Tales of Heaven and Hell --ESD 81352
Released Fall 1998
A brooding, dark return to the land of Clockwork Orange, and other truly scary original musical drama in this groundbreaking electronic suite. Rich textures and otherworldly human voices and choruses are combined with large orchestra and multi-synthesizers. (Note: May not suitable for overly impressionable listeners. Use caution when listening alone -- or in the dark.)
Produced by Wendy Carlos
All selections BMI
(excerpts from the complete notes of the CD set)
It can be fun
to be scared. That's why so many wonderful ghost stories exist,
novels with spooky undertones, paintings and cartoons that bring a
slight shudder, creepy poems, and horror movies that give us
nightmares. Interestingly enough, you won't find very many examples
of scary music. I can think of but a few (and they are only
abstractly frightening): Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain,
Berlioz's Dream of a Witch's Sabbath, or perhaps Liszt's
From such thoughts the impulse to produce this album was born-a wonderful way to get started on a new project. I'd also been listening to some of my earlier music, like the score to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Been years since I heard it. Turned out to be better than I remembered. And it didn't seem too farfetched that a sequel might fit right in with the other concepts that were gathering.
Tales of Heaven & Hell is the first result. A lot of generous friends were essential for completing it with some panache. My gratitude to you all, truly. While musically it was a pleasure, the project was technically a real 'bear.' Yet I had so much fun, I managed to stick with it. It's one of the 'most different' albums I've ever done. I can hear a few of you groaning right now to learn that. Others of you may celebrate the zest of creativity I luckily felt.
Thanks to the newest tools, like Digital Performer, the results are as free from compromise as any of my albums. It was a gratifying process polishing the biggest details through tiniest minutiae, and it means anytime I now hear this music, I get a kick about the way it fits together.
Many methods of Musique Concrete are used, and these sit cheek by jowl beside the purely electronic synthesized sounds and effects (including some vocoder passages!) The audio tracks contain solo performances, such as live voices. Other tracks are of live timbral beds, constantly evolving background textures, and several one-shot effects. It's a wonderful way to work, once everything is up and running.
The instrumentation now exists to produce any possible timbre, with any possible tuning, in any possible timing (I like to call these: 'The Three T's.') I thought we'd arrived at that stage when I composed Beauty In The Beast a dozen years ago. It has since grown further into a significantly more powerful capability. Some of you may be interested in trying out these techniques yourself. But when you're listening, you ought care very little about them. Does the music move you? Would you like to hear it again? Would you like someone else to share in the experience? That's all that ultimately matters.
I'm particularly happy with the final piece, Seraphim (nothing else could really follow it). It just seemed to 'put itself together' without force or pain or angst. Yet it's among the most beautiful stuff I've been able to cobble together. I do hope you enjoy both the yin and the yang, and return for more!
on the Music
Tales of Heaven & Hell needed an
opening which carried us from our usual musical world into the
incognito domain of human good and evil. That's the reason for
Transitional, to 'transit' into a sound space in which the
rest of the CD will evolve. It's also the most whimsical piece here
(gallows humor?), containing widely eclectic musical gestures and
styles. It cycles around each idea while gradually evolving, and we
end up in a very different space from where we started. I tried to
have a bit of fun along the way.
Near the middle you'll also hear some snatches of an instrument I built years ago with the help of Rachel Elkind and Bob Moog. It's called the 'Circon' (for Circular Controller), and it sounds a lot like a Theremin. It's also very difficult to play, although not nearly as difficult as Leon Theremin's pioneering instrument. One can play more easily in tune, and execute more rapid and difficult passages with a fair amount of accuracy-but you really must practice each passage. You'll hear the Circon again in the following two pieces.
Once launched into a new musical space, we
encounter HeavenScent, which I wrote as an accessible melody
driven piece. The underlying harmony has a European jazz quality,
with atypical progressions and non-root bass tones.
HeavenScent is also an etude for the Circon, which provides the main solo voice, once the opening theme has been stated more conventionally by a piano. I thought the upward sevenths would be idiomatic with the constant portamento. The somewhat romantic themes required a full use of human performed vibrato, so natural on the Circon. It's certainly a contrast to the other MIDI performed parts of the orchestration.
