Carlos first came to prominence in 1968 with Switched-On Bach, a recording of music by J.S. Bach painstakingly assembled, phrase-by-phrase, on the Moog synthesizer, at the time a relatively new and unknown instrument. The album earned three Grammy Awards in 1969. Other classical recordings followed. Carlos later began releasing original compositions, including the first-ever album of synthesized environmental sounds, Sonic Seasonings (1972) and an album exploring alternate tunings Beauty in the Beast (1986). She has also worked in film music, notably writing and performing scores for two Stanley Kubrick movies, A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), as well as Walt Disney's Tron.
Carlos was born Walter Carlos in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A musical prodigy, she started piano lessons at six, and at ten composed "A Trio for Clarinet, Accordion, and Piano." In 1953 (age 14) she won a Westinghouse Science Fair scholarship for a home built computer, well before "computer" was a household word. Carlos earned a B.A. in music and physics at Brown University (1962) and a master's degree in composition from Columbia University (1966). She studied with Vladimir Ussachevsky, a pioneer in electronic music, as well as Otto Luening and Jack Beeson, working in the famed Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
Remaining in New York after graduation, Carlos was introduced to Dr. Robert Moog and became one of his earliest customers, providing advice and technical assistance for his further development of the Moog synthesizer. Carlos convinced Moog to add touch sensitivity to the synthesizer keyboard for greater dynamics and musicality, among other improvements.
Around 1966, Carlos met Rachel Elkind, who went on to produce Switched-On Bach and other early albums. With the proceeds from Switched-On Bach, the two renovated a New York brownstone, which they shared as a home and business premises, installing a studio for live and electronic recording on the bottom floor where all subsequent recordings have been produced. Carlos took the unusual step of enclosing the entire studio in a Faraday cage, shielding the equipment from radio and television interference.
Carlos is also an accomplished solar eclipse photographer.
Carlos prefers not to talk about her sex change, feeling it is a private matter not suitable for public discussion. Carlos was aware of her gender dysphoria from an early age stating, "I was about five or six...I remember being convinced I was a little girl, much preferring long hair and girls clothes, and not knowing why my parents didn't see it clearly".
In 1962 she moved to New York City to attend Columbia University and came into contact with information about transgenderism (including the work of Harry Benjamin). In the fall of 1967 she began hormone treatments and soon began living full-time as a woman. After the success of Switched-On Bach, in May of 1972 Carlos was able to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
Carlos chose to announce herself as the featured interview in May 1979's Playboy magazine, picking Playboy because "The magazine has always been concerned with liberation, and I'm anxious to liberate myself." She has since come to regret the decision, creating a "Shortlist Of The Cruel" page on her web site, and awarding the editors of the magazine three "Black Leafs" indicating that she believes they are "Arrogant selfish prig[s], with a genuine sadistic streak".
Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 15, 2004)
Amazon: Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer
Though ubiquitous today, available as a single microchip and found in any electronic device requiring sound, the synthesizer when it first appeared was truly revolutionary. Something radically new--an extraordinary rarity in musical culture--it was an instrument that used a genuinely new source of sound: electronics. How this came to be--how an engineering student at Cornell and an avant-garde musician working out of a storefront in California set this revolution in motion--is the story told for the first time in Analog Days, a book that explores the invention of the synthesizer and its impact on popular culture.
The authors take us back to the heady days of the 1960s and early 1970s, when the technology was analog, the synthesizer was an experimental instrument, and synthesizer concerts could and did turn into happenings. Interviews with the pioneers who determined what the synthesizer would be and how it would be used--from inventors Robert Moog and Don Buchla to musicians like Brian Eno, Pete Townshend, and Keith Emerson--recapture their visions of the future of electronic music and a new world of sound.
Tracing the development of the Moog synthesizer from its initial conception to its ascension to stardom in Switched-On Bach, from its contribution to the San Francisco psychedelic sound, to its wholesale adoption by the worlds of film and advertising, Analog Days conveys the excitement, uncertainties, and unexpected consequences of a new technology that would provide the soundtrack for a critical chapter of our cultural history.
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