Sonic Seasonings & Land of the Midnight Sun --ESD 81372
First time ever on CD!
I am moving all day and not moving at all. I am like the moon underneath the waves that ever go rolling.
Optimum 20-bit Hi-D transfers from the original first generation 1972 1/2" Dolby A master tapes. Includes a fascinating outtake of Winter, plus the first release of a previously unavailable 1986 companion work, Land of the Midnight Sun.
A Definitive Remastering, while looking back
The Music of Sonic Seasonings
Behind The Scenes (original notes by Rachel)
Land of the Midnight Sun
Credits and Thanks
Islands of Matsushima (the cover painting)
What they're saying about it -- Reviews
Produced by Rachel Elkind for TEMPI
=Land of the Midnight Sun=
Produced by Wendy Carlos
of the Page)
(excerpts from the complete notes of the CD set)
When Sonic Seasonings was composed, there was no existing category for music of its kind: "a third, viable alternative to acoustic and musical environmental presentations." What became a catch-all of laid back, ephemeral styles, "New Age Music," was yet to come-over a decade in the future. We thought of it simply as another promising new way to make electronic music. We wanted to combine instrumental and other performed layers, with those taken directly from nature, and thus unperformed.
Since the term "Sound Design" was a concept that didn't yet exist by name, we had to innovate, working over and designing aural qualities and effects, building raw timbres from the ground up. Today no one would blink. Back then it was unproven and pioneering.
It was Rachel's and my goal to find a way to assemble music that had a much longer span and overall arch than most contemporary music of the time. We also wanted it to avoid the label of Classical music; these were not intended to be mini-symphonies, except in the subtlest and most analytic way. They were not intended as Popular music, either, as the extreme length of each movement will prove. They were also not Jazz, although some improvisational elements form an integral and essential part-while other elements are strictly composed and notated before recording them.
The music was deliberately minimal-this before the category of Minimalistic Music had been developed and in vogue. It was intended to work on a timbral and experiential level, so the sound could "flow over you," not a cerebral exercise like so much of what is now seen to be a wasteland of serious music from mid 20th Century until recently.
Fortunately, we made the recordings and mixes using the then state-of-the-art equipment available, and the master tapes still sound damn good. It is a pleasure to be able to go back and extract the essence from them in such a clean way, coming up with a digital master that sounds as fresh today as the master did then. No, it's even better, as the equipment has improved, and we can optimize and perform very subtle noise reduction. All those awful compromises of equalization and limiting that the LP required are gone. This is the way I'd hoped the original release could have sounded. It just took a little while longer...
There is a long-overdue demand for a definitive two track stereo re-release of Sonic Seasonings. New developments will make it possible to do a real multichannel stereo surround version soon as well (note: multichannel DVD-Audio has just been standardized -- yeay!). That will be personally very satisfying to me. After all, back in 1971 I had requested that CBS release the album using the then new CD-4 true Quadraphonic system. CBS refused (after all, JVC along with "the enemy", RCA, had developed CD-4!), wishing to use their imitation, pseudo-quad compromise, SQ. A standoff. Another big surprise after all these years is that two track stereo is still the standard, most popular method of music reproduction found in the world, a status not about to be replaced anytime soon. This deluxe edition therefore will satisfy that genuine need.
We have used every possible care to assure the integrity of this digital master to the original mixed tapes. The actual 3-M tape machine used to record those first generation surround masters was painstakingly refurbished and brought up to spec. Other than Dolby, no auxiliary equipment was placed in the circuit path into our high resolution A/D convertors. The 4 to 2 channel "fold-in" reduction was fed directly to the DAW, replicating the process I'd developed originally for our CBS two track masters, including that "nearly surround" property. I hope you enjoy hearing all the details, clarity and sonic depth that remained inaudible up until now.
--Wendy Carlos, 1998
There's music in the sighing of a
There's music in the gushing of a rill;
There's music in all things, if man had ears;
The earth is but the music of the spheres.
-George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Sonic Seasonings has the form of a musical suite, made of four contrasting movements. Each is loosely based on images of the four basic seasons on our planet: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. In that way they are descendants to an extent of what is called: "programmatic music," music that sets a mood and can even suggest events and scenes.
There is no real plot in any of the movements. Instead they suggest a cyclic point of view that moves onto a few other musical locations, and eventually returns to a similar setting as whence it began. This is sometimes called Arch Form, just as the name suggests, going up and over and then down and back again. While we were aware of these formal niceties while composing the movements, they were just intended to be a mild guide, to help keep the overall shape intact, as it difficult to retain consistency and coherency over musical sections lasting around 22 minutes apiece.
(All selections are described in some detail in the full notes.)
One of the most fascinating-and least explored-areas of scientific investigation is that of psychoacoustics, the manner in which the ear and brain interact to sounds. In reality, any sound that we hear is subject to interpretation by our individual experience and the circumstances surrounding that sound. For example, a loud sound will register on the ear as either louder or softer, depending on the sound that precedes and follows it. Similarly, a quiet tone gains in intensity by the degree of loudness surrounding it. When these qualities of sound, or music, are deliberately "mixed" or manipulated, the result can be a fascinating perceptual "illusion" that enriches today's musical palette almost beyond imagination.
All this is simply to explain what Sonic Seasonings is all about: It is an aural tapestry, created by the imagination and expertise of Wendy Carlos, from impressionistic and expressionistic experiences of Nature. It contains natural sounds, recorded in Quad as realistically as possible and subtly mixed with electronic and instrumental sounds in an effort to create four evolving, undulating cycles evocative of the moods of earth's seasons. We have manipulated these sounds--electronically orchestrated them, so to speak--into an amalgam of the natural and the synthetic.
To produce this record, an entirely new technique and methodology had to be created. Equipment had to be designed and built, engineering technology had to be developed-we were "winging it" from the first inch of tape to the end. A great deal of what you will hear is illusory: Some sounds appear louder or softer than are measurable and some emanate from directions that are virtually inexplicable by customary "norm" perceptions. While the quadraphonic master is particularly an ear-fooler in these and other ways, Wendy conceived a unique system to make the stereo version "almost quad." (In fact, it was frequently impossible for us to believe that we were listening to the stereo version.)
The sounds and music in this album represent, then, a painstaking synchronization, re-ordering, and blending of as many as 48 Dolbyized tracks at a time (note: this was a lotta tracks in 1971!), and, we hope, suggest a third, viable alternative to acoustic and musical environmental presentations.
But on the level of pure enjoyment, these records were designed to be a part of the decor, so to speak-a sonic ambience that enhances the listener's total environment. On still another level, Sonic Seasonings takes listeners out of their environment and into the countryside of their fantasy: The weary urbanite can eavesdrop on the conversation of chattering birds; the mountain dweller can lave his soul with the sound of the surf, and so on.
We ask, however, that you, the listener, supply one element that we could not possibly blend into the final mix-your own imagination and his remembrance of Nature's blessings.
--Rachel Elkind, 1972
Land of the Midnight Sun, never before released, is included here since it matches the style, mood, and pacing of Sonic Seasonings to a remarkable degree. It began as an experiment I undertook during the late Summer of 1986. We had just gotten our second digital stereo recorder, and I wondered if their extremely low noise would allow a return to the sound-on-sound techniques pioneered by Les Paul in the 50's. How many generations of added parts might now be possible? The surprising answer was "over a dozen," well beyond the maximum with even the finest analog recorders!
Sound-on-sound is a brutally unforgiving medium. If you make a mistake, you must rewind, take a deep breath, and begin that take again from the top. When I made LMS there was also no practical way to edit our digital tapes. This double-challenge encouraged working more like a jazz ensemble: each part was improvised over the underlying chord changes. Everything here is played "live" in real time on my Synergies. This includes all the repeating patterns, which I was able to perform into the Synergies as uneditable sequences, and could later trigger in any key. I also used an optimized version of Werkmeister's Circular tunings, which results in much smoother harmonies than from the usual tempered scale.
-Wendy Carlos, 1998
Design, Mastering & Engineering: Wendy Carlos
Original LP: Original package design: Rachel Elkind-Tourre & Ed Lee. With thanks to: R. Dennis Schwartz, Stephen Temmer, Phillip Ramey, Chris Nelson, Sue C. Clarke, Bebe Schwartz. First released 1972 as Columbia PG 31234.
Special Thanks, Remastered CD: John Romkey, Chris & Todd & Georges @ Arboretum Systems, Eric Klein @ Waves, Joe Winograd @ Aris, Matthew Davidson @ MotU, John Klett, and Clare Cooper. Graphic remix by Drew Miller @ SmartSet.
Cover art: Islands of Matsushima, attributed to Korin Ogata / Accession number 11.4584 / Fund: Felolfosa-Weld Collection / Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image cleanup and special font, Wendy Carlos
© 1998 Serendip.
All rights reserved
(East Side Digital's Blurb:)
Wendy Carlos - Sonic Seasonings + Land of the Midnight Sun
(ESD 81372 -- 2CD enhanced)
Before there was something called New Age
music and ambient recordings,and before there were nature CDs or
relaxation music, CBS released a 2-LP set by Wendy Carlos called
SONIC SEASONINGS. Beautifully packaged in a gatefold sleeve featuring
a lovely Japanese print, many remember the graphic as much as the
music itself. And that music was unlike anything heard before:
electronic synthesizers and nature sounds recorded "in the field" so
perfectly meshed that it was hard to distinguish what was which.