(Note: get a copy of the actual MIDI file for this composition, with a lot of helpful information about the Circon. It's on the Resources page, where you can read all about the new file uploads.)
We come to the major work of Tales.
It also was the longest in gestation, taking well over a year to
compose. A great deal of that was due to the shakedown period of some
of the new equipment and software. But the form of such a long piece,
with its dramatic and even melodramatic underpinnings, was also
difficult to get just right.
Clockwork Black reexamines the music I wrote for Kubrick's memorable film, A Clockwork Orange. (It provided me with the takeoff I drew on the cover art, too.) Here it supplies the main themes: quotes from Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary, snatches of Rossini's La Gazza Ladra, a perverted Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and a phrase or two of the Latin Requiem plainsong, Dies Irae (where I sneaked it into the original CO score, too!).
There are a lot of meaty harmonic passages that are enhanced by the 1/5th c. Meantone Tuning used throughout the work. The 'plot' of the work conjures very deep, dark stuff, indeed. I wanted to reach for the underbelly of moods that were implied in the original film, but exposed in all their horror for the present.
There are suggestions that this might be a Mass, either a Requiem, or a so-called Black Mass. But such an impression speaks only about the surface - the work is actually a musical Fantasia on themes from the filmscore. It contains a lot of unsavory business, and unwholesomeness in its images and program. After all, a trip through Hades will contain sadism and things that go bump in the night.
The ending had to be the way it is. Tears had to be shed, and the nastiness washed, if not away (there is no happy ending), at least as a cleansing of those evil events that precede. Interpretations are left wide open. Listen carefully, especially on repeated hearings, as there's a lot that goes on in this complex work.
Note: the full liner notes on this album include the complete texts for the music.
We are in a different place, a more modern,
technological soundscape, than the primal emotions of the prior work.
This is music of a large, populous city of our own era, or perhaps in
the near future. A novel touch is the use of a 'heartbeat' motive,
both as a natural sounding heartbeat, similar to those in
Clockwork Black, and as a rhythmic figure, that jumps to a raw
The main theme marks the first time I've come up with an idea that absolutely needed the unusual meter of 11/4. I had smiled when I saw Stravinsky's single bar of 11/4 in The Rite of Spring, thinking he must have written it with a tongue in cheek smile. Yet here I use it for many minutes. The scoring is for a fairly full orchestra, with added synth instruments and effects. Lower strings begin the work, a meander on the main theme to come. Then the 11 figure begins, and continues underneath, carrying the theme forward. A repeating pulsing eighths figuration in conventional meter marks a final restatement, which features a horn section and some dramatic gestures and effects.
In contrast to the preceding two works, this shortest piece on the CD lightens the drama. It is based on a simple and earnest theme that possesses a romantic, yearning quality. Beneath is an elegant, non-obtrusive accompaniment. After the previous two strongly emotional works, I felt we needed the restraint of Memories, but tried to keep it from being in any way saccharine. The resulting tune to me might best be described as 'bitter-sweet,' a little of both. It's a human and humane oasis in the midst of some of my darkest and most pessimistic compositions.
In some ways Afterlife is more
intellectually frightening than the melodrama of Clockwork Black, as
it takes its own visceral plunge into a different netherworld. There
appear suggestions of ominous sighs and moans, which while sounding
almost human, are synth sounds I invented (including the most
distorted sound I've ever used!) The synth quality only serves to
make them more unnerving to listen to, since something is definitely
The structure of Afterlife is most surprising-it's a rondo. Somehow that sober form provided the glue for several contrasting sections. Most themes are in 15 note Equal Temperament, one of the most fascinating and exotic scales around. It's also a thorny tuning to sing and play in.
That made it amusing to score these themes with an a capella chorus, later with strings, and then the two together. I thought this was something that could scarcely be done live, even though it sounds very much like a live ensemble. Later Johnny Reinhard gave a NYC performance (during an AFMM MicroFest Concert), and had a live chorus and some strings play exactly what I'd wryly written-I'll never say never again...!
