Modern Monday history with Wendy Carlos & Bob Moog

January 10, 2012 in Modern Monday

Last week I wrote about the TRON scherzo after dissecting it the best I could by ear. about what she used for the soundtrack:

Wendy Carlos used two synthesizers to accompany the orchestra with:


A Moog Modular Synthesizer

and a

Crumar GDS (GDS stands for General Development System).

The Crumar GDS deserves some special interest as this was Carlos’ first significant involvement with a digital synthesizer.  The Moog Modular is a analog synthesizer (and one of the very first commercially available synthesizers in history) that some enthusiasts consider to be the original and definitive synthesizer. While digital synthesizers today are much cheaper and easier to use than analog synthesizers, analog “synths” produce a sound that is very hard to recreate perfectly in a digital environment.

The Moog Modular and Crumar GDS were used quite a lot on Tron, with the Moog providing “fat” and sometimes “chorus-like” sounds, while the Crumar GDS provided sounds that were very complex and used a lot for the drones and (according to Carlos in TRON soundtrack’s CD liner notes) “wild organic sounds”.[2] The Moog was also used a lot for the bass lines. 


I got my hands on Wendy Carlos’ Sercrets of Synthesis (above) in which she talks extensively about her methods she used to create all the amazing arrangements and sounds found throughout Hooked on Bach and the clockrwork orange soundtrack.  Some of my favorite recordings!  In the recording she talks about her close work with Bob Moog.  I didn’t know this, but she was his outlet for understanding how to make his instruments more accessible and functional for musicians.

The two of them apparently met in 1964, he was an engineer that spoke music, she was a musician who spoke science. In 1966, they came up with their first prototype and Bob Moog apparently delivered it to her apartment.  It looked like this:

AWESOME! but looks really complex….

What’s really exciting about this machine pictured, is not only was this what was used for the timeless Switched on Bach album (right), this keyboard had the first custom velocity and depth sensitivity function that Wendy Carlos was apparently involved in designing and helping finalize.

All the synths we play today have this feature thanks to her and Bob!!!

One thing that I discovered in learning about Carlos and her work with Moog was in the Secrets of Synthesis recording where she talks about how Moog created a 10-band Vocoder called the “Spectrum Encoder Decoder” in 1970.

She used this in the famous clock work orange soundtrack.

Beethoven’s 9th sample using the Spectrum Encoder Decoder

The top tier of this synthesizer has the famous first official musical vocoder or spectrum encoder decoder. 

Anyway, I hope this was interesting for you all.  If you enjoy Wendy Carlos as much as I do, leave a comment!

Thank you Wendy Carlos for existing and I hope this page proves useful for people as interested in her work as I am .