But I think of her more of a technical artist developing things with the synthesizer designers, than someone who makes inspiring music. Which I why I mentioned Vincent Clarke. He’s a peoples musician, not pretentious, and doesn’t sue everyone in existence for mentioning his name. I just don’t like the shenanigans she’s brought the people who were so influenced by her. Just my 2 cents. :)
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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by SynthBaron » Tue Oct 27, 2020 8:59 pm

dml wrote:
Tue Oct 27, 2020 7:09 pm
You like the touch sensitivity of your keyboard? Thank Carlos for pushing Bob Moog on developing that.
I'm not sure there's much connection between that one-off prototype and future implementations done by other companies (or even the Polymoog). It certainly wasn't the first electronic keyboard with touch or depth sensitivity. It's just a natural development that seemed to happen about a decade later independently. Wendy even said in somewhere that after Bob switched keyboard suppliers in 1967 or so, it became impossible to implement it the way they had done it. It didn't really make it into mainstrem synths until the DX-7. That's over 15 years later...

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by dml » Tue Oct 27, 2020 9:09 pm

I absolutely appreciate your 2 cents and yes, Vince is a real great guy by all accounts, however...I, personally, am very inspired by Wendy's work (I don't know Vince's work all that well but I do enjoy his interviews) to each their own, I suppose. I would agree that Wendy gets a 'little' overprotective about her image and her work, but, that is her right and look at the amount of absolute crap she's had to put up with over the years - might make anyone a bit 'guarded'. She's an incredible artist (IMO) and I absolutely respect the depth of her knowledge in the field of electronic music. She's been there, done that, and bought the T shirt!
Best,

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by dml » Tue Oct 27, 2020 9:24 pm

I guess the point I wanted to make about touch sensitive keyboards is that Wendy identified the need early on and was a tireless proponent during the 70s. Yes, the Polymoog had a touch sensitive keyboard, as well as the Yamaha CS 80. No, not implemented as was her prototype, but the need was addressed. The Prophet 5 (1978) did not have a touch sensitive keyboard but the Prophet T-8 (1983) did. Touch sensitivity became more of an expected feature during the 80s because of artists, like Wendy, insisting upon the need for it.
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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by Rob_C » Thu Oct 29, 2020 6:18 pm

3hands wrote:
Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:04 am
... given the fact that she has done very little in the grand scheme of things.
I admire Wendy as an artist, performer and innovator (Switched on Back was released in 1968 and there was NOTHING else like it) and to me her legacy is firmly established. I'm disappointed in her response to the biography as she could have offered more detail of people/places/things to put her reaction in context. She has always appeared very meticulous, measured, and reasoned, but I suppose this is only when she has absolute control over something.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by Fog Door » Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:41 pm

I despise litigious people and Wendy Carlos often comes across in a very poor light with her actions/words. Perhaps we ought to consider though, that she is a deeply private individual, who has never courted celebrity. It must be galling to find someone seeking financial gain from publishing what you consider to be a pack of lies about you. If I was in that situation, I would certainly not feel that the world had any right to an alternative explanation.

With regards to her legacy, you can argue until the cows come home about the technical aspects of it. On all accounts of the late sixties, many breakthroughs appeared to be happening simultaneously. I'm not a fan myself, but nobody can argue about the impact of Switched On Bach. It generated massive interest in electronic sounds among consumers who previously had zero interest, which in turn made electronic sounds a commercially desirable element in the music industry. So probably one of the most significant factors in the advancement of the sound of the synthesiser. Or the very seed of its potential ruination, depending on your point of view.

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Re: New Wendy Carlos biography

Post by 3hands » Thu Oct 29, 2020 9:02 pm

dml wrote:
Tue Oct 27, 2020 9:09 pm
I absolutely appreciate your 2 cents and yes, Vince is a real great guy by all accounts, however...I, personally, am very inspired by Wendy's work (I don't know Vince's work all that well but I do enjoy his interviews) to each their own, I suppose. I would agree that Wendy gets a 'little' overprotective about her image and her work, but, that is her right and look at the amount of absolute crap she's had to put up with over the years - might make anyone a bit 'guarded'. She's an incredible artist (IMO) and I absolutely respect the depth of her knowledge in the field of electronic music. She's been there, done that, and bought the T shirt!
We should rock a Wendy Carlos/Vince Clarke listening session! :)
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