Craig Leon’s Bach To Moog, Live in London

Sony Classical has released Bach To Moog, an album that’s expected to be the first created with Moog Music’s reissued System 55 modular synthesizer.

Bach To Moog – by composer, arranger and producer Craig Leon – recalls the 1968 Walter/Wendy Carlos album, Switched On Bach, which was many listeners’ introduction to the possibilities of synthesizers.

While the Carlos album was arranged entirely for synthesizer, though, Bach To Moog positions the synthesizer as a performance instrument, along with traditional classical instruments.

In the above video, Leon and his ensemble perform Siciliano from the Bach Violin Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, BWV 1017. 

Above, is a perhaps more ‘switched on’ arrangement, the Preludio from the Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006

Finally, the video below captures a live performance of Bach’s well-known Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565.

The career of Craig Leon has bridged the worlds of classical and popular music. He’s produced albums by The Ramones, Blondie, The Bangles, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Berlin, Shonen Knife and others. In the world of classical music, Leon has produced and arranged classical albums by Joshua Bell, Sir James Galway, Luciano Pavarotti and others.

Leon is also known for his own electronic compositions, including Nommos and The Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music.

With Bach to Moog, Leon builds on his experience in classical music, electronic music and synthesizers. In addition to the Moog System 55, the arrangements feature British classical violinist Jennifer Pike and the Sinfonietta Cracovia.

Bach To Moog is available via Amazon and iTunes.


26 thoughts on “Craig Leon’s Bach To Moog, Live in London

  1. Great arrangement! My only negative is that the violin sounds much more expressive than the synth. You don’t notice this with Switched On Bach, because you don’t have traditional instruments to compare to, but here it’s apparent.

    To my ears, this highlights the need for better synth controllers – something like a wind controller might have made the synth more of a match for the violin.

  2. This reminds me of Peter Hoffman (Tenor, Siegfried) singing rock somgs. x(
    Why the heck do we have to use synths to recreate clasical music?
    We should instead make more music like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Tomita etc. did.
    People get ever more sentimental with age and think about and try to recreate the time of their youth. When the world was fresh and new to them. This revival just makes people look old.

    1. Why shouldn’t synths be used to perform classical music?

      There are centuries of great music and there’s really been very little serious work to bring this music to synthesizers. Most of the attempts of the 70’s were ‘switched on’ copycats, rather than serious attempts to arrange classical music for synths.

      And there are even fewer musicians that are performing classical music live with synthesizers.

      I love 70’s synth music as much as the next guy, but saying that “People get ever more sentimental with age and think about and try to recreate the time of their youth” and then saying that there should be more music like TD and Tomita seems like a huge contradiction.

      What we need are more musicians doing work that explores what’s possible now, with today’s instruments. That’s what a young Wendy Carlos or Tangerine Dream would be doing now.

      Leon and William Gregory are doing something new by doing classical music live on synths, something that’s never been well explored, and something that not even Wendy Carlos or Tomita really did.

  3. “Walter/Wendy Carlos” this comment is transphobic. Wendy Carlos has stated many times she is a woman and, therefore, should be addressed as such.

    1. Petrus

      We use Walter/Wendy Carlos to succinctly refer to Carlos, when discussing to her work released under two different names. This is similar to how we’d refer to the work of other artists that have released work under multiple names – like Richard D. James/Aphex Twin.

      For readers that think we should handle Carlos’ multiple working names differently than we do other artists, we’d welcome suggestions that succinctly acknowledge that her historical releases have been released under two names.

      1. synthhead

        I know people who are transgender. They are not playing different characters as Mr. James is. Or Prince. Or Gordon Sumner. They are living their lives as the person they truly are. On, the current release of Switched On Bach is credited to Wendy Carlos.

        1. Prince is actually just simply Prince – not a character at all. His name is Prince and not something made up for stage (unless you count that he is going by his first name only). Day in and day out, the way you see Prince in public is pretty much what you see in private – he lives this way. With that said, Prince is quite a character himself. 😉

    2. How about a simple compromise that may help any SJWs and NGASs set aside their differences? If you are discussing the work: Before 1970, Walter. After 1970, Wendy. If you are discussing the person, she is Wendy. Walter is simply an historic footnote. Is that sensible?

