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Switched-On Bach

Switched-On Bach

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The album consists of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

, performed on a Moog synthesizer
Moog synthesizer
Moog synthesizer may refer to any number of analog synthesizers designed by Dr. Robert Moog or manufactured by Moog Music, and is commonly used as a generic term for older-generation analog music synthesizers. The Moog company pioneered the commercial manufacture of modular voltage-controlled...

, a modular synthesizer
Modular synthesizer
The modular synthesizer is a type of synthesizer consisting of separate specialized modules connected by wires to create a so-called patch. Every output generates a signal – an electric voltage of variable strength...

 system, one of which can be seen at the back of the room on the album cover. "Switched-On Bach," or "S-OB" as Carlos referred to it, was recorded on a custom-built 8 track recorder (constructed by Carlos from superseded Ampex
Ampex
Ampex is an American electronics company founded in 1944 by Alexander M. Poniatoff. The name AMPEX is an acronym, created by its founder, which stands for Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence...

 components), using numerous takes and overdubs. This was long before the days of MIDI sequencer
Music sequencer
The music sequencer is a device or computer software to record, edit, play back the music, by handling note and performance information in several forms, typically :...

s or polyphonic
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 keyboard
Keyboard instrument
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

s. Recording the album was a tedious and time-consuming process—each of the pieces had to be assembled one part at a time, and Carlos, Elkind and Folkman devoted many hours to experimenting with suitable synthetic sounds for each voice and part.

Due to the monophonic nature of the Moog instrument, Carlos never had the option of recording multiple notes on the same track, and in the same take. The simplest chordal constructions required multi-tracking, synchronization, and perfect timing, adding greatly to the overall time consumed by the project.

Carlos—a highly proficient musician and studio engineer and a former student of Vladimir Ussachevsky
Vladimir Ussachevsky
Vladimir Kirilovitch Ussachevsky was a composer, particularly known for his work in electronic music.-Biography:...

 -- worked closely with synthesizer designer Robert Moog
Robert Moog
Robert Arthur Moog , commonly called Bob Moog was an American pioneer of electronic music, best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer.-Life:...

 throughout the recording process, testing his various components and suggesting many improvements. In 1968, not long before the album was released, Moog gave a paper at the annual Audio Engineering Society
Audio Engineering Society
Established in 1948, the Audio Engineering Society draws its membership from amongst engineers, scientists, other individuals with an interest or involvement in the professional audio industry. The membership largely comprises engineers developing devices or products for audio, and persons working...

 conference, where he played one of Carlos' completed recordings:
"At the end of the talk I said to this fairly big audience, 'As an example of multi-track electronic music studio composition technique, I would like to play an excerpt of a record that's about to be released of some music by Bach.' It was the last movement of Walter's Brandenburg No. 3. I walked off the stage and went to the back of the auditorium while people were listening, and I could feel it in the air. They were jumping out of their skins. These technical people were involved in so much flim-flam, so much shoddy, opportunistic stuff, and here was something that was just impeccably done and had obvious musical content and was totally innovative. The tape got a standing ovation."

"CBS had no idea what they had in Switched-On Bach. When it came out, they lumped it in at a studio press party for Terry Riley
Terry Riley
Terrence Mitchell Riley, is an American composer intrinsically associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music and was a pioneer of the movement...

's In C
In C
In C is a semi-aleatoric musical piece composed by Terry Riley in 1964 for any number of people, although he suggests "a group of about 35 is desired if possible but smaller or larger groups will work"...

and an abysmal record called Rock and Other Four Letter Words. Carlos was angered by this, so he refused to come. So CBS, frantic to have some representation, asked me to demonstrate the synthesizer. I remember there was a nice big bowl of joint
Joint (cannabis)
Joint is a slang term for a cigarette rolled using cannabis. Rolling papers are the most common rolling medium among industrialized countries, however brown paper, cigarettes with the tobacco removed, and newspaper are commonly used in developing countries. Modern papers are now made from a wide...

