#11: Walter Carlos – Theme From A Clockwork Orange (1971)
This blog arrives with an annoying affectation. The swooping in upon subjects whose very complexity and immense cultural significance is not best suited to a few hundred words casually whittled out of a wet Saturday, especially with the liquor store open. Brevity is our watchword, the safe phrase we can cling to when our online pastiche of sadomasochistic sex threatens to interfere with watching daytime TV (or whatever it is you do in your spare time).
Thus the difficulty of this piece of music. The Socio-Cultural Correlations of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ sounds like the title of a thesis to my mind, at the very least. But this isn’t about the Burgess novel, or even the Kubrick film – I have neither time nor space to tackle such immense subject matter, regardless of how utterly integral the soundtrack is to the movie’s impact – even if it is an archetypical audiophile’s film (the wonderfully cheeky record store scene – see photo above – being one of many, many examples I could refer to).
What I will do is restrict myself to a few cheap words on a single piece of music recorded for the film, but composed for the death of a seventeenth century queen regnant (Henry Purcell, Music For The Funeral Of Queen Mary, 1695). Wendy (née Walter) Carlos was already renowned as a pioneer of electronic music by the time that Kubrick came calling; the most prominent early exponent of Robert Moog’s synth modules, she recorded an album of JS Bach reinterpretations in 1968 – an unusual yet gripping combination of baroque classical and (then) cutting-edge electronica that still sounds remarkable today.
It is however her work for the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack that remains best known; an intoxicating mix of iconic visualisation, strength of narrative, the emotional ambiguity and a suite of compositions that add manifold layers to the celluloid experience – no better exemplified in the opening chord of the first thing we hear.
That opening chord. Wow – a more potent and evocative sound is difficult to imagine. It sweeps you off your feet, pulls the hair on the nape of your neck erect. To press play on this – especially if you listen at top volume, with eyes closed – it’s to experience a sheer menace of eyeliner-clad characterization, hoving up from some futuristic urban gloom to an accompaniment of baroque inflexion. This is a piece of music that not only points the original composition – a dignified soliloquy of mourning – towards far darker destinations, but ultimately Carlos transports the listener to a place of radically different sentiment – and I can’t think of many superior compliments to adorn any piece of art.
Walter Carlos / Theme From A Clockwork Orange