      1. I think it was 79 before she released work as Wendy Carlos, so really all of her well-known work, except for the Tron soundtrack, was released under the name Walter Carlos. That includes the SOB albums, Well Tempered Synthesizer, Clockwork Orange and Sonic Seasonings (which is a great album).

        So I’d disagree that Walter Carlos is a ‘historical footnote’. I’d guess that half of the older readers on this site fell in love with synths because of her work released as Walter Carlos.

        PS: I like what Craig Leon is doing – I’d love to see him tour with this, preferably on a dual billing with the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble.

    3. It’s just an awareness thing since the work was originally released under Walter. A lot of people who first bought this record and would be interested, wouldn’t realise the artist had changed names.

    1. And probably 95% of the Switched On Bach albums say ‘Walter Carlos’ on them, because this was the
      biggest-selling classical music album of all time, when it was released in 1968.

      So calling it ‘Wendy Carlos’s Switched On Bach’ completely ignores history.

      Why should Wendy Carlos get special treatment and get to rewrite her former identity out of history? It’s sort of like the ridiculous machinations that Prince wanted people to go through for a while, referring him only by a symbol or “the artist formerly known as prince’.

      FWIW – wikipedia uses the approach “Switched-On Bach is a musical album by Wendy Carlos (originally released under the name of Walter Carlos).” Would that make people happier? Or is that ‘transphobic’, too, to some people?

      1. Totally agree on this. Especially in relation to Prince and the symbol. That was purely BS created by him. He never changed his name to that symbol (of course, that is not even possible to do). His main reason was to try and get out of his contract and the symbol was something he wholly owned – something WB could not exploit (in his eyes). Of course, like typical Prince, he can never actually EXPLAIN this but prefers to use riddles instead so you can try to guess what he means.

      2. It is remarkable that a attempt to be historically accurate (in this case, albums have been released under both names) could be misinterpreted as being judgmental and hateful.

        There was nothing transphobic about anything in Synthtopia’s articles, in fact Synthtopia really loves Carlos’ work. We could just use the last name like I did there but that would be incorrect as the albums were always released with a first name on them.

  4. I’m a big fan of the Switched On Bach records, and also Tomita’s interpretation of classical pieces using synths, but these recordings I do not like. There was an alien purity to the early synth tones, that contrasts to the much more complex tones & interpretative flexibility of the classical instruments, whilst this mix just jars. I think Mr Leon should have investigated using a more expressive controller (Haken Continuum, ROLI Seaboard, Linnstrument, even an Akai EWI or something with a breath controller…) to at least give himself a bit more expressive control. All this does is show up the lack of expressivity of the synth sounds 🙁

  5. Wendy Carlos.
    I think that any getting upset about the name of an artist is really sad. What an absurd thing to see on here.
    Big respect to all gender benders and trans .Anything that upsets closet homosexuals is ok in my book!!

  6. Is there something particularly wrong with my hearing today or does that first video at the top have some serious dissonance in it? Something is away out of key, and I am not sure if it is one of the lead viola (or violin? I am not an expert at strings) or the keyboard.

    1. I had the same reaction on the first and second video. Not very pleasing to listen to, but hard to pinpoint which instrument is the culprit.

      1. Same here ! Guess that’s the keyboard, it’s quite hard and hazardous to have a perfect keyboard tracking on several octaves !

  7. Wow, first that hipster DJ from last week and now this?

    I’m not suggesting they spend all their time preaching to the choir, but does Moog know ANYTHING about their market?

  8. I saw Leon playing electronics with another electronic musician/singer and a string quartet last year at MOOGFEST. It was horrible because the sound tech ruined it. You couldn’t hear the strings and the sub-bass was cranked way too loud. It’s not easy to work with synths together with orchestral instruments, but I think if it’s done great attention has to be paid to the sound reinforcement…..perhaps to the same level as every other aspect of the performance.

  9. Sadly – those all synths and technology add NOTHING to Bach’s music… Instead makes is shallower, “compresses” expression of the string players. Also – as other noted – this performances are far away from perfection. Ensemble must play in time and in tune – the basics of playing chamber music.

Leave a Reply