s on top of the mixing console, and Terry Riley was there in his white Jesus suit, up on a pedestal, playing live on a Farfisa
Farfisa
Farfisa is a manufacturer of electronics based in Osimo, Italy.The Farfisa brand name is commonly associated with a series of compact electronic organs, and later, a series of multi-timbral synthesizers. At the height of its production, Farfisa operated three factories to produce instruments, in...

 electronic organ
Electronic organ
An electronic organ is an electronic keyboard instrument which was derived from the harmonium, pipe organ and theatre organ. Originally, it was designed to imitate the sound of pipe organs, theatre organs, band sounds, or orchestral sounds....

 against a backup of tape delays. Rock and Other Four Letter Words went on to sell a few thousand records. In C sold a few tens of thousands. Switched-On Bach sold over a million, and just keeps going on and on."


Carlos followed the release of this album with a number of other classical Moog albums:
  • The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
    The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
    The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is a 1969 album released by Wendy Carlos following the groundbreaking Switched-On Bach in the previous year. The album consists of a selection of pieces by Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, and Handel as well as Bach whose music was exclusively featured on the first...

    (Columbia Records
    Columbia Records
    Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

    , 1969)
  • Switched-On Bach II (Columbia Records
    Columbia Records
    Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

    , 1974)
  • By Request (Columbia Records
    Columbia Records
    Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

    , 1975)
  • Switched-On Brandenburgs
    Switched-On Brandenburgs
    Switched-On Brandenburgs is a 1979 double album by Wendy Carlos. It was the seventh album released by Carlos, and the fourth and final album in her project of classical music which also included Switched-On Bach , The Well-Tempered Synthesizer , and Switched-On Bach II .Switched-On Brandenburgs is...

    Vol 1 & 2 (Columbia Records
    Columbia Records
    Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

    , 1979)

Influence


The album received a mixed reaction at the time of its release. Some critics reviled it for trivializing the work of one of the most revered classical composers of all time, but others were excited by the freshness of the sound and the virtuosity that went into its creation. Regardless of the negative reviews, the album caught the public attention and sold better than anyone had expected. Suddenly Moog's company found itself inundated with requests from record producers for Moog systems, and a rash of synthesizer albums were released to capitalise on the popularity of the new sound.

Some of these albums were similar to S-OB in being synthesized versions of classical pieces including:
  • The Moog Strikes Bach by Hans Wurman (RCA Records
    RCA Records
    RCA Records is one of the flagship labels of Sony Music Entertainment. The RCA initials stand for Radio Corporation of America , which was the parent corporation from 1929 to 1985 and a partner from 1985 to 1986.RCA's Canadian unit is Sony's oldest label...

     1969)
  • Chopin À La Moog by Hans Wurman (RCA Records
    RCA Records
    RCA Records is one of the flagship labels of Sony Music Entertainment. The RCA initials stand for Radio Corporation of America , which was the parent corporation from 1929 to 1985 and a partner from 1985 to 1986.RCA's Canadian unit is Sony's oldest label...

     1970)
  • Switched on Gershwin by Gershon Kingsley
    Gershon Kingsley
    Gershon Kingsley a contemporary German American composer, is well known as a pioneer of electronic music and the Moog synthesizer and founder of the First Moog Quartet, as a partner in the famous electronic music duo Perrey and Kingsley, and for his rock-inspired compositions for Jewish religious...

     & Leonid Hambro (Avco Records
    Avco Records
    Avco Records was a record label started in 1968 by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and Joseph E. Levine as Avco Embassy Records. In the late 1960s, they released a psychedelic rock album by the group Bead Game, titled Welcome. The Embassy name was dropped in 1971 making the label Avco Records...

     1970)
  • Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog* (*But were afraid to ask for) by Andrew Kazdin and Thomas Z. Shepard
    Thomas Z. Shepard
    Thomas Z. Shepard is a prolific record producer who is best known for his recordings of Broadway musicals, including the works of Stephen Sondheim...

