Gender, timbre, and metaphor in the music of Wendy Carlos
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The music of Wendy Carlos has been examined in many arenas, her soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange being no exception. The polarizing film has been analyzed and dissected by numerous film critics, film scholars, music scholars, and journalists, with reviews ranging from glorifying to damning. Yet the musical compositions of Wendy Carlos often seem to be accompanied by another topic of discussion, a topic not often deemed necessary in discussions of Kubrick: Carlos’s gender identity. Simply put, Carlos’s gender has been a major part of the discourse surrounding her works in a manner unlike that of most composers. The critical response to which Carlos has been subject since publicly coming out in 1979 has largely revolved around ideological assumptions about her identity, as well as misconceptions and conflations of identity terms and nuances. As a result, her works are often not only (mis)gendered, but (mis)sexualized. This thesis draws on critical and scholarly reception of synthesized works by Carlos ranging from the 1969 release of “Switched-On Bach” through the present day to explore and unpack the gendered implications of the timbral metaphors used to describe her works. My analysis builds on the work of Tara Rodgers surrounding timbral metaphor and its use in electronic musics. Similarities in the metaphors used to describe her music over the past half century provide insight into not only the “tone color” of the sound but also the music’s cultural implications and the audience’s perceptions of the music’s creator. This paper will examine, compare, and analyze metaphors to characterize Carlos’s “March from Clockwork Orange” in order to analyze the ways that perceptions of Carlos and her perceived gender identity have fed into interpretations of her music. By way of contrast, this paper will then compare some of the critical reception of another influential electronic outfit, Kraftwerk, and the differences in critical reception relating to Kraftwerk’s masculine and male identities. The extensive body of literature on Kraftwerk and their inclusion in both the academic electroacoustic and popular electronic canons will allow for discussion centering on the gendering of electronic timbres across multiple artists and continents.