Now, over 25 years since its original release, comes the first CD release of this extraordinary work, with details and sonic depth not attainable until now, painstakingly remastered by Wendy herself using "Hi-D 20-bit" technology. This is a landmark recording of the New Age, Ambient, and Nature / Relaxation genres, created long before those genres had names. As a bonus, this 2CD set contains an alternate ending to "Winter," and a major work from 1986, previously unreleased. "Land of the Midnight Sun" depicts breathtaking polar light displays over a crystalline, frozen tundra, full of beauty and danger.
- January 1999,
Clockwork Orange: Complete Original Score
(CD, East Side Digital, Classical/electronic),
Sonic Seasonings / Land of the Midnight Sun
(Double CD, East Side Digital, Ambient/electronic),
Tales of Heaven and Hell
(CD, East Side Digital, Electronic)
Carlos is what you might call a true genius in the world of twentieth
century music. She's always been ahead of her time...expanding
boundaries and challenging listeners and herself. Hats off to East
Side Digital for seeing fit to re-release earlier Carlos recordings
as well as her latest work. Wendy's first major claim to fame was a
recording called Switched On Bach, which literally changed the way
the world listened to classical music (it also ended up being the
first platinum classical album EVER). The re-releases of Clockwork
Orange and Sonic Seasonings were remastered by Wendy herself, so you
KNOW they sound dynamite...and both releases include extra tracks
that weren't included on the vinyl releases. You'd think that an
electronic recording from 1972 would sound dated and trite, but this
is definitely not the case with the Clockwork soundtrack. It sounded
futuristic and incredible then, and it sounds just as amazing
From the frightening "Timesteps" right on through "Country Lane," this represents state-of-the-art technology in the early seventies. The music has held up well, still sounding better than most current electronic discs released of late. Sonic Seasonings was Wendy's foray into ambient music (although at that time I doubt such a label existed). The music on Seasonings consists of four lengthy pieces divided up into "Spring," "Summer," "Winter," and "Fall." The music captures the essence of the seasons, with subtle electronics rounding out the sound. The real treat on this double CD, however, is the last track entitled "Midnight Sun." Unreleased until now, this hypnotic piece represents Wendy at her best. Layers upon layers of thick heady tones that sound like you've died and gone to heaven. But if you think that her past work overshadows her current endeavors, spinning Tales of Heaven and Hell will change your mind.
Possibly the most intensely orchestrated work she has yet to produce, this disc leaves other electronic musicians in a trail of dust (but then, Wendy always WAS ahead of her time...). The tunes on this disc sound like the soundtrack to my worst (and best) nightmares. Ms. Carlos throws so much at the listener that you can't help but feel overwhelmed...but in a very good way. Beautiful, frightening, surreal, psychedelic...there aren't enough adjectives to describe this music. Each tune is meticulously and painstakingly crafted. There's no telling how much time Wendy spent creating epics such as "Transitional," "Clockwork Black," or "Memories." Suffice to say, the lady who is largely responsible for the entire world of electronic music is still light years ahead of the rest. Easily one of the best CDs I've ever heard in my life, Tales is a rich and rewarding trip into unlimitless imagination. Wendy Carlos is in a category all her own. MIND BOGGLING.
LiveWire's Pitchfork CD reviews, week of January 10th:
Wendy Carlos - "Sonic Seasonings" - 2CD set
(ESD, 530 North 3rd Street Minneapolis, MN 55401)
in the early eighties, there was a revival of ambient nature
recordings designed to get your mind out of the office and back to
your origins as a species-- the downtown escape to the wilderness.
Enlightened bookstores and coffee galleries boasted a series titled
"Elements," which was about 20 or so different full- length
recordings of different ambient nature scenes, from rain falling to
crickets at night to the seashore. It was the high- tech way to
release the primordial need.
About the same time, new synthesizers and sound technology made possible a whole new approach to spiritual music, in the form of "new age." This ultra- modern approach to soul definition led to the rise of labels such as Narada and American Gramophone, and to the dismay of many, the rise to fame of new age superstar Yanni. Through the nature synthetic and the science- fact techno- compositions, people were finding routes of ambient aural escape to free themselves from Reagan-era monotony.
But long before then, in 1972, an absolutely brilliant merging of these two styles had already occurred. Wendy Carlos, already tenured from her role in the Switched-On Bach record and the soundtrack to "A Clockwork Orange," successfully creates the audio equivalent of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-- combining two great recording genres and making them great together.
The theme for Sonic Seasonings is an audio representation of the four weather phases of the Earth's rotation. A simple enough idea, and something that had been done plenty of times before-- probably most notably by Vivaldi. Wendy Carlos, however, has to draw upon her intimate knowledge of the Moog keyboard, and also the ability to include select ambient sounds that she feels assist in representing what each of the seasons sounds like.
