Wendy Carlos Demonstrates The Moog Modular Behind ‘Switched On Bach’

In this vintage BBC video, electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos demonstrates the Moog modular synthesizer used in the creation of Switched On Bach.

Switched On Bach, originally released in 1968, did as much as any album to bring electronic music to a mainstream audience. The album topped the Billboard Classical Albums chart from 1969 to 1972 and went on to sell over a million copies. 

In the video, Carlos explains the basics of modular synthesis on the Moog modular synth and demonstrates how Switched On Bach was recorded.

This clip is from BBC’s Music Now, originally broadcast 8 February, 1970.

47 thoughts on “Wendy Carlos Demonstrates The Moog Modular Behind ‘Switched On Bach’

  1. Wendy was the main proponent of European classical on synthesizer where Tomita presented the more impressionist/Oriental angles. Not 100%, but loosely speaking. They each showed a nice sense of humor as well. They’re a pair of real giants who make up a nice counterpoint to the Berlin school.

    1. too expensive?

      This is not a 2022 sales pitch. It is arguably the most influential synthesist who’s ever lived, showing the “mechanics” of analog synthesis which most people were clueless about, in 1970. There were no alternatives. Maybe the MiniMoog was just out, which I’m sure you would just say is also too expensive.

      Admin: Note – Personal attack deleted (name calling). Keep comments on topic and constructive.

  2. 10 years after Stockhausen’s Kontakte, to name one artist working with this medium…I honestly don’t get the fascination with Wendy Carlos.

    1. Right? you heard one electronic musician you heard them all, same with synths…
      What are we doing here anyway..

    2. Wendy Carlos sold millions of records and made the soundtrack of many A List movies,
      cant say that about Mr. Stockhausens unpleasant noise.

    3. For whatever it’s worth, I think Carlos is so much more prominent in various communities is because of the additional role she played in helping with the further development of Moog modules and directing some additional synth technology, as well as the incredible work scoring some very prominent films. it’s really not terribly mysterious!

    4. Stockhausen was influential to a generation of musicians, but, even after 60 years, his music has never found a broad audience.

      Carlos inspired a generation of musicians, but also achieved massive mainstream success, pioneered the use of synthesizers and created several extremely influential film scores to major films.

        1. Little-known acts like Kraftwerk, Can, The Beatles, Bjork, Miles Davis, etc.
          Probably easier to list who doesn’t.

          1. oh yeah you can totally seen the work of Karl Heinz in Kraftwerk, Can, the Beatles and Miles Davis. /s

            Gee, dream on.
            I can write modern music history without dropping the name Stockhausen,
            but I cant write the story without Wendy Carlos, the Velvet Underground, or the Beatles. 😉

      1. Well as far as i am concerned Stockhausen is on a different league to Carlos as a composer. As is Ligeti for that matter. I don’t believe Carlos did anything special musically however she gets disproportionate amount of exposure in electronic music sites. I’ve never heard any of my “heroes” or even me quote Carlos as an extreme influence. At best she is the one that did Bach on modular synths. So what?

        1. What you’re saying is that comparing Stockhausen to Carlos is like comparing apples to oranges, and you only like apples.

          Other people like oranges, too. Taste is subjective.

          What’s not subjective is that Carlos created the best-selling classical album of all time, that Glenn Gould called Switched On Bach “‘one of the great feats in keyboard performance”, that Carlos’s soundtracks are amazing and innovative, and that Carlos’s work has inspired a generation of synthesists.

          Stockhausen’s work has never had much reach beyond academic musicians. It is recognized in the same way as the music of Milton “Who cares if you listen?” Babbitt. “Important” music that nobody actually listens to.

          1. Well i am guessing Carlos’s soundtracks must be in that category of important film scores that no one actually listens to. As far as i am concerned i don’t put labels in electronics music. There are no apples and oranges and no silver moon.. There is innovative work and not innovative work. Carlos is not that important, which is why i find disproportionate the showcasing and of course even worst is the ignorance about the field. Heck even Mort Garson’s Plantasia is more interesting than Carlos work.

            1. A Clockwork Orange. If it’s good enough for Kubrick… Tough guy to please: there was a commissioned soundtrack to “2001” famously rejected by The Man and replaced by classical orchestra pieces (Strauss?). Wendy’s A Clockwork Orange’s soundtrack is often credited as a direct influence in the British synth pop of the 80’s. Minor bands with no impact whatsoever…

              Great of you guys to dig Stockhausen’s work. I don’t think there was ever a case of someone exchanging one’ music for the other’s.

