Wendy Carlos collaboration with Stanley Kubrick

Wendy Carlos, the composer who revolutionized music: from experimentation to global success

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France TV broadcasted a video with Wendy Carlos about her collaboration with Stanly Kubrick. Please note that the following text is translated from French. The above picture links you to the original video.

“Maybe in the 21st century, when we go to concert halls, we will have a man on stage with several potentiometers who will make us listen to electronic music”. It’s 1969 and journalist Jacques Sallebert has just met Wendy Carlos and… the future of music. As we celebrate the 80th birthday of Wendy Carlos, we can be surprised at the low notoriety of this composer who revolutionized music. However, his first album Switched-on Bach is one of the biggest sellers of classical music records and his soundtracks for the films Clockwork Orange, Shining and Tron are international references. In 1968, Walter Carlos (she has not yet changed sex and is not called Wendy) meets Robert Moog, who has just invented a machine to synthesize sounds. They make a deal: he lends her his machine and in exchange she composes an album with it, with the aim of popularizing the synthesizer. Pianist since the age of six, Wendy Carlos studied musical composition as well as sound engineering. She chooses to use Bach’s music on the synthesizer, out of personal taste but also because the structure of the music of the Cantor of Leipzig corresponds to his transcription process. As she points out, Bach’s music is known to everyone, so everyone will be able to measure the contribution of electronic music. The musical structure of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach works in a linear way, and not by chords, like computers, explains Wendy Carlos. It’s a real painstaking job to cover a piece of Bach: Wendy Carlos has five basic sounds that she can vary, until the sound emitted resembles the instrument she is looking for. Then she must record note by note, instrument by instrument. As an indication, recording the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto required two to three weeks of transcription. Switched-on Bach is a real success: it won 3 Grammy Awards and sold over a million copies. Wendy Carlos’ second album, The Well-tempered synthesizer, earned her the praise of pianist Glenn Gould, who ranked her interpretation of the Brandenburg Concertos among the best. It was after discovering Wendy Carlos’ first two albums that Stanley Kubrick decided to ask her for the soundtrack of his film A Clockwork Orange. He asks her to do covers, especially of Beethoven. The composer is at the heart of the film, as announced by the provocative hook associated with him: “The story of a young man who is mainly interested in rape, ultra violence and Beethoven”. More than illustrating the scenes of the film, the music of Wendy Carlos gives an additional dimension: “There is a kind of distancing through the use of music, with the violence which is particularly relevant with this choice of synthesizer”, explains Thierry Jousse, radio producer of Ciné tempo, film critic and filmmaker. Especially, he tells us, that the sounds of the synthesizer and the music of Wendy Carlos agree perfectly with the visual aesthetics of the film. The film caused scandal and controversy but met with public and critical success. Stanley Kubrick is delighted with the collaboration: “Walter Carlos has done something unique in the field of ‘electronic music making’ (…) His version of Beethoven’s fourth movement is, in my opinion, worthy of that of ‘a whole orchestra, which is saying something’ (in Sight and sound magazine, 1972). Kubrick called on the composer again for Shining, in 1980, but “it was a missed meeting between two strong personalities” according to Thierry Jousse. Indeed, on the entire album composed for the film, the director retains only two pieces. Nevertheless, the main theme, which we discover at the very beginning of the film during aerial shots over the Rockies, is particularly effective: Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind (producer of the first Wendy Carlos albums, she co-composed the music for Shining ) are inspired by Dies irae from Mozart’s Requiem and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique to create a discrepancy between image and film. Thus, from the first notes, the spectator is placed in the register of the horror film. “Today, we could say that everyone is the heir of Wendy Carlos because basically electronic music in the cinema has spread very widely, it is even perhaps the sound that is the most dominant in film music today”, concludes Thierry Jousse.

This text is reproduced from the FranceTV website: https://www.francemusique.fr/musiques-de-films/video-wendy-carlos-pionniere-des-musiques-electroniques-78557

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