The rest of Afterlife uses a curious, ad hoc improvised scale. By ear I found pitches that had maximum alternation of frisson and smoothness. The two tunings alternate through the ABACADABA form of the piece. And with it the contrasting rhythmic and orchestrational modes shift back and forth from the lowest ebb to some biting crescendos. The ending seems preordained and abruptly absolute.
The final work on this CD is also its most
sublime. With all we've been through, this was to me the best way to
complete this musical odyssey. To provide it all with a smoother than
normal euphony, I used my own variation on Werkmeister's Circular
Tuning. I also worked particularly hard to get the performances as
lyrical and expressive as I could make them.
We commence with a cool atmosphere of texture and wind bells. Then enters the first of two string orchestra passages I couldn't get out of my head. They had begun life as variations of the main theme soon to be sung by a men's Gregorian Chant chorus. The first passage ended up starting Seraphim, the other ended it as a long coda. Our main theme is sung twice by the men's voices (over sub-vocal drones); it will appear again near the end. The voices are a judicious mixture of real singers plus a realistic, flexible bank of vocal sounds and sample-based patches that I've been building for a while now.
After a thematic bridge, two central sections follow. The first is what I had been calling Antique Antiphony, and is made of a solo verse chant and chorus response form. The text, printed herein, may suggest Latin, but is actually pseudo-Latinate scat syllables, I selected for their sound only. The actual text has no real meaning and leaves open any specific interpretation.
The second middle section is a soft polyphonic passage using quintal harmonies moving in contrary motion. But that crisp analysis misses the whole point: this is a veiled and highly impressionistic passage, that further develops both the antiphony phrases, and the main theme. It moves as slowly as I dared (as an album, Tales contains more truly slow music than I've ever written before). I think it's also very beautiful, and all the subtle complexities only provide it a painfully elusive quality I like a lot.
Seraphim proceeds to a recapitulation of the main theme using mixed voices, in a slightly busier setting containing answering motifs. This is immediately followed by the extended Coda, which reflects on the past themes, as it gently brings all to a peaceful 'Amen,' then at once vaporizes into the Ether, whence it came.
Credits and Thanks
by Wendy Carlos
Rear cover paintings, and 'The Tree Man' - Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516)
All other art, cover, and image design - Wendy Carlos
Men's voices -
Solo chants & vocal efx -
Vocal efx and crying performance - Ann Feldman
Live musical instrument efx performances - Tom O'Horgan
Vocal samples & production assistance - Mattthew Davidson
Album concept ideas &
inspiration - George Petros
Music & cover art suggestions - Matthew Carlos
CO-based ideas & special raw efx - Chris & Roberta Hanley
Layout and book design - Drew Miller
Digital Performer, custom versions
& help - Bennett Sykes, Jim Cooper & Mark of the Unicorn
K-150 FS and MidiBoard support - Hal Chamberlin
K2000 equipment and assistance - Chris Martirano, Joe Ierardi & Young-Chang/Kurzweil
K2000 sampling tutorials and help - Gordon Raphael
Strings and additional original samples - Ken Hiskey & Ilio, Scott Levitin
Aris MusiCode support - Joe Winograd
Computer equipment - John Romkey, Matthew Davidson, Matthew Carlos
Other support equipment - John Romkey
© 1998 Serendip. All rights reserved.
Important additional credit note:
As one of those terribly embarrassing things
that we all try to avoid, a "due to circumstances beyond our control"
gaffe was committed in printing the Credits above, and on the initial
pressings of the album. A name of someone who surely deserved credit
was left off. I had it on my original list, penciled in on a sheet of
paper with all the other sheets of notes to assemble into the CD
booklet. It was copied over into the computer, as names got
assembled. How it was left off I know not.
So I wish to make a public apology here to Rachel Mello, a very gifted and knowledgeable artist whom I met in April of '97, at the Bach at the Beacon concert, in fact. She's good friends with John Romkey (happily his credits were not left off...), and I can see why: bright, funny, and very talented, yet unassuming and easy to take. Anyway, Rachel was here as I was just beginning to sketch out details for my cover for the TH&H project,.