     (CBS (Columbia Records
    Columbia Records
    Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

    ) 1973)
  • The Unusual Classical Synthesizer (ABC 1972) by Mike Hankinson—unusual in that it was performed on an EMS
    Electronic Music Studios (London) Ltd
    Electronic Music Studios Ltd. is a synthesizer company formed in 1969 by Dr. Peter Zinovieff, Tristram Cary and David Cockerell....

     VCS3 synthesizer rather than the more typical Moog modular synth.
  • Snowflakes Are Dancing
    Snowflakes are Dancing
    Snowflakes Are Dancing is an electronic music album by Isao Tomita, recorded in 1974 and first released as a Quadradisc in April. The album consists entirely of Tomita's arrangements of Claude Debussy's "tone paintings", performed by Tomita on a Moog synthesizer...

     (Clair De Lune)
    by Isao Tomita
    Isao Tomita
    , often known simply as Tomita, is a Japanese music composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analog synthesizer arrangements...

     (RCA Red Seal Records
    RCA Red Seal Records
    RCA Red Seal Records is a classical music label and is now part of Sony Masterworks.The Red Seal label was begun in 1902 by the Gramophone Company in the United Kingdom and was quickly picked up by its United States affiliate, the Victor Talking Machine Company, and its president, Eldridge R. Johnson...

     1974)
  • Jon Santo Plays Bach (Synthesized Electrons) MCA Inc. 1976)


Others capitalised on the Moog craze by creating "Switched-On" versions of contemporary artists and other genres:
  • Switched On Bacharach and More Switched On Bacharach by Christopher Scott. (Decca
    Decca Records
    Decca Records began as a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934; however, owing to World War II, the link with the British company was broken for several decades....

     1969)
  • Switched-On Rock by The Moog Machine. (Columbia Records
    Columbia Records
    Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

     1969)
  • Music to Moog By by Gershon Kingsley (Audiofidelity 1969)
  • Moog Plays The Beatles Marty Gold (Avco Records
    Avco Records
    Avco Records was a record label started in 1968 by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and Joseph E. Levine as Avco Embassy Records. In the late 1960s, they released a psychedelic rock album by the group Bead Game, titled Welcome. The Embassy name was dropped in 1971 making the label Avco Records...

     1970)
  • Switched on Country by Rick Powell (RCA Records
    RCA Records
    RCA Records is one of the flagship labels of Sony Music Entertainment. The RCA initials stand for Radio Corporation of America , which was the parent corporation from 1929 to 1985 and a partner from 1985 to 1986.RCA's Canadian unit is Sony's oldest label...

     1970)
  • Country Moog - Switched on Nashville by Gil Trythall (Athena 1970)
  • Plugged-In Joplin by The Eden Electronic Ensemble (Pye
    Pye Records
    Pye Records was a British record label. In its first incarnation, perhaps Pye's best known artists were Lonnie Donegan , Petula Clark , The Searchers , The Kinks , Sandie Shaw and Brotherhood of Man...

     1975)
  • The Age of Electronicus by Dick Hyman (Command Records
    Command Records
    Command Records was a record label founded by Enoch Light in 1959 and later associated with ABC-Paramount Records....

     1969)


Columbia Records even entered the competition by releasing an all-orchestral album with the same playlist as S-OB, with humorous liner notes:
  • Switched Off Bach by E. Power Biggs, Zoltan Rozsnyai, Pablo Casals & Glenn Gould (Columbia Records 1972)

Side one

  1. "Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29
    Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir
    Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir , BWV 29, is a sacred cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. The cantata was written in 1731 for Ratswahl, the inauguration of a new town council in Leipzig, on 27 August of that year...

    " - 3:20
  2. "Air on a G String
    Air on the G String
    The "Air on the G String" is an adaptation by August Wilhelmj of the Air, the second movement from Johann Sebastian Bach's Orchestral Suite No...

    " (from Orchestral Suite No. 3
    Orchestral suites (Bach)
    The four Orchestral Suites or Ouvertures BWV 1066–1069 are a set of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, probably composed between 1725 and 1739 in Leipzig...

