Walter (Wendy) Carlos – Sonic Seasonings

Walter (Wendy) Carlos was perhaps the first famous synthesizer programmer/performer.  At first rock & roll didn’t quite know what to do with synthesizer technology as it began to become commercially available in the late 1960’s.  The synthesizer was borne from the college campus and research laboratory, so I suppose it was only natural that the high-brow world of avant-garde classical music became the earliest users of the new technology, followed shortly by foley artists and jingle/commercial composers.  Walter Carlos was one of the earliest users of the Moog modular synthesizer and created a runaway smash, Switched On Bach, by painstakingly programming, tuning and multitracking the finicky instrument.  The album remains one of the best-selling classical music CD’s of all time.  Since Carlos was able to make so much quan off that recording, record execs saw the potential for their own Moog recordings and voila, you had a whole slew of Moog releases.  While some of those recordings are charming, none would have the effect of SOB. Shortly thereafter the Moog began to make its way onto popular recordings by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Monkees and a little known prog group called Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Fast forward to 1972.  Carlos has had success with the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, which featured more reworkings of classical music plus the first appearance of an original composition, “Timesteps”.  The following year would see Carlos’ first release of all original compositions, Sonic Seasonings.

In this double album Carlos assigns one season thematically to each side of a double LP.  Those familiar with SOB will be surprised to discover a more conventional synthesizer album (meaning more atonal and avant-garde) than they are accustomed to from Carlos.  (S)he used lots of found sound, field recordings and nature sounds combined with the state-of-the-1972-art Moog modular and multitracking.  It’s not as hardcore “sound effect-y” as Subotnik or some of the minimalist 20th century musique concrete composers, but had more of a melodic flair and was arguably a commercialization of the 1960’s laboratory synthesizer composition style.

Carlos would go on to soundtrack Tron and record many other albums, but none quite like Sonic Seasonings.  It’s still in print on CD with bonus tracks. Have a listen to it hear first and then buy the CD if you like it.

SOURCE: The original 1972 Columbia Records pressing of the album -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition.  No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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Filed under New Age, Soundtracks

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