I'd at first just placed the album name, "Tales of Heaven and Hell", right across the top of the front cover, with the "T" of Tales lined up as a cross on the top of the church drawing. Then the size of the text was scaled to fit the space. Uh-HO. It made for a very small title, hard to read and ineffective as the name of an album, on the limited space of a CD Book cover. Also, I'd had trouble lining up and scaling my Clockwork Black hand-drawn title at the bottom of the cover. Made it bigger than the album title. Not good.
Rachel Melo went over the thing with me for hours, along with my nephew, Matthew, and made several pencil sketches of the whole thing, trying to work out what might be a better setup. She also helped me to see how the other art elements ought go for more effective impact on the overall impression of the cover and other art. I wanted just to set the record straight at last here, and thank her so much for her kind help (thanks, Rachel!) That means the above listing ought to include:
(Top of the Page)
Bosch is a rare artist, one who is perceived today as very modern and
fascinating in ways that during his life (ca. 1450-1516) must have
seemed bizarre, if not diabolic. I don't remember when I first saw
his work, but it certainly was before I was doing my undergraduate
work at Brown. For there in an Art History class, I learned more
about these astonishing paintings. They are far more haunting and
gripping than mere gruesome fantasies, as many had dismissed them
during his lifetime.
There exists a parallel with a much more recent artist, M. C. Escher, another figure who was underappreciated during his own life by his peers. Their conservative "snobbery" has been shown as faulty, for the test of time has shown Escher's work will outlive those who laughed or subtlely sneered at his often mathematical structure and ingenious designs. It's the usual price of being far ahead of one's time, of course.
Bosch is in that category, too. His work is seen much more empathetically with 20th century and later eyes than those of the Middle Ages. We can invoke terminology like "Surrealism" and "Creatures from the Id", to find reference for these often disturbing imagery. While composing Tales of Heaven and Hell I experienced a momentary "flash" of recognition, and remembered several Bosch paintings I'd not seen in several years, as somehow related to my new album. It seems very appropriate to place the few we could into the booklet for the album. By now there are a number of excellent Bosch sites on the Web. One of the best sites we've found, with lovely scans done by Mark Harden, is called The Artchive. The URL is:
<http://www.artchive.com>, just click on
Bosch's name in the Artist Listing (note the many other great artists
from over a wide span of time, style and location, too.) There are
many Bosch images on this site for those of you yet unexposed to
Bosch's haunting, dour monsters and fantasy creations. Enjoy!
they're saying about it:
(East Side Digital's Blurb:)
Wendy Carlos - Tales of Heaven & Hell
(ESD 81352 enhanced CD)
Lock the doors and turn off the lights!
Itís the long-awaited new work by Wendy Carlos, Grammy-winning
composer and synthesist, creator of Switched-On Bach and the
electronic score to Stanley Kubrickís A Clockwork Orange.
On TALES, Carlos explores the dark side with characteristic sonic depth and brilliance. The major piece on this CD is "Clockwork Black," about which Wendy says;
"...a musical Fantasia on themes from the Clockwork Orange filmscore. It contains a lot of unsavory business in its images and program. After all, a trip through Hell will contain sadism and things that go bump in the night."
Meticulously mastered by Wendy herself in Hi-D sound, this enhanced CD includes additional notes and other material. Rediscover a pioneer in electronic sounds and modern composition.
Two reviews, in prose and poetry, by Carol Wright
The newest review is long enough to merit its own page. Take a look at it, written by web-maven and writer, Carol Wright, an editor at New Age Music and Barnes and Noble.com (also take a good look at her fine site, learn about the mistakes often made in CD packages, for starters). You can also read her fine interview with Wendy on the completion of Switched-On Boxed Set, which is when Carol first became aware of "TH&H." She also wrote this witty poem below, not your run-of-the mill way to "review" an album:Track #1: "Transitional"
Just try to scare me, Wendy, dear,
I've had enough of Tesh's cheer.
Film cliches abound and tease
My humor from its gallows ease.
Skeletons clack right through my head
To wheezy old organs and bells for the dead.
Theremins woooo like an envious ghoul
While choirs moan my journey to the land of the doomed.
