Secrets of Synthesis --ESD 81692
Another deluxe fully-restored edition
Optimum 20-bit Hi-D transfers from the original master mixes, cleaned and tweaked to a fare-thee-well. This is the best this album has ever sounded.
(See original liner note for music sources, footnotes a through i)
At least it doesn't seem all that long ago since
Secrets of Synthesis was first assembled and recorded. I well
recall how it slowly came together. By 1986 it had evolved into an
ideal project to complete my long contract with CBS/Sony, a fitting
summary of what had been learned in the process. I'd been with that
behemoth of a company since my first solo album, the one that was
akin to Leonard Nimoy falling into his Mister Spock rabbit hole. In
my case it was an "S-OB" of a rabbit hole, but just as hard to shake
As the contract years slipped along we'd found ways to expand into other music besides the great J.S. Bach, and eventually beyond the Moog Synthesizer, too. That the earliest albums were realized with Bob Moog's precocious if limited electronic instrument, demonstrates the way random events and luck play a major role in our lives. Prior to my involvement with Bob, I'd always planned to assemble some kind of custom electroacoustic device. My idea took the form of a rack of oscillators, filters, modulators, and a keyboard, wired together as a real electronic musical instrument. I collected notes and sketches over several years, during and after college and graduate school.
And what does a composer who is more of an audio tinkerer than electronics engineer plan for in the electroacoustic field? There were several choices. Upon graduation I'd lost my all-night slot at the music studio on campus, and was left without any means of creating my musical projects, for exploring new sounds and media. If you have little money and fewer connections, you study your options carefully, and probably decide a do-it-yourself approach makes the best sense. You check out any related kits that may be available, and begin to save for something like that.
In the early '60s I learned of two electronic instrument kit builders: Artisan and Schober. Each company manufactured a line of versatile, better than average electronic organ components, which suited me fine, as I wanted to custom configure everything. These were real musical instruments, although I would not be building an organ. I gathered their literature and catalogs, and found a few places to try out some of their finished models. Yes, they could be adapted to less organ-like sounds, something new and abstract.
After meeting Bob Moog, I learned of his new line of synthesizing equipment. His synths were an unknown, far less proven than Artisan and Schober equipment. But I liked the idea of a modular approach to sound design. It was the familiar way we worked at the pioneering Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center (CPEMC). Vladimir Ussachevsky had turned that unwieldy assembly of electronic audio processors into something much more like a musical instrument.
The custom electronic organ parts would need modification to allow an open-ended control of new kinds of sound. Moog's modules straddled both the organ metaphor and the existing electronic music studio. Bob was also easy to work with, knew a lot about music, and I wanted to work with him. As with most new technologies, you could be sure whatever we did would be "obsolete" all too soon. But it sounded like some fun along the way. So it was that the Moog synth, rather than something by Artisan or Schober, became so identified with electroacoustic music, and indelibly tied to my early career.
For a decade I produced new music with analog synth equipment. Early on I'd run into the many limits, and spent enormous energy and time in trying to expand the surprisingly narrow sound range in clever ways. A lot depended on traditional skills of orchestration, which I'd studied in depth at Columbia. Often it was a matter of "sleight of hand", some sneaky studio tricks. Once you know your weakest links, you have the chance to work around them. Already by 1973 I'd grown increasingly frustrated by what I could not do with the early synths. That lead to a return to electronic organ devices. My producer, Rachel Elkind, and I stumbled upon an ideal choice, the Yamaha Electone E-5, at Ostrovsky's Piano showroom right behind Carnegie Hall.
We used it on several albums, starting with Switched-On Bach II. I performed all those natural sounding harpsichord cadenzas on the E-5, since the Moog synth could never have done them. We found the E-5 most helpful in a few short film scores we composed for UNICEF. Inevitably, by the end of the 70's even these new wider constraints got the best of us. Rachel decided to leave the music production field. I moved towards where I had been heading all along: original composition. I wanted to find ways to get back to basics, and it was time to move on.
The work with early synths proved to be a marvelous learning experience beyond my formal studies. Bits of knowledge seemed to stick together neatly. They soon defined a new field, something that should be called "Electronic Orchestration." I'd been invited to give a paper at the Audio Engineering Society around this time. So I turned it into a chance to formalize and expand on my grab bag of accumulated "stuff." That led to two more lecture demonstrations on the same topic, including a keynote at the 1980 Ars Electronica convention, in Linz, Austria...
(Read the complete notes in the Secrets of Synthesis CD booklet and Enhanced CD files, as explained next.)
