Exposé Online banner

Wendy Carlos — Beauty in the Beast
(East Side Digital ESD 81552, 1986/2000, CD)

Wendy Carlos — Digital Moonscapes
(East Side Digital ESD 81542, 1984/2000, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2001-07-01

Beauty in the Beast Cover artDigital Moonscapes Cover artOne of the shortcomings of electronic music is that no matter how sophisticated the hardware and software have become, it can’t approach natural instrumentation for the wealth of detail in sound and precise control that a master musician has over an instrument, be it a stringed instrument with infinite shadings of bow control, a woodwind with gradations of breath, brass with embouchure and tongue, or any of a thousand other possibilities. This kind of subtlety happens naturally as part of the playing on a natural instrument, but with an electronic sound source, instinctive touch is converted to deliberate planning, which is a very different thing. Not only are most electronic instruments not capable of as many shadings of expression as acoustic ones, but most composers and performers of electronic music are not inclined to make the effort to individually tweak every single note. Back in the 80s, Wendy Carlos, always a pioneer in electronic music, attempted to achieve some of the richness of natural instruments with something she called the LSI (for Large Scale Integration) Philharmonic, a system of digital synthesis giving the performer control of virtually every aspect of the sound. Her first project involving the system was the “replica” orchestra of Digital Moonscapes, which consists of two space-oriented suites: “Cosmological Impressions” and “Moonscapes.” In the liner notes, Carlos makes the case for considering it a replica of an orchestra rather than a replacement or recreation. The music sticks to things that could be played by a real orchestra, ranging in style from classical to modern, rather like movie soundtrack music. The second project was a very different animal, so to speak. Given the type of control available, why should sounds be confined to the replication of existing instruments? Beauty in the Beast takes the technology a step further, allowing the sounds to be designed from the ground up, envelope, tuning, every nuance. The music breaks away from the conventions of European classical music and western scales, being built on rhythmic patterns and tone colors, presenting a sound unlike anything I’ve heard before or since, sometimes a bit like gamelan music, often edgy, and usually sounding a little “out of tune” to a trained (i.e.– prejudiced) ear. Digital Moonscapes is an interesting experiment, partly successful; Beauty in the Beast is an astonishing record of true innovation.

Filed under: Reissues, Issue 22, 2000 releases, 1986 recordings, 1984 recordings

Related artist(s): Wendy Carlos

Latest news

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Matter - Matter – If you like quirky psychedelic guitar-rock drenched with Mellotron, read on... Matter is pretty much the two man project of Joe Albarran (Chapman Stick, bass, Mellotron and guitar) and Mike Madden...  (1994) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues