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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 40

Peer Review

Composer Zoë Blade on the pioneering, otherworldly and sometimes uncomfortable music of synth maestro Wendy Carlos. Words by Zoë Blade. Photograph by Leonard M. DeLessio/Corbis via Getty Images.

I first heard of Wendy Carlos more as a legend than an artist. I was too young to witness firsthand the impact of Switched-on Bach, the album that formally introduced synthesizers to the world. I came to her music through her later collaborations with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.1 The two working together seems somehow inevitable: Both were perfectionists, poring over every detail. 

Carlos was born in Rhode Island in 1939. Her musical education began at the age of six, practicing on a drawing of a keyboard, and ended with a master’s degree in composing electronic music at Columbia University. In the 1960s, she provided important feedback on the first commercial synthesizers to be developed, pushing Bob Moog to revise and refine his devices. She convinced the world that this odd new instrument wasn’t just worth paying attention to, but that it

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