Track #2: "HeavenScent"
We're waltzing through space
With the slimiest ease
If this is "heaven," then
Send me back please
To the land where my feet will stay on safe ground
And my spine won't feel like there's ghosts all around.
Track #3: "Clockwork Black"
Halloween's just round the bend
And dare I now gnash teeth and rend
My cloth from utter agony of
"Clockwork Black's" antiphony
Of vocoder voices and whispers of gloom
From sinners whipped to the vilest of doom.
Rossini and Purcell and Beethoven, too,
Add themes to the requiem cauldron's brew
That Carlos has stirred up with meaty harmonics
And meantone tunings that are way beyond us.
Though this track ends with doleful crying
I'm not scared enough, so keep on trying.
Track #4: "City of Temptation"
You'd swear there's an orchestra in your room
Paving the way to your personal doom
Through the city of sin, through the jungles of night
While the heartbeat of hell clenches up, extra tight.
Just try to count time with eleven o'er four;
Carlos, you've "got me" -- bring on more gore.
Track #5: "Memories"
This bittersweet respite from tasting hell's sting
Is just long enough to breathe, but not sing.
Track #6: "Afterlife"
Here are the notes that make your bones ice
As they slip down and slide to hell like a vice
That would squeeze out the 12-note octave's foundation
With 15-tones and forget salvation.
My nails are raw bloody from clutching at notes
That no longer live, so abandon all hope.
Gregorian choirs and harps do promise
Some rays of hope 'yond "Afterlife's" darkness.
String section and horns almost hearken
To a C major world that most of us liken.
But can you trust that this Latin's "official"
Or Godly enough to be beneficial?
Carlos has made good of her boast
That hers is the scariest album of most,
For hell is not made of skeleton bones,
Ominous thunder, and sinners' moans.
Musically, hell is the icy fears
That steal past the gate of accustomed ears.
Once it was Moog she pushed through the portal,
Now anything's game for this witty immortal.
DAILY DIGITAL OPINION, Volume 2, Issue 111 - 2/8/1999
Edited by J.F. Parnell (<www.spinme.com>)
TODAY'S REVIEWS INCLUDE:
Tales of Heaven and Hell
- East Side Digital
DESCRIPTION: Cutting-edge classical-influenced electronica
RATING: 10 out of 10
classically-trained synthesist who gave us the first-ever classical
LP to go platinum back in 1968 is back with a vengeance. The concept
behind the rich, complex and haunting music on this album is a
musical exploration of good and evil. The longest track "Clockwork
Black" is to be listened to with the lights out. This is horror
music, theremin-like warblings and all. It contains updated versions
of themes from her Clockwork Orange soundtrack, as well as medieval
chants like Dies Irae, the sounds of agitated crowds, thunderclaps,
women sobbing, evil laughter and other sonic representations of Hell.
The Hieronymous Bosch artwork on the cover is definitely there for a
Other tracks have a jazzy or sinister major-motion-picture-soundtrack feel to them; not surprising from someone who scored the movies Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Tron and several others. The digital sampling and editing technology of today, which Carlos fully avails herself of, allows a polished, seamless combination of natural (albeit sampled) and synthetic sounds. The CD is enhanced, but unlike other enhanced CDs which contain jumpy MPEG videos or game software, this one contains all of the original content of Wendy's official web site (www.wendycarlos.com) plus HTML links to it on the web. I recommend the latter because some of the links for navigating the HTML pages on the CD didn't work properly, and a lot has been added to the on-line web site since. On the disc or the web you'll find vintage photos of her studios from the late 60's to the present (check out those shots from 1967!), pictures of her Siamese cats (aww...), and illuminating writings on technology, composition and even copyright issues and other goodies too numerous to mention here.
DAILY DIGITAL OPINION - ISSN
© 1999 Parnell Communications, Distributed by Spincycle Media, Inc.
