Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Clockwork Eclipse

-Originally posted Sunday, March 4, 2007

I came home today to find some unrecognizable music coming from behind my roommate's closed door (usually his choices run in the Sufjan Stevens-Belle and Sebastian-Wilco vein). At first I thought it might be the soundtrack to one of the over-acted Greek movies he watches to practice for Greek class. But then I realized it was the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's movie A Clockwork Orange.a cd of the soundtrack in a record store in December and bought it. I gave it to my mother for Christmas because she has the album on LP, but recently my parents' record player broke, and at the moment I can only afford to buy them a cd and not a record player. My roommate owns a copy of the movie, so he had wanted to burn the cd before I gave it to my mother. I had forgotten about the gift until tonight. On a whim, I Googled 'clockwork orange soundtrack.' For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, much of the music consists of famous pieces of classical music redone with 70s-era syntesizers, in arrangements by Wendy Carlos. I found out that Carlos was famous for similar classical-synth albums like Switched on Bach in the 60s, and that she had been born Walter Carlos in 1938. All of her albums were released under this name until she had a sex change operation in 1979.
This all sounded vaguely familiar, and then I realized I had heard the whole Wendy Carlos history rehashed in an essay by Sarah Vowell. Vowell is an essayist who has written several books, but who I only know from the NPR show This American Life. In fact, I probably heard about Wendy Carlos from a Sarah Vowell reading on the radio show years ago.

Did I really forget all this and then rediscover it? Or was the Kubrick-Carlos-Vowell connection triggered as soon as I heard the synthesized Beethoven coming from behind my roommate's door, and it just took me awhile to reassemble it? I finally read the last page of Borges' Dreamtigers last night. There he suggests that most of what we call our memory is just disassembled impressions of things we have read or heard. For him this was perhaps more acutely true: he writes that few things that actually happened in his life are more worth remembering than Schopenhauer's words or the poetry of English literature.
Wendy Carlos may have disagreed with Borges. She is a coronaphile--someone slightly obsessed with total lunar eclipses--and has apparently spent a large amount of time and energy capturing these non-verbal phenomenon in photos. This one was taken in 1999 in Bucharest, Romania:

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