In summary, for the
notes, open the pdf file:
About the cover: Just before working on Secrets of Synthesis we'd asked our favorite photographer, Vernon Smith, to stop by the studio for a new photo session. We included several informal shots of me at work with the then new Synergy synthesizers, using a medium format camera. Among the negatives was the one that made it past Sony's album cover department people, once their own ideas failed badly. This photo is ours, and we are pleased to offer it to you again as the cover of our new remastered edition. Like the audio, it has been carefully scanned and polished to look better than ever before.
For the past seven or eight years I've given occasional
talks and demonstrations of "Electronic Orchestration" on both coasts
and in Europe. These have been mostly unscripted and informal
affairs, combining many brief musical examples with the spoken word
in a quickly paced presentation.
Each time the question has come up: "Why don't we make this sort of thing available on a commercial recording?" Associates and friends in the business have been patiently trying to convince me that I really ought to do just that. It would also satisfy the thousands of similar requests that we've received ever since "S-OB" seemingly erupted onto the music scene back in 1968. For all of you who cared enough to ask for explanations of "how it all was done," or "inside tips" and the like, this record is my attempt to answer your requests. I hope you enjoy it!
The music is taken from these albums by Wendy Carlos:
(a) "Switched-On Bach"
(b) "The Well-Tempered Synthesizer"
(c) "Sonic Seasonings" (2-CD set)
(d) "Clockwork Orange"
(e) "Switched-On Bach II"
(f) "By Request"
(g) "Switched-On Brandenburgs" (2-CD set)
(h) "Tron" (Soundtrack Album)
(i) "Digital Moonscapes"
All other music cues not listed above composed / arranged and performed by Wendy Carlos
(a) through (g): Produced by & in collaboration with Rachel Elkind-Tourre
(h) and (i): Produced by Wendy Carlos
We've been asked by many of you how
Secrets of Synthesis came to be,
in the final form as heard on our deluxe ESD remastering. It was not
clear how one composer was able to harness the power of this new
technology so seamlessly into a professional recording studio, and
many musicians and fans insisted on learning more of the behind the
scenes of Wendy's music. So several demonstrations were planned and
carried out in an attempt to explain some of the very novel musical
and technical means which were still evolving at the time.
So the collection of ideas and examples you'll hear on Secrets was not originally created with an album release in mind, but grew in several stages over lecture demonstrations given formally at the Audio Engineering Convention in New York City, at informal presentations in several US cities, and at a feature lecture for Ars Electronica, in Linz, Austria. The latter convention, given by Wendy in September of 1981, was quite elaborate. In order not to forget any major points during the lecture, which was delivered without reading from a written speech, Wendy used a stack of note 4" x 6" note cards, the two first of which can be seen stacked in the snapshot above. Fortunately these had been saved and were still in clean shape.
For our definitive release, as a featured bonus, we've scanned all of the Ars Electronica cue cards, and have included the complete set within the Enhanced-CD files for this new edition of Secrets. Many of you will enjoy reading the notes and compare the way that the ideas matured in a ten-year transition to demonstration album. This particular lecture was given around the middle of that decade, so represents an in-between stage of development. Many of the musical selections from this stage were also included in the Secrets of Synth album, although reworked to professional album standards while other new cues became added. By following the pen colors on the cues seen on these cards you'll see how the music was interleaved between spoken commentary. Several slides (images you'll find on our website) were taken and shown near the beginning, to let the audience see the studio and several score page examples.
Secrets of Synthesis was recorded originally on both 8-track 1" and 16-track 2" tape machines using Dolby A, then mixed to Dolby premasters on four-track 1/2" Ampex and Sony PCM-F1 digital recorders. The edited final version was then reduced to two track stereo digital masters using equalization and level optimization appropriate to the LP technology of the day. Several selections and the recorded narration were recorded directly to two tracks on both analog and digital recorders. For this new edition we began with the first generation premasters. This meant we could make an optimum Hi-D 20-bit transfer without compromise. The tracks were fine-tuned, cleaned and optimized, as with the other ESD masters in this series. You may rest assured that this is the best these recordings have ever sounded.
Special Edition of Synthesis
was assembled by Wendy Carlos. Graphics mix and layout by Drew
Miller; all texts and images by the composer. Photo of Wendy Carlos
by Venon Smith.
Remastered by Wendy Carlos, with thanks to John Romkey and Mike Burg, for computer equipment and frequent support, to Eric Klein for Bias Peak and Waves software, to Joe Winograd and Gabriel Lawrence @ Aris for MusiCode support, to Drew Miller@ ESD for the Enhanced-CD file assembly and HTML editing, and to ESD's Rob Simonds for thoughtful suggestions, feedback, and executive support.