LeafKeyboard review of
Beauty in the Beast

Wendy Carlos: "Beauty in the Beast"
(originally appeard in Keyboard magazine, April 1987)

In her last couple of albums, Wendy Carlos has succeeded in accomplishing completely what "Switched-On Bach" only foreshadowed: As far as the listener need be aware, there is no longer any difference between a symphony orchestra and a multi-track synthesizer realization. If "Beauty !n The Beast" were noteworthy only for its stunning instrument replicas (and extrapolations thereon) it would qualify as a stunt--a virtuoso stunt, to be sure, but no more. The exotic tunings? Again, fascinating stuff. But how does the album stand up as music.?

Well, 'stand up' may not be quite the right phrase. It hops out of the speakers and parades around the room wrapped in a copy of "The New York Times". It tastes like chocolate and smells like gasoline. It plays better backgammon than you do. In other words, yes, this is real music. And more. Not content to adapt the resources of existing styles to her new needs, Carlos has broken through to a new vocabulary of composition, in which primitive elements are blended with Romantic symphonic scoring and a dash of electronic eclecticism. The operative word is 'blended'; from beginning to end, "Beauty In The Beast" is one experience.

The tunings add a lot to the impact, of course. Those of you who picked up last November's Keyboard have already had a chance to hear some excerpts from "Beauty !n The Beast" on our Soundpage. If you missed the Soundpage (or even if you didn't), do yourself a favor: Buy the album. The effect of the tunings is difficult to describe, but once heard, it cannot easily be forgotten. Or is it the tunings that create such an impression? Are we, perhaps, hearing and responding to vibrant, expressive music that just happens to use unusual tunings? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, no chicken ever sprouted this kind of foliage. A bird of paradise, maybe.

--Jim Aikin

© Copyright 1987 Keyboard magazine.
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