Wendy Carlos: A Biography

Amanda Sewell (Author)


With her debut album Switched-On Bach, composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos (b. 1939) brought the sound of the Moog synthesizer to a generation of listeners, helping to effect arguably one of the most substantial changes in popular music's sound since musicians began using amplifiers. Her story is not only one of a person who blazed new trails in electronic music for decades but is also the story of a person who intersected in many ways with American popular culture, medicine, and social trends during the second half of the 20th century and well into the 21st. There is much to tell about her life and about the ways in which her life reflects many dimensions of American culture.

Carlos's identity as a transgender woman has shaped many aspects of her life, her career, how she relates to the public, and how the public has received her and her music. Cultural factors surrounding the treatment of transgender people affected many of the decisions that Carlos has made over the decades. Additionally, cultural reception and perception of transgender people has colored how journalists, scholars, and fans have written about Carlos and her music for decades.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
September 02, 2020
6.3 X 1.2 X 9.3 inches | 1.05 pounds

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About the Author

Amanda Sewell is Music Director of Interlochen Public Radio. She holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Indiana University.


"[Sewell] demonstrates that [Carlos] was as important to the success of the Moog synthesizer as the Moog was for her, that she was a pioneering artist in ambient music as well, and that she dismissed being pigeonholed for her synthesized Bach... A balanced biography that gives credit where it is due."--Kirkus

"[Sewell] successfully pulls together a balanced portrait that acknowledges Carlos's unavoidable cultural status as both a pioneer of electronic music and its most famous transgender woman, while also affording due recognition to her sonic accomplishments."--The Wire

"Sewell's nuanced biography of an overlooked composer is our best look yet at this groundbreaking artist, and a reminder that art can and should speak for itself."--Library Journal

"An essential read-not only for electronic music fans, but for anyone interested in the history of gender and popular culture."--4Columns

"Sewell's research is impeccable... an entertaining, often revelatory work, truly befitting a legend and a trailblazer."--Popmatters