A true original

It’s Wendy Carlos’s birthday today. Carlos is one of the most influential electronic musicians of all time: half-artist, half-scientist, she is a pioneer without whom today’s music would sound very different. Her 1968 album Switched-On Bach introduced a generation to the synthesiser, she was an early creator of what we now call ambient music, and her soundtrack for Clockwork Orange is just as astonishing now as it was back in the 70s. You could say she’s the godmother of modern music, particularly electronic music.

Wendy is trans, and transitioned in 1972 – the same year I was born. And sadly her trans status means she missed out on many of the rewards her talent should have brought her: she has previously said that she “lost an entire decade” avoiding performing live (in a few cases she disguised herself as a man, crying in her hotel room beforehand) and working with other musicians because she didn’t want to go public about her transition. Carlos later said that those fears were unfounded – “The public turned out to be amazingly tolerant or, if you wish, indifferent […] There had never been any need of this charade to have taken place. It had proven a monstrous waste of years of my life” – but there were still many indignities, accidental or otherwise. The most recent version of the Clockwork Orange soundtrack that I’m aware of, from 2001, still credits her under her deadname.

I’m a huge admirer of her, and in addition to her recorded work I’d really recommend checking out podcasts in which she’s interviewed; her appearance on History Is Gay is really fun. She’s a true talent as well as a very entertaining storyteller.