Albums I Want to Be Buried With: Wendy Carlos, “Switched-On Bach”

And thus begins a new series of blog articles.

Some background.  From 1975 until approximately 2006, I was heavily involved in music and record collecting.  My collection grew to approximately 6,000 45’s and 3,000 albums, plus a ton of CD’s, cassettes, 8-tracks, 78’s, Edison Diamond Discs and the like.

But over time, I realized that at some point I will have to shuffle off this mortal coil, and if I have to leave, I want to take some music with me.  The albums posted in this category are not just a “greatest hits” package or a “Desert Island Discs” run-through.  These are albums that I’ve replaced over time.  I’ve purchased these albums in different formats.  In some cases, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview the artist or group as part of an article for Goldmine or any other number of music publications.

And so it begins with this post.  The first album I want to be buried with, should that day ever come, is Wendy Carlos’ “Switched-On Bach.”

Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Bach (1968).  Image from
Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Bach (1968). Image from

Think about this for a moment.  In 1968, there was a classical album that took some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest compositions – everything from “Air on a G String” to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” to the Sinfonia to “Cantata #29” – and re-interpreted them using a revolutionary musical device, an instrument that was previously relegated to special effects sounds in sci-fi movies.

What Wendy Carlos did in 1968 was take the Moog synthesizer and use it to create something that had not been tried before.  Prior to “Switched-On Bach,” classical music was performed with an orchestra, or by a solo violinist or solo organist.  Carlos recorded every note, one by one, with her Moog synthesizer, then multi-tracked her recordings to create an electronic orchestra.  Even though the synth at that time was not a polyphonic synth – it could only play single notes and not chords – and even though the Moog synthesizer was an analog instrument and actually needed to be tuned – Carlos created an album unlike anything ever heard before.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and when a classical album actually cracks the list of best-selling albums, and becomes one of the best-selling classical albums of all time – and takes home three Grammy awards – then the knockoff albums hit store shelves.  Albums like The Cow Goes Moog and Switched-on Bacharach and studio groups like Hot Butter (“Popcorn”) filled record store shelves with Moog output as fast as they could be pressed.

Carlos recorded several other Moog albums of her own, including a second interpretation of Bach’s work (The Well-Tempered Synthesizer).  She also worked on the soundtracks for such diverse films as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and TRON.

I first heard tracks from Switched-on Bach in the early 1970’s, when the album was used as bridging music between PBS children’s programs.  Eventually I discovered the album, and went through several copies of it – as well as an 8-track tape copy, a quadraphonic pressing and a couple of CD releases.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy twice – once for Goldmine magazine (I had tried to convince Goldmine to run the article with the headline “E=mc“, but they choose to run the article with the headline “In the Moog” instead), and then a second time for the British magazine MOJO.  The second interview came just after the passing of Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer, and Wendy was extremely gracious during that interview, as she talked about working with her old friend and collaborator on those early albums.  She even sent me an autographed CD of Switched-on Bach; the CD is framed and hangs on a wall in my home office.

Feel free to add to this list of your own personal albums that you wish to take to the next realm.