Switched-On Wendy Carlos (Audio and Video)

To the children of the revolution, this one is especially for you. This program is presented by a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor and Leatherman which spotlights a trans woman who changed music forever. #wendycarlos #transvisibility

One of the two questions I am most asked about recently is the following: “Who are the children of the revolution?” It could be anyone listening to this program, but is focused on giving voices to dispossessed populations. More specifically, I am speaking to two groups: the first are long-term HIV/AIDS survivors and Leatherman like myself to illustrate we still have so much to give to our community in terms of history and relevance in a world that attempts to diminish our contributions to what it means to be queer.

Electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos. Photo: Vernon L. Smith/via www.wendycarlos.com  

The other group is LGBTQi youth: Yes, children, I was once one of you, many moons ago. I mean that not just in terms of my identity, but a sobering realization: Queer youth commit suicide at a rate three times the national average. As someone who almost succeeded when I was 15, I know the despair so many of you face. Visibility matters, and I am here to tell you that you too have so much to give. Leading by example is sometimes the best way to illustrate this concept. So much of what I do with this program is to offer a different viewpoint from my personal experience.

The cover of Carlos’ debut album, Switched-On Bach. Yes, that thing in the back with all the wires is what she had to work with to make this music.

Our featured artist today is Wendy Carlos, who was once known professionally as Walter Carlos. Wendy seemingly did the impossible: create a whole new world by her pioneering work with electronic instruments, especially the Moog synthesizer. She transformed what was considered a strange type of avant-garde music, electronica, into a mainstream series of albums that not only redefined the possibilities of classical music, her original entry into the recorded world, but also ambient music as well. Her work is most importantly felt in Rock, Funk and many of today’s Pop acts, where, unlike in the classical field, synthesizers became a mainstay, finally replacing early tape driven samplers like the Mellotron.

“Nobody is in her league.”

Robert Moog, the creator of the synthesizer, on Wendy Carlos for People magazine in 1985

A college graduate with major in music and a minor in physics, she also helped Robert Moog, who developed the first electronic synthesizers, in the design of the instrument. Carlos, an unproven talent, was offered a deal with a major label because Columbia Records had a marketing campaign called “Bach to Rock” they needed new music for. They took a chance on what seemed like a strange concept and then slowly watched it explode. The resulting album, Switched-On Bach, became a top ten Billboard LP and was only the second classical music album in history to sell a million physical copies. It also won Carlos three Grammy awards, illustrating the impact the album had on contemporary music. Much of the success that Carlos has achieved is due to her producer and friend, a jazz singer named Rachel Elkind-Tourre. If you believe that seeing a woman produce platinum-selling album today is a rarity, imagine what it was like 50 years ago.

Wendy Carlos in the early 1970’s. Her androgynous fashion style of the time was in of itself influential over the years, but borne of a personal struggle.

Carlos would go on to work with Stanley Kubrick on two of his films, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, as well as create what many consider to be the very first ever ambient music release, Sonic Seasonings. It wasn’t until 1979 in Playboy magazine that Carlos came out publicly about her transition; she can been seen in early 1970’s photographs attempting to disguise herself with imitation facial hair and androgynous clothing, not knowing how people would react. After the interview, Carlos would now only release material as Wendy, and new releases of her earlier work now bear her name.

Rachel Elkind-Tourre, photo by Don Hunstein, 1979. Elkind-Tourre was the producer of Wendy’s albums for over a decade.

This program will spotlight the five Switched-On albums, and most of the music was originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach is considered one of the greatest composers of all time, with over 1,000 pieces of music attributed to him. He was married twice, and fathered 20 children. He believed that music was a gift from God, and most of his work was done in this spirit, often working on the organ in churches and was a master of a musical technique called the fugue, which would become a major influence on Wagnerian leitmotifs. Oddly, Bach didn’t become famous until about a century after his death, when a revival of older music started to take shape in England in the 19th century.

First Part

  • Bach: Prelude And Fugue No. 2 In C Minor (From Book I Of The Well-Tempered Clavier), 1968, Switched-On Bach
  • Bach: Air On A G String, 1968, Switched-On Bach
  • Bach: Orchestral Suite #2 In B Minor, BWV 1067 – Badinerie, 1973, Switched-On Bach II
  • Bach: Orchestral Suite #2 In B Minor, BWV 1067 – Minuet, 1973, Switched-On Bach II
  • Bach: Orchestral Suite #2 In B Minor, BWV 1067 – Bourrée, 1973, Switched-On Bach II
  • Bach: 2-Part Invention #13 In A Minor, BWV 784, 1973, Switched-On Bach II
  • Bach: 2-Part Invention #12 In A, BWV 783, 1973, Switched-On Bach II

Second Part

  • Bach: Brandenburg Concerto #1 In F, BWV 1046 – 1. Allegro, 1980, Switched on Brandenburgs
  • Bach: Brandenburg Concerto #1 In F, BWV 1046 – 2. Adagio, 1980, Switched on Brandenburgs

Third Part

  • The Chicken Farmer, 2019, Ben Brown Jr. (Dad joke time again)
  • Scarlatti: Harpsichord Sonata In D, K 491, 1969, The Well Tempered Synthesizer
  • Scarlatti: Harpsichord Sonata In E, K 531, 1969, The Well Tempered Synthesizer
  • Handel: Water Music, HWV 348-350 – Allegro Deciso, 1969, The Well Tempered Synthesizer
  • Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine, SV 206 – Domine Ad Adjuvandum, 1969, The Well Tempered Synthesizer


  • Wendy Carlos discusses the creation of Switched-On Bach, 1999, Switch-On Box Set
  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, 1999, Switched-On Bach 2000

Switch-On Bach book by Dr. Roshanak Kheshti

Children of the revolution: A must read book and much see video lecture by UCSD Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies Dr. Roshanak Kheshti, who views the book through a lens different than mine:  “a postcolonial lens of feminist science and technology studies”. Interestingly, this show was going to street approximately the same time as the book release, but was delayed due to our Jessye Norman tribute program and the recent death of my mother, Anna. It’s an amazing title in this 33 1/3 book series, and one of the very few that explores queer identity and its relationship to music. If you have issues with seeing the video, you can link to it here.

Love to you all.

Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr. 
Host, Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher and Writer

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