Bach on Synth: Wendy Carlos’ Enduring Musical Legacy

Born in Pawtucket, Wendy Carlos is a renowned composer and electronic music pioneer who has made an indelible mark on the music industry. Her groundbreaking contributions to classical and electronic music have solidified her status as a visionary, and her legacy continues to inspire.


Born in 1939, Carlos studied physics and music at Brown University, before moving to The Big Apple in 1962 to study music composition at Columbia. Assigned male at birth, she raised awareness for transgender rights in 1979 when she publicly shared her story in a May edition of Playboy, where she was interviewed by Arthur Bell.

Carlos’ creative genius continued to thrive, and she went on to compose acclaimed film scores for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. Carlos is also an accomplished solar eclipse photographer, and her stunning images have been featured by NASA.

Carlos’ contributions to the music industry began in the 1960s when she embarked on a groundbreaking project to create an album of classical works by Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach, performed entirely on the Moog synthesizer. The resulting album, Switched-On Bach, was an instant success, winning three Grammy Awards and selling over one million copies. The album’s success brought the Moog synthesizer to the forefront of popular music, paving the way for a new generation of electronic music artists.


In addition to her success with Switched-On Bach, Carlos continued to push the boundaries of what was possible with electronic music. She went on to release a series of innovative and groundbreaking albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Beauty in the Beast, and Digital Moonscapes. These albums showcased Carlos’ remarkable ability to blend classical and electronic elements seamlessly, creating a unique sound that was both futuristic and timeless.

One of Carlos’ most notable achievements was her work on Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange. Carlos composed the film’s score, using a combination of electronic and acoustic instruments to create a haunting and unforgettable sound. Her work on A Clockwork Orange earned her a Golden Globe nomination and cemented her status as one of the most innovative film composers of her time.

Carlos’ commitment to pushing the boundaries of what was possible with music extended beyond her work in the studio. She was also an outspoken advocate for the use of electronic instruments in classical music, believing that they had the potential to expand the range of sounds and textures available to composers. Her pioneering work with the Moog synthesizer and other electronic instruments inspired a new generation of musicians to experiment with electronic music, and her legacy continues to influence artists today.

Despite her many accomplishments, Carlos has remained a private and elusive figure throughout her career. She rarely grants interviews or makes public appearances, preferring to let her music speak for itself. This privacy has only added to her mystique and cemented her status as a true icon of electronic music.

In a world that can often be rigid and unyielding, Wendy Carlos has shown us the power of embracing the unknown and forging your path. Her story is one of resilience, creativity, and an unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. As the music world continues to evolve, the influence of Wendy Carlos will undoubtedly be felt for generations to come.