    ) - 2:27
  3. "Two-Part Invention in F Major" - 0:40
  4. "Two-Part Invention in B Flat Major" - 1:30
  5. "Two-Part Invention in D Minor" - 0:55
  6. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
    Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
    Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is the most common English title of the 10th movement of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. A transcription by the English pianist Myra Hess was published in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for piano duet...

    " (from Cantata No. 147
    Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
    Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben , BWV 147, is a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was written originally in Weimar in 1716 for Advent and expanded in 1723 for the feast of the Visitation in Leipzig, where it was first performed on 2 July 1723.-Weimar:The cantata is based on a cantata text...

    ) - 2:56
  7. "Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in E Flat Major" (from Well-Tempered Clavier) - 7:07

Side two

  1. "Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor" (from Well-Tempered Clavier) - 2:43
  2. "Chorale Prelude" "Wachet Auf" - 3:37
  3. "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Allegro
    Brandenburg concertos
    The Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 . They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era...

    " - 6:35
  4. "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Adagio
    Brandenburg concertos
    The Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 . They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era...

    " - 2:50 (see note)
  5. "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major - Allegro
    Brandenburg concertos
    The Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 . They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era...

    " - 5:05

  • Note: the Adagio of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is a composition by Carlos and Folkman as an attempt to replicate Bach's most daring quasi-improvisatory style. J.S. Bach provided only a Phrygian cadence
    Cadence (music)
    In Western musical theory, a cadence is, "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution [finality or pause]." A harmonic cadence is a progression of two chords that concludes a phrase, section, or piece of music...

     consisting of two chords (A minor and B) between the two movements in G major, and quite possibly intended this to be heard at the close of a keyboard improvisation.

Personnel

  • Wendy Carlos (under birthname of Walter Carlos) - Keyboards, programming
  • Benjamin Folkman - supplementary keyboards
  • Rachel Elkind - Producer, liner notes
  • Robert Moog - liner notes

Re-releases


The album has been released with two different covers. The most-common one shows a photograph of a man dressed as Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 standing in front of a Moog modular synthesizer. The very first pressing however showed Bach seated. Carlos (and producer Rachel Elkind) objected to the original cover and had it replaced, noting it "was a clownish, trivializing image of a mugging Bach, supposedly hearing some absurd sound from his earphones. That these were plugged into the input, not output, of a 914 Filter module, which in turn was connected to nothing, assured that silence is all that would have greeted Johann Sebastian's ears."

Carlos released Switched-On Bach 2000 in 1992 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original album's release. It is essentially a remake of the original LP — not a re-release — using state-of-the-art (as of 1992) digital synthesizers and computer-assisted recording. Although the CD contains the same track listing as the original, with the additional inclusion of a) a brief, introductory original composition styled as a birthday fanfare for the project and b) Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
The Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, is a piece of organ music attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach. It is one of the most famous works in the organ repertoire, and has been used in a variety of popular media ranging from film, video games, to rock music, and ringtones...

 at the close of the album, the new digital synth sounds, in period tunings, are radically different in feeling, prompting some criticism from disappointed fans.

In 1999, Carlos released the Switched-On Boxed Set, a lavishly produced 4-CD boxset comprising the following albums in their original form:
  • Switched-On Bach
  • The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
    The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
    The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is a 1969 album released by Wendy Carlos following the groundbreaking Switched-On Bach in the previous year. The album consists of a selection of pieces by Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, and Handel as well as Bach whose music was exclusively featured on the first...

  • Switched-On Bach II
  • Switched-On Brandenburgs
    Switched-On Brandenburgs
    Switched-On Brandenburgs is a 1979 double album by Wendy Carlos. It was the seventh album released by Carlos, and the fourth and final album in her project of classical music which also included Switched-On Bach , The Well-Tempered Synthesizer , and Switched-On Bach II .Switched-On Brandenburgs is...

    (differs from its original 2-LP and 2-CD release by including only the remaining Brandenburg Concertos not heard on the previous three discs)

The albums have been remastered by Carlos and include some bonus tracks. The boxset also includes a 150 page booklet with photos, production notes, digital links to her website, etc.

External links