A recent, thoughtful mini-review on
Tales of Heaven & Hell
Very Nearly a Masterpiece * * * * * (five stars)
Reviewer: Sam Theiner
March 21, 2000
Tales lacks the sheer novelty of all the clangerous tones and tunings of Beauty in the Beast... but I think that's part of the point. This album is a somewhat more homogenous sound-world. Some previous reviewers have mentioned that the music sounds horror-movie cliched... well I think that, too, is part of the point. Carlos likes to plant her tongue firmly in cheek and play with convention in an artistic way -- what's known as satire. Most Americans seem to have 'trouble digesting a serious work that is funny (and vice versa); this sort of thing is natural to Western Europeans, especially the English. As for Wendy's "lyrics," well, the same thing applies. I thought they were hilarious and perfectly set. It might seem negative to review an album simply by refuting previous reviews, so I'll leave by simply saying that this is beautiful, rich music, and is head and shoulders above any other electronic recorded music now being made. "Clockwork Black" is like a fun-house ride through horror-movie drama. "Afterlife" is, as Carlos states, more genuinely scary from an intellectual standpoint. The hair on the back of my neck did, as they say, stand on end. This album is a lighthearted look at evil, or, perhaps more bluntly, serious fun.
Triple album review in:
for Jan. 1999
Wendy Carlos's 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.
of the Page)
Review in Time and a Word, the
International Music Newsletter, Winter 1998-99:
NEW AGE INSTRUMENTAL / JAZZ / WORLD BEAT
Wendy Carlos - "Tales of Heaven & Hell"
(East Side Digital )
known for her phenomenal work on the Clockwork Orange
soundtrack, as well as masterworks such as Switched-On Bach
and By Request, electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos is being
given this red carpet reissue treatment by the Minneapolis-based East
Side Digital. With the release of her new CD, Tales of Heaven
& Hell, it's quite obvious that Ms. Carlos has lost none of
her unrivaled ability to keep listeners on the edge of their
It's been 26 years since the Clockwork Orange movie and accompanying soundtrack took the music world by storm. In a fitting tribute to that groundbreaking score, Ms. Carlos resurrects the movie's spirit on Tales with her ominous homage entitled "Clockwork Black" -- a track filled with the same gothic underpinnings that manifested itself throughout the original Clockwork score.
According to Ms. Carlos, "I wanted to reach for the underbelly of moods that were implied in the original film, but exposed in all their horror for the present." Tales of Heaven & Hell is artistically balanced by some delightfully optimistic Carlos compositions, which the composer claims are "among the most beautiful stuff I've been able to cobble together."
Fans of the now historic albums Ms. Carlos released throughout the late '60's and early '70's will be elated to hear that ESD has also just reissued her complete Clockwork Orange score (different from the original motion picture soundtrack) as well as Sonic Seasonings, an album highly regarded as one of the first electronic "ambient music" works.
Review in the Cleveland Free Times, 12-2-1998:
Wendy Carlos - "Tales of Heaven & Hell"
(East Side Digital 530 North 3rd Street Minneapolis, MN 55401)
Synthesist Wendy Carlos has always had a strong pop sensibility, even
when she was working in a purely classical mode, as on her
groundbreaking Switched-On Bach and The Well-Tempered
Synthesizer. A predilection for soundscape painting has also been
apparent over the decades. These areas of aesthetic concern find a
confluence in Carlos's new release, Tales of Heaven and Hell,
on the relatively obscure independent label, East Side Digital.
Drawing on the dark imagery first evoked in some of the creepier aspects of Carlos's score for Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange", Tales explores the bipolar worlds of salvation and damnation through imaginative use of current digital electronic technology. Thematically, Gregorian plainchant, Listian broodings, and postmodern atonality weave imperceptibly to create an uneasy but nevertheless fascinating environment.
Occasionally a pop-like rhythm track fades in and out of view, but rather than branding Tales as "pop music", this occasional intrusion serves simply to alert the listener that this is, despite its Bosch-like evocations, a modern-day creation.
Carlos, in fact, pays tribute to her seminal Kubrick score in the longest track of the disc, "Clockwork Black", which far from simply rehashing the original material of nearly thirty years ago, uses the old music as a springboard for new and intriguingly evil thoughts.
