New Biography Explores the Life of Wendy Carlos, Trans Woman Who Helped Develop the Moog Synthesizer

A new biography exploring the life of legendary electronic music composer Wendy Carlos has hit the shelves. Written by Amanda Sewell, music director at Interlochen Public Radio, the eponymous book offers an in-depth look into the fascinating life of the 3-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Carlos, whose pioneering developments in music production helped spawn the seminal Moog synthesizer, was also one of the first public figures to come out as a transgender woman.

Robert Moog dropped the curtain on his bespoke synthesizer in 1964, introducing a sleeker, more compact version of the convoluted, analog wired walls of music studios at the time. Carlos went on to harness the power of the Moog synth to record her Switched-On Bach LP, an album that reconfigured Johann Sebastian Bach’s classical compositions into electronic music. The groundbreaking record went on to sell over 1 million copies, serving as a harbinger for the instrument's usage in contemporary music and an emblem of its storied history. "Up until the late 1960s, the synthesizer was largely something that you found in a very specialized laboratory at a university," said Sewell. "[Carlos] wanted to bridge that gap and show people that the synthesizer could make music that was approachable."

"Critics were just bowled over," she continued, rhapsodizing about the impact of Carlos' debut album. "It was unprecedented. This particular interpretation of Bach just knocked everybody’s socks off."

Sewell stated that Carlos, who was assigned male at her 1939 birth, remained out of the public eye and kept to herself after she transitioned to female. Despite her newfound triumphs in the music industry, she found herself grappling with the effects of gender dysphoria, a condition she had struggled with since childhood, according to her iconic 1979 interview with Playboy. In those days, Sewell says, the notion of being transgender was novel and the amount of public knowledge was scarce. Carlos' transition also took place around the time she unveiled Switched-On Bach, which was officially released under her former name, contriving somewhat of an identity crisis considering the album's popularity.

"She was caught in ‘Do I tell people who I really am and risk the ridicule, the abuse that would come with that? Or do I hide and pretend that this Walter Carlos person still exists and is just an aloof person who doesn’t appear publicly?’” Sewell noted. "So she hid from the public for over a decade after Switched-On Bach came out because she didn’t feel safe disclosing her transition."

Wendy Carlos was published on September 2nd and can be purchased here.

Source: Michigan Radio