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Getting Back to Bach

Trelane - with harpsichord (under his arm...)

Trelane – with harpsichord (under his arm…) – via startrek.com

Years ago I went through a major J. S. Bach phase. Especially Bach harpsichord. There was something trippy about those tinkly keys. They literally transported me back into some Gothic drawing room. (Even as a kid I loved the Star Trek TOS episode with Trelane, a spoiled brat alien harpsichordist who had to grow up and be mature.)

So I ordered every CD I could get my hands on through the library. I drove to Bach. I worked to Bach. I played to Bach. I even made a video or two with Bach.

Then I lost it. I had to move on and explore other genres and different types of classical music. But as the world turns and the planets revolve around the sun, I guess it was only a matter of time before I came back to Bach. And why not? Along with Mozart and Beethoven, he’s one of those guys who just always gets it right.

Listening to this right now through our library. Good!

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Salute to a pioneer

carlos

Wendy Carlos, Columbia Records

The other day a friend gave me a cassette tape. It’s got to be pretty old because the artist is credited as Walter Carlos. I liked it so much that I went to the library website to see if I could get my hands on a cd, which probably would sound clearer. The only name that came up in my search was a Wendy Carlos, so I assumed someone at the tape factory made a typo.

Turns out that Carlos suffered from “gender dysphoria,” as the DSM-5 labeling system puts it. So she underwent a sex change to become Wendy Carlos. The album, which some of you might remember, is The Well Tempered Synthesizer. It was a follow up to the very popular Switched-on Bach. How interesting, I thought. Not only was Carlos a pioneer in electronic music. She was also a pioneer in changing one’s sex.

When I was a boy S-OB, as the artist herself abbreviates it, was pretty huge. We never owned the record but the cover is so memorable, I remember it well. And the Canadian pianist and composer Glenn Gould spoke very highly of The Well Tempered Synthesizer.

Image via Wikipedia

Glenn Gould once wrote of Wendy’s Bach recordings (incidentally on the back of her Well Tempered Synthesizer LP), “Carlos’s realization of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto is, to put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs—live, canned, or intuited—I’ve ever heard.”¹

Well, I’m not Glenn Gould and that track isn’t my personal favorite. But this tape is fascinating. The sounds are soooo 70s. Carlos also did the music for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and the atmosphere of WTS is pretty similar. There’s a haunting, nay, foreboding retro-futurism that I just love. One almost expects those droogies-gone-bad to be pounding at the door.

Apparently Carlos was instrumental in getting the creator of the Moog synthesizer to add touch sensitivity (i.e. a velocity keyboard). And after the colossal success of Switched-on Bach, Moog sales escalated dramatically.²

What a score this tape was. And free!

¹ http://lineout.thestranger.com/2008/05/wendy_carlos_switchedon_brandenburgs

² Carlos was a childhood prodigy at the keyboard. She was also highly gifted with computers and tech, making devices for herself. See http://www.wendycarlos.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Carlos



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Piano Classics – New Songza Playlist

Piano

Piano (Photo credit: me5otron)

http://songza.com/listen/piano-classics-earthpages/

I play the piano a bit but have always found my left hand to be more sluggish than my right, so I never got very good. I’m sure it’s some neurological thing, or maybe even ancestral/genetic. I’ve tried to reprogram my brain (with practice) to loosen up the left hand, and have had some success. But still, my right hand is what I do solos with.

Funny thing is, on the guitar I’m quite dexterous with my left hand. You have to use the left to play the notes and chords you want to play. So maybe it’s just a question of practice and nothing deeper than that. I’m not sure.

Anyhow, I love piano sonatas. So last night I curated a mix that should please music experts and newbies, alike. For those who don’t know, a piano sonata usually means only one piano. I really dig the complexity. I mean, how complicated just one player can be. And I usually compare that to my own fledgling efforts to play.

Sometimes I fantasize that in the afterlife I’ll be able to compose and play like these composers and pianists. But I don’t think it’s going to happen in this life!