Admittedly, Tales of Heaven and Hell is not the sort of music you put on and actively listen to; its seems best suited to a low-level ambient playback, wherein its subversion qualities (hollow ringings, disembodied voices, unidentifiable vocalizations, etc.) can work their scary way into your awareness through the back door.
An Amazon.com CD review
by a music fan in Michigan -- December 11, 1998:
Haunting and sad. This is a new one for me...I am familiar with "Sonic Seasonings," my favorite of all of Wendy's works...but this one is exceptionally moody(Hell, and all!), with beautiful passages as well. it actually creeped me out, which is just what I was hoping for. Put on the headphones, and prepare to be dazzled!!Another triumph for Wendy.I'm so glad her works are getting out on CD!!! Check out Sonic Seasonings!!!
--Reviewed by: Annie, of The Big Room
Another Amazon.com CD review:
Carlos wrote and recorded this atmospheric album for those twentysomethings who feel shunned by the modern corporate music mentality, and she proves once again that she has her own special artistic merits. The epic 18-minute "Clockwork Black" is a sequel to her Clockwork Orange work and maintains an appropriately sinister air, recontextualizing the soundtrack's classical motifs into a more gothic brew. Tales contrasts dramatic crescendos with ambient placidity, ominous themes with more optimistic ones. All manner of sound is brought in--strange Gregorian chants, synthesized orchestrations, subliminal effects, eerily processed voices--all to aurally balance good with evil, shadow with light. For younger listeners weaned on three-minute pop ditties, the intriguing Tales of Heaven and Hell will be challenging listening, but in the end there is much to discover from it.
Several Listener Reviews:
Wendy Carlos - "Tales of Heaven & Hell"
(East Side Digital 530 North 3rd Street Minneapolis, MN 55401)
I believe that Carlos' music is an important
part of the future of serious music. Taken as a technological
achievement, Tales of Heaven & Hell is an example of the
best and most subtle electronically generated music.
As pure music, Carlos is developing themes more completely. The music grows on me with repeated listenings, as does all fine music. She is right, in the same way that Frank Zappa put it; it is time to move onward and upward into the future musical world. This recording shows where that future may be.
Wendy Carlos - "Tales of Heaven & Hell"
* * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
Carlos Raises The Bar Once Again Wendy
Carlos has been setting the standard by which all other electronic
music is judged ever since her first release, Switched On
Bach, in 1968.
More recently "Beauty in the Beast" (1986) exploded the possibilities of alternate tunings and showed itself to be years ahead of the rest of the pack. Other artists have yet to catch up to Carlos' brush-cutting forays.
And now she bursts forth again, this time utilizing all of her resources -- alternate tunings, digital orchestrations, real live singers, and of course her own composing skill. All of her technique is in support of a purpose however: this is a set of Halloween music to scare the pants off you.
The depth of field, the density of content, and the uncanny accuracy of her "synthesizing" (you can't tell real from synthesized) make this a recording to be studied for years to come. Wendy Carlos, by herself, has become the musical equivalent of Industrial Light & Magic in the film world.
Is it real, or is it digital?-
Wendy Carlos - "Tales of Heaven & Hell"
* * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
Wendy Carlos's Best Work Yet This is
probably Wendy Carlos's most coherent and exciting recording. It
brings together elements that she has been working on since "A
Clockwork Orange"--a richer, more flexible and lifelike
synthesized sound, alternative tunings, using music to explore primal
themes. While in "Beauty in the Beast" and even "Switched on Bach
2000," the composition/musical choices sometimes seemed secondary to
exploring the alternate tunings, here the tunings are clearly in
service to the musical ideas.
And though she pulls on rich and varied musical styles (a hint of Danny Elfman in the first cut, a whiff of Enigma in "Clockwork Black," a theme reminiscent of Bernard Hermann's movie score for "Obsession" in "Afterlife"), this is clearly one album, with an emotional, musical and dramatic through-line from first cut to last.
And, unlike many earlier Carlos compositions that seemed to drop a theme for a new one just when you were ready for it to be further developed, here themes are fully and richly developed.
Overall, this is an exciting new work from an artist who has been a pioneer in synthesized music from almost the inception, and from a composer whose angular works have never been played so well before.