Search Manic Mark's Blog

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Switched On Bach II - Walter Carlos


Sheep May Safely Graze

Trans-Electronic Music Productions, Inc. Presents
Switched On Bach II
Watler Carlos
Produced by Rachel Elkind
Cover Design: John Berg
Cover Photo: Horn/Grimer
Columbia Records KM 32659

From the back cover: Walter Carlos and I met formally in 1965, three years before the release of Switched-On Bach. At that time Walter was a recording engineer and tape editor at a large New York studio. He had completed graduate studies in classical electronic music studio technique with Vladimir Ussachevsky at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City. Here, he learned the basic techniques of electronic sound generation and processing, and musical manipulation and assembly of sounds on a magnetic tape. His graduate work included original tape composition, some of which had been played in public concerts and were well known among the (then) small circle of electronic music devotees, and have subsequently been released on records.

Carlos heard of that modular electronic music, instruments that we had developed a short time before and initiated correspondence that led to our first formal meeting. We talked about many aspects of electronic music hardware and composition techniques, and I remember being amazed at how thoroughly Walter understood the musical application of instruments that, for him, then existed only on paper. His initial purchase included some instruments that we designed and built to his specifications.

From then on, we met or talked frequently. Over the months and years that followed, Carlos explored the technical and musical subtleties of his instruments. He often suggested features and modifications that would increase the instrument's capabilities and improve their operation. He demanded the highest level of sound quality and musical accuracy. We frequently discussed new types of instruments and then collaborated on the details of their design. My associates and I translated these ideas into hardware, and Walter put them to the test. The Moog 1967 catalog list many modules with features that he first suggested. This same catalog also listed several "synthesizers" – integrated systems of voltage-controlled modular instruments for electronic music composition and performance.

Soon after Carlos began working with his new instruments, he started to assemble his own studio. With the help of his friend Bob Schwarz, he designed and built a simple, yet elegant, mixing board. He built his 8-track recorder from a refurbished tape deck and a hefty pile of surplus parts. The completed studio, fitted neatly into one corner of Carlos' living room, consisted of his synthesizer, mixing board, 8-track recorder and a few "store bought" pieces of professional studio equipment. It is significant that this studio, which could easily have developed into a cranky, haywire assemblage, emerged instead as an efficient, professional, musically-oriented facility. Using this studio, Carlos, with the assistance of Rachel Elkind and Benjamin Folkman, produced the master tape for Switched-On Bach.

To appreciate the historical significance of Switched-On Bach, one must remember that in 1968 most people thought that electronic music was an avant grade endeavor that had little connection with traditional musical values. Commercial musicians generally felt that electronic medium in general, and synthesizers in particular, had no place in the production of high quality music of wide appeal. Walter knew better. He understood that the alleged limitations of the electronic music medium could be overcome by the application of technique and discretion. His control over the equipment increased rapidly as he developed a repertoire of techniques and procedures for converting technical function into musical material. As Switched-On Bach neared completion, excitement ran high among Walter's friends and professional associates. We were literally witnessing a breakthrough! Guided by his own insight and integrity, Walter had achieved the seemingly impossible. He had produced high quality music in his studio, with only electronic instruments.

I remember the first public playing of Switched-On Bach, about a month before the formal release of the album. It was at the Electronic Music session of the Audio Engineering Society Convention, October 1968. I had presented a paper on "Recent Trends in Electronic Music Studio Design." After describing Walter's studio, I illustrated the points I had made by playing the Third Movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. The audience of several hundred audio engineers, music producers,  and technicians gave Carlos enthusiastic, emotional ovation, an uncommon response from those critical professionals.

The universal success of Switched-On Bach is now well known. It is the largest-selling classical album of recent times. Throughout the world, far more people know of electronic music and the synthesizer through Switched-On Bach than through any other musical endeavor. But Carlos did more than popularize a medium and an instrument. He set definitive artistic and technical standards, which in the long run have been of paramount importance in promoting electronic music and the synthesizer.

Each of Walter's works after Switched-On Bach is another milestone. He has invented tone colors, mastered new pieces of equipment, refined his control over balance and ambience. The delicacy of The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, the drama of the Clockwork Orange score, the scintillating complexity of Sonic Seasonings, have all redefined the boundaries of the electronic music medium. As a listener and as a musical instrument designer, I eagerly look forward to every new album by Walter Carlos. – Robert A. Moog.

Selections From Suite No. 2 In B Minor

Two-Part Invention In A Minor
Two-Part Invention In A Major

Sheep May Safely Graze from "Cantata No. 208"

Suite from Anna Magdalena Notebook

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 In D Major

No comments:

Post a Comment

Howdy! Thanks for leaving your thoughts!