The result is mystical, deeper than the most ambient of ambient, enchanting, hypnotizing, and frighteningly accurate. The senses that Carlos is able to awaken with early 1970s technology is certainly comparable to the most layered of modern "black-box" compositions. It's hard to imagine that after eighty minutes, a whole year has passed by, but the soothing nature of Carlos' structures lulls one past time, unlike many of the "scratchy" keyboard recordings of roughly the same era.
Mutant Renegade review by Mite (in Issue
Wendy Carlos - "Sonic Seasonings" - 2CD
(East Side Digital 530 North 3rd Street Minneapolis, MN 55401)
Talk about the ultimate in mood music. This
two-cd release captures the essence of the four seasons (Spring,
Summer, Fall and Winter) in all their glory. On top of that I got to
experience the sensation of the Aurora Borealis and felt like I was
floating through space with the tune Midnight Sun.
Wendy has a way of giving feelings a voice with this synthesized work of art. With the first cut Spring all the senses come alive just through her use of sound. You get the feeling of walking on the sweet grass, the birth of nature and the emotions of it all.
John DiLiberto (JazzIz magazine),
in a featured Amazon.com CD review
Wendy Carlos - "Sonic Seasonings" (ESD)
Before there was ambient music, in a time
before the New Age, there was Wendy Carlos's Sonic Seasonings,
a double LP released in 1972. Taking the form of Antonio Vivaldi's
The Four Seasons, Carlos orchestrated four side-long soundscapes
designed, according to producer Rachel Elkind, to be "part of the
decor." Using only her Moog synthesizer and environmental sounds,
Carlos created prototypical ambient music, predating Brian Eno's
similar work by a few years.
Carlos weaves gentle, often reedy synthesizer melodies through chirping birds on "Spring," phase-shifted church organ drones across crystalline bells and wind on "Winter," and she seems to simulate an alien space landing on "Summer," mimicking nature with her synthesizer. An added treat on this special double CD is a 40-minute, unreleased, two-part suite from 1986 called "Land of the Midnight Sun." Using her Synergy synthesizers, Carlos orchestrates slow-motion melodies and overlapping minimalist layers that recall Steve Roach's "Structures from Silence."
Sonic Seasonings is the first wave of a batch of Wendy Carlos reissues. While many of Carlos's classical, "Switched-On" orchestrations have an antique, dated charm, this original composition sounds fresh and current. In attempting a music that wouldn't draw attention to itself, Carlos achieved a prescient work of subtlety and depth on Sonic Seasonings.
Mention by Chris Twomey of NewPower
(read his Dec 1998 interview with Wendy, from Excite Magazine):
I've been listening to Clockwork Orange quite often since getting it. "Orange Minuet" should have been a hit single! Sonic Seasonings sounds great too. Tangerine Dream must have been listening to it at the time Carlos made it.
Wendy Carlos - "Tales of Heaven & Hell"
* * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
Finally!!! Sonic Seasonings has been at the
top of my list of CD-wants since 1984. The depth of field, stereo
imaging and quietness of some passages just cry out for the digital
It was revolutionary when released in 1972, and you know what? It's still revolutionary today. It's not classical, not jazz, not popular -- today this album would be filed under "New Age" but that term was unknown 26 years ago. Carlos takes natural recordings and mixes in wisps of melody and synthesized birds, insects and wind, creating sonic tapestries more real than real. As a listening experience it never ceases to astound, and over thousands of playings I have yet to get tired of it.
For the CD re-issue she has dug out an alternate ending to one of the tracks, which is fascinating seeing other directions she considered. She also drops in, unannounced, a whole unreleased album(!) from 1986, two 20-minute tracks done in a similar style but utilizing the digital technology available 14 years later.
My old LP is shiny from being played to death. I'm glad to finally be able to retire it.
Three moreBrief 5-Star Listener Reviews
Wendy Carlos - "Sonic Seasonings +"
* * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
= Excellent work!! Put on your best headphones; find a comfortable spot; and bliss out!! You will actually need a warm coat to get through the "Winter" offering.This is a wonderful example of early "zone-out" music, and you will not be disappointed if your goal is total immersion in "nature," thanks to the genius of Wendy Carlos. Enjoy.
--Annie, a music fan in Michigan
= After 26 years of waiting, it's finally available. Following the success of S-OB, Wendy continued to bring out amazing music. Using available technology but always making the technology serve the music she created magical sonic places.
Turn the lights down, listen to Winter and feel the chills down your spine as you hear the Arctic wolves.
We've had the vinyl since 1972 and take it out reverentially once a year. Can't wait to receive CDs. This will be the best Christmas gift we'll give each other.
--P. Cresch, Glendale, CA
= Excellent - 15 years ahead of its time R Carlsberg's review of the original record is accurate (i.e. it mirrors my opinion).
I look forward to hearing the new tracks
---T.G.G., Briston, U.K.