EARLY WORKS FOR ME
(First Steps, Starting Points, and Juvenilia)
Walter Carlos1 - “Moog 900 Series Demo”
More so than any other artist, Wendy Carlos is responsible for making the world take electronic music seriously. Her reinterpretations of baroque and classical compositions via early synthesizers and multitrack recording were landmarks that established that serious music could be made using what many had dismissed as mere novelties. Simply put, her contributions to electronic music cannot be understated.
But before the Switched-On series, or her groundbreaking work scoring films like A Clockwork Orange and Tron, she was a recent graduate looking for a gig. She’d just earned a master’s degree in composition from Columbia University and needed a job and some new components for her synth equipment. Luckily, she’d met Bob Moog years before, and managed to negotiate a trade with him: she’d provide the music he needed for a demonstration record, and in return she would be payed in Moog equipment.2
The result is the recording above. For the first three-fourths of the record, narrator Ed Stokes explains the synthesizer and its many functions to the prospective client, and Carlos adds in small musical flourishes to support his pitch, and provide aural examples for the listener. But, the real fun happens about five minutes in, when Carlos is given free reign to display the full range of sounds possible on the device, which she did by combining a series of pieces she’d composed while exploring what the synth could do. Those final two and half minutes are full of sounds ranging from thunderous rumbles, to blips and bleeps and bloops and something that sounds like a robot cat chorus. It’s undoubtedly a trifle, the exact sort of novelty recording that Carlos’s later recordings fought against, but it’s still a lot of fun to hear. And it provides a unique glimpse into her artistic process. At the very least it serves as a synth time capsule, a relic from the earliest days of electronic music that offers a brief glimpse of what was to come.
1. Walter Carlos is, of course, now known as Wendy Carlos and is one of the world’s most famous transgender women. At this point in her life, however, she was still using her birth name and living as a man. As far as I can tell she transitioned to using her current name and living as a woman about a year after this record was pressed.
2. You can read more about their relationship here.