              1. The music rejected by Kubrick for the odyssey was by Alex North. Also Kubrick used Ligeti’s music in the score without permission and without compensating him (he did that in eyes wide shut where again he used Ligeti’s music). The only original piece Wendy Carlos did for Kubrick’s film was the title score for the shining. In clockwork orange it’s only rearrangements of classical music pieces. How many times has Ligeti being mentioned in this webpage? How many times Parmegiani? How many times Xenakis (the first to use granular synthesis/Gabor matrices and inventor of Gendy). How many times koenig ( one of the first composers to use cv control) How many Barry truax (the first to implement realitme granulation), etc? Ho many times was Jean Claude Risset? And it is not about accounting for music taste, which of course is personal, it is about having a sense of music history especially when you derive “importance” from that. Wendy Carlos is represented here as a pioneer of electronic music of mythical status. Well no, she was not that.

                1. You’re confusing technical experimentation with creating innovative music that someone might actually want to listen to.

                  The academic music history crowd keeps track of musical firsts and, yes, this is independent of musical taste.

                  And you can always point to Luigi Rusolo, say he did it first and be dismissive of musicians that followed.

                  Beyond the academic music history crowd, though, music is shaped by musical pioneers that find ways to use new tools to make music that people actually want to listen to. And it’s an empirical fact that Wendy Carlos succeeded in this.

                  You say that “Wendy Carlos is represented here as a pioneer of electronic music of mythical status.”

                  That’s not what the video or the article say, so you’re trying to create a straw man argument. Instead of helping to make your point, this just suggests that you have an irrational bias against Carlos or Carlos’s work.

                2. Have you heard Wendy’s Albums where she sails off with the pitch? No?
                  that is still next level stuff.
                  Wendy has much more to offer than playing Bach & Scarlatti on a modular synthesizer. 😉

          2. As for “reach” beyond academic students, i believe the Beatles met with Stockhausen and recorded something in his studio. I’d call that reach beyond the academia…

            1. Compering artiest and music is stupid, no matter what you trying to say, It’s not like you can only choose one to follow, I think you got mixed up with religions, patriotism or football…
              I really have no idea who is Stockhausen (sounds German) Isn’t he is the guy that talked rubbish on aphex twin music? I have a feeling he is one of this old “compositors” that work 5 years on something that sound abstract and random and more focused on concepts than the music result.
              I only know I liked Wendy’s “clock work orange theme” and she use to be a guy

              1. that “dialogue” was very funny.
                Stockhausen was full of bs like you should not play repetitive rhythms blah,
                and afx was like what have you done that I can dance to so you dare to give me advice? ^^

        2. Listen to Wendy Carlos’ album Beauty in the Beast (1986). I think it shows her brilliance in synthesis and composition. The music is elevated by her not using the traditional equally tempered scale.

        1. Time to come up with a new comment then, Crall!

          In all seriousness, though, moderation will never be perfect. We just try to encourage people to share all types of perspectives, while keeping personal attacks to a minimum.

          So name-calling and trash-talking THINGS is going to fly.

          Name-calling and trash-talking PEOPLE (ie, another reader, an artist, a race or religious group, etc) will not.

          We don’t manually screen every comment, only your first comment. So some personal attacks may slip through, and that’s a reality of allowing open discussion on a web site.

  3. Rick Wakeman once said that if you piled up too many synthesizers in the sound field, you ended up with “The Mighty Digital Wurlitzer Effect.” Good advice if you want to avoid emitting skating rink ooze, which reeks of cheese that’s way past the due date.

  4. tomita and carlos were my first impressions of electronic music. never heard stockhousenjinglehiemerschmidt.

  5. Admin: Personal attack deleted (transphobia).

    Keep comments on topic and constructive. And don’t waste the admin’s time.

    1. Maybe this is called critique-phobia.

      Just because one disagrees and critiques doesn’t mean it is a “phobia”, for instance and especially phenomena deviated from the nature. Otherwise, there were and will be no scientific progress.

  6. 1) Wendy’s full version of “Timesteps” ( the 13:00 version from “Wendy Carlos’s Clockwork Orange”) sets a high standard that’s hard to match. Its not just Moog-savvy, its synth-savvy. Hit that mark and then we’ll talk!

    2) No one asks to be trans or anything else that’s not middle-of-the-road; its about the unpredictable behavior of DNA, in the womb. Y’know, Science. It has nothing to do with personal merit or character. You might as well yell at a tree or a Moog. Same result: squat, except you look crazier. :)) Check out Bo Burnham’s “Welcome to the Internet” for the details.

    1. not in the year 1968 (release of SoB) 😉
      there was nothing around

      buchla 200 was 70s as well as EMS system 100
      Roland system 700 end 70s

      Switched on Bach kickstarted public interest in synthesizers and electronic music and made moog a big name 😉

      1. the next big kick in the butt was Jean-Michel Jarre – oxygene (1978) 😉

        (Dr. Who theme was popular too but not really seen as music more as tv sound gimmick)

        people didnt give a rats ass about the experimental electronic music like silver apples on the moon or stockhausens trallala )

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