The biography captures the freshness and ingenuity of the project [of Carlos's Switched-On Bach] ... Through exhaustive archival research, Sewell meticulously captures Carlos’s career ... Along with the ascension and ebbing of Carlos’s career, Sewell conveys the more intimate aspects of the composer’s life ... Sewell shares such details without allowing them to overwhelm the multidimensional, complicated truths of her subject ... Sewell takes great care to place Carlos’s story within the context of the historically persistent and damaging academic and scientific theories regarding transgender people, as well as to cite some of the clinicians who offered advancement through research and lifesaving medical care ... Sewell devotes much space to how this took shape in the form of filing lawsuits against people whom Carlos thought had harmed her, or taking them to task in letters to the editor or on her own website in lengthy screeds. This latter part of the book becomes somewhat granular in this regard; die-hard fans, if not general lovers of electronic music and its history, may find the anecdotes compelling. Overall, however, Wendy Carlos: A Biography is an important account that helps us understand the legacy of an underexposed trailblazing composer.
... the first serious book to examine Carlos’s legacy at length, both as a composer and as a transgender woman. It’s an essential read—not only for electronic music fans, but for anyone interested in the history of gender and popular culture ... The book progresses with Sewell as the sole narrator, which can get monochromatic at times, reading like a detailed, fact-filled report rather than a fun and colorful history ... That said, Wendy Carlos: A Biography is a great work of scholarship ... deals sensitively with her gender transition, deftly chronicling her ascent to fame in the 1960s and the intense media scrutiny about her gender identity ... Those who can stick with it—from the long technical explanations of synthesizers to expansive, involved discussions of Carlos’s press interviews —will be amply rewarded...also gets bogged down later on, when it becomes less about music and more about lawsuits, business issues, and other concerns ... thoughtful and exhaustive.
... noteworthy in that it manages to be primarily about Carlos the composer, the musician, the vanguard of electronic music. While her gender identity is certainly written about in great length, it's never approached as a morbid curiosity. If anything, it's used primarily to chronicle the challenges Carlos encountered around society's preconceptions and prejudices toward transgendered people ... Sewell writes exhaustively and in great detail of the work Carlos continued to produce ... Carlos's insistence on essentially making her music nearly impossible to hear in the 21st century poses an obviously frustrating problem for readers of this fascinating biography. The music is so well-documented and lovingly described, that readers who have not previously purchased her music in the now-deleted physical formats are not able to call up the albums on streaming devices can be maddening. That virtually no new interviews have been conducted in the writing of the book is actually less of a problem. Sewell's research is impeccable, and although the lack of fresh quotes can occasionally result in a few dry stretches, this is often essentially an entertaining, often revelatory work, truly befitting a legend and a trailblazer.
Even with limited secondary sources to rely on, Sewell has written a long-overdue scholarly work that sheds light on Carlos’s creative process while never sensationalizing her private life ... Sewell’s nuanced biography of an overlooked composer is our best look yet at this groundbreaking artist, and a reminder that art can and should speak for itself.
Sewell focuses more on Carlos’ music than on her personal life, as Carlos would clearly wish, though she didn’t participate in this book or consent to an interview. Nonetheless, the author demonstrates that she was as important to the success of the Moog synthesizer as the Moog was for her, that she was a pioneering artist in ambient music as well, and that she dismissed being pigeonholed for her synthesized Bach ... A balanced biography that gives credit where it is due.