How Wendy Carlos Changed Music

The secret ingredient in Switched on Bach is that it is an outrageously good musical performance.

Lots of other synth albums are technology demos, collections of cool sounds. Switched On Bach stands out because Carlos adapted Bach for the medium of the Moog synth, clearly understanding the compositions’ underlying gestures, and ensured that those gestures all come through. In some cases, they come through more clearly than on the original instrumentation, especially bass lines where the synth speaks more clearly than acoustic instruments can.

.. The secret ingredient in SoB is the fact that much of it was recorded at half speed and played back at double speed. This doubles the tempo and also hugely alters the timbres, making the sound much brighter, punchier, and more sparkly than the usual rather ponderous Moog sound.

.. The records were a team effort. The arrangements were shaped by producer Rachel Elkind, and Baroque specialist Benjamin Folkman.

I’m just as impressed by the fact that Carlos built her own mixer (difficult, but not entirely exceptional) and multitrack recorder (extremely difficult, and definitely exceptional) for the recordings.

J.S.Bach – French Suites

Andras Schiff – Piano
BWV 812 813 814 815 816 817
The French Suites, BWV 812–817, are six suites which Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the clavier (harpsichord or clavichord) between the years of 1722 and 1725. The suites were later given the name ‘French’ (first recorded usage by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg in 1762) as a means of contrast with the English Suites (whose title is likewise a later appellation). The name was popularised by Bach’s biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel, who wrote in his 1802 biography of Bach, “One usually calls them French Suites because they are written in the French manner.” This claim, however, is inaccurate: like Bach’s other suites, they follow a largely Italian convention.

There is no surviving definitive manuscript of these suites, and ornamentation varies both in type and in degree across manuscripts.

Glenn Gould Biography

But he hated performing – ”At concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian” – and though in great demand, he rationed his appearances stingily (he gave fewer than forty concerts overseas).

.. Gould harbored musical, temperamental and moral objections to concerts, and aired them publicly: “The purpose of art,” he wrote, “is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”

.. He liked to call himself “a Canadian writer, composer, and broadcaster who happens to play the piano in his spare time.”

.. Gould was one of the first truly modern classical performers, for whom recording and broadcasting were not adjuncts to the concert hall but separate art forms that represented the future of music. He made scores of albums, steadily expanding his repertoire and developing a professional engineer’s command of recording techniques. He also wrote prolifically about recording and the mass media, his ideas often harmonizing with those of his friend Marshall McLuhan.

.. His postmodernist advocacy of open borders between the roles of composer, performer and listener, for instance, anticipated digital technologies (like the Internet) that democratize and decentralize the institutions of culture. There is no question that Gould, more than any other classical musician, would have understood and admired digital technology – and would have had fun playing with it.