Wendy Carlos: Music Pioneer Who Paved the Way

When looking at the history of modern electronic music, there are several pioneers who helped pave the way to our current day. Many of whom are women and with the current state of the music industry, unfortunately are often overlooked and lost in translation. However, without their grand strides and technical development, the idea that electronic music would be where it is today is unfathomable. One of those pioneers is Wendy Carlos, who hails from the state of Rhode Island.

Aside from being a woman in a male dominated industry, Carlos is a trans-woman. Those who know how House and Disco became prominent, know that much of that is due to the trailblazers within the Black and Hispanic queer communities. Electronic music at its core is a queer liberation movement founded upon the ideals of being a safe and accepting space for all. Wendy Carlos is an extremely important person in how electronic music began to take its mainstream course. She is most popularly known from her work with the MOOG Synthesizer. She and Robert Moog partnered on much of the development of the instrument and she is the reason it began to pick up a large amount of traction. The MOOG Synthesizer came to prominence after she recorded Switched-On Bach in 1968, an album that brought both praise and dissent. She completely utilized synthesized instrumentation to revamp the works of the classical artist Bach. This move was an extremely bold choice, as it brought both accolades as well as dissent from classical fans. However, none of that dissent stopped her from winning three Grammys from the creation nor did it stop the album from charting on the Billboard Top 40s. It is also believed that this album is the first classical work to achieve Platinum Status.

Fast forward a bit into the 1990's, Wendy Carlos was able to develop Digi-Surround Stereo Sound. A development

that made it possible for soundtrack restoration and surround stereo conversion. A movement that became incredibly beneficial within the film industry as a whole. Continuing within the film industry, she was a composer for the Clockwork Orange film in which she popularized the use of the vocoder voice synthesizer. Utilizing this component within the film, she opened the door for more people to find and understand what the synthesizer was and was capable of.

Wendy Carlos is no stranger to pushing herself creatively nor with imagination. She has been developing a customer four part Wurlitzer II. An instrument that combines organ technology with digital synth technology that allows for a truly incredible and spontaneous performance.


Without pioneers such as Wendy Carlos, the film and music industries as a whole may not be at the current standing they are in. She has been a vital piece of the puzzle of these creative processes and showing the capabilities that these electronic means have. It has been incredible to see women such as Wendy and many others begin to received the credit they deserve. With the newly released documentary Underplayed now streaming, it truly highlights the discrepancies within the music industry and the representation of women and other minority groups (ie LGBTQ+, BlPOC).

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