Wendy Carlos is a transfem composer that did soundtracks for multiple big movies, such as Tron, The Shining, and Clockwork Orange, and pioneered the use of synthesizers as musical instruments. Wendy’s album “Switched-On Bach” has won three Grammys, and was the album that proved that synthesizers could be a powerful instrument beyond being used simply for futuristic-sounding special effects.
- Pronouns/gender: she/her, transfem
- Albums/Soundtracks*: Switched-On Bach (1968), The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969), A Clockwork Orange soundtrack (1971), Sonic Seasonings (1972), Switched-On Bach II (1973), By Request (1975), The Shining soundtrack (1980), Switched-On Brandenburgs (1980), Tron soundtrack (1982), Digital Moonscapes (1984), Beauty In The Beast (1986), Secrets of Synthesis (1987), Peter & the Wolf (1988), Switched-On Bach 2000 (1992), Tales of Heaven and Hell (1998), Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 1 (2005), and Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 (2005).
- Link to her website: https://www.wendycarlos.com/
Wendy was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on November 14th, 1939, and had felt gender dysphoria since a very young age. At around age five or six, she told her parents that she strongly felt like a girl, and always loved having long hair and wearing feminine clothes, and was confused when her parents didn’t understand. While studying at Brown University, she went on a date with a girl, and felt extreme jealousy towards her date.
Wendy didn’t begin to understand these confusing feelings until she first encountered the concept of being transgender during her later studies at Columbia University, when she studied transgender issues. She underwent therapy with Harry Benjamin, a prominent sexologist who specialized in transgender people, in 1967, and began hormone treatments in early 1968. This was the same year her career really took off when her album, Switched-On Bach, reached platinum sales, cemented the synthesizer as a legitimate instrument in the musical world, and would eventually win three Grammy awards. While this sudden success was nothing short of amazing, it created a new source of stress for Wendy as well, as she was terrified of revealing herself to the world as a trans woman (the hormone treatments had slowly been changing her appearance to one more feminine). When she was invited to perform some of her synth Bach covers live with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, she disguised herself as a man while on stage, slapping on fake sideburns, a wig, and drawn-on facial hair in a panic right before her performance. She would later hide the same way when meeting Stanley Kubrick and when she appeared as a guest star on The Dick Cavett Show.
After Switched-On Bach, she released The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, building on her previous methods, and made music for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which included synthesized singing, an unheard-of technique at the time. In 1972, Wendy had saved up enough from the success of Switched-On Bach that she was able to afford bottom surgery.
Even after the surgery, Wendy wouldn’t reveal herself as trans until late 1978, during a series of interviews. She later said, in a magazine publication of these interviews, that she had always wanted to come out as trans, but had been extremely anxious to do so. As she said a couple years later, there wasn’t nearly as much an extreme public reaction as she was worried of. After these interviews were released to the public, she began releasing albums under her preferred name.
Wendy continued on to compose other movie soundtracks after her work in A Clockwork Orange, such as those of The Shining and Tron. She made several new albums (listed above), and at one point worked with Weird Al Yankovic.
She was officially recognized for her groundbreaking musical work in 2005, when she was given the SEAMUS 2005 Life Achievement Award.
*Most of Wendy’s work can’t be found anywhere online, due to her dislike of music streaming services.