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Beauty in the Beast Enhanced, Original recording reissued

4.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Enhanced, Original recording reissued, November 4, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

From the roar of Tibetan horns and the clangor of metal percussion that opens Beauty in the Beast, Wendy Carlos in 1986 signaled a new direction for her music. Beauty in the Beast is Carlos's magnum opus, an album that should have established the synthesizer's role in the new global music landscape. More than that, it should have established Carlos as a composer and not just a Switched-on Bach jukebox. But not too many people were listening. Rereleased now after 14 years, Beauty in the Beast has lost none of its power. Carlos is both profound and poignant, dissonant and disarming on Beauty, as she fuses a global orchestra from her synthesizers. "Poem for Bali" is the centerpiece of the album, an episodic, 17-minute excursion as Carlos orchestrates the sounds and rhythms of a digital gamelan orchestra. In addition to replicating the metallophones, gongs, and flutes of the traditional gamelan, she creates her own hybrid sound designs, giving this work a surreal and sometimes harrowing tone, like a dream bent through funhouse mirrors. But then there are pieces such as "A Woman's Song," based on a Balkan melody. The title track merges nightmare landscapes and a crazed carnival calliope with a haunting theme that sounds like a lament for the end of the world. Beauty in the Beast is an essential recording of both modern composition and synthesis--Carlos should plug into this circuit again. --John Diliberto

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Incantation
  2. Beauty In The Beast
  3. Poem For Bali
  4. Just Imagination
  5. That's Just It
  6. Yusae-Aisae
  7. C'est Afrique
  8. A Woman's Song


Product Details

  • Audio CD (November 4, 2003)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Enhanced, Original recording reissued
  • Label: East Side Digital
  • ASIN: B0000516UW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,855 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Since J.S.Bach pushed "well-tempered" music on us (and thus spurred the development of music that could flexibly shift from key to key) it's almost impossible for us to hear modern compositions that are not well-tempered. W. Carlos has done that here, giving us a hint of the sort of unusual tunings you might hear in non-western music. I must admit, it takes a bit of getting used to, and at first this album might sound strangely sour -- because we're so used to hearing well-tempered music, which is actually just slightly "off" from the natural tuning. After a while, non-tempered music seems comfortable.
However, Carlos composes music in the different tunings that shifts and adjusts its keys as modern western music does -- thus producing terrible clashes with the un-tempered scales. Traditional non-tempered music just doesn't shift keys this widely, for that very reason. So, it's a great experiment, but there are moments that aren't true to the intrinsic nature of non-tempered music.
FYI here's a quick lesson on tempered music: To move a note up an octave, double the frequency of the sound. To move a note up a fifth, multiply the frequency of the sound by 1.5 (one and a half.) Now, if you move up 12 fifths -- which should be equal to 7 octaves -- the math doesn't work out! You don't end up on quite the same note since (2)**7 = 128 but (1.5)**12 = 129.7!!! A sequence of fifths ends up a tiny, tiny bit sharp compared to a sequence of octaves, about 1% "off"!!! So, to make both these sequences jibe, one flattens the notes evenly such that fifths are just a hair flat. The result doesn't sound as natural, but it makes every scale "well-tempered".
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Format: Audio CD
Wendy Carlos, electronic musician and composer, has managed to enjoy a reasonable amount of success as an overall unclassifiable artist probably because of her chamelion-like explorations of a wide range of styles: From electro-baroque (Switched-On Bach), to film soundtracks (A Clockwork Orange, Tron), to nature/electro/ambience (Sonic Seasonings), her compositional process/craft has indeed shown flexibility - yet we as listeners and admirers could not help but wonder who the true Wendy was, as a musical identity, under the shifting surface.
I think we got a hint at it in the piece "Timesteps" from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, and on this 1986 release / 2001 re-release that identity is fully realized. On the surface, at first listening, much of it sounds like world music: Tibetan Incantations, Balinese Gamelan ceremonies, African tribal dances, drifting in and out in a sort of auditory slide show. Yet as she explains in the collection's liner notes, these world images were used as more of a treatment, a way to encapsulate and focus tunings and textures she had just started to work with in her own abstract, intuitive approach to composing. The result is a kaleidoscopic journey, a sumptuous feast for the ears, one which challenges us by clashing dissonant cacophony against sheer melodic beauty - hence the title.
It is ironic that, sometimes, purely electronic music sounds best (is more interesting and exciting) when it is made to sound more primitive and organic. Carlos succeeds at this for the most part, with her use of quarter-tones and percussive sounds, as well as the use of an electrified voice on two of the tracks. She has been criticized for sounding too mechanistic on other works; the pieces contained in this collection should lay those complaints to waste.
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Format: Audio CD
I have proudly owned a copy of the first release of this CD all these years. It is the best example I know of an utterly brilliant recording being tragically unavailable. As other reviewers note, the tuning does sound strange at first, but then one realizes how quickly one not only adjusts to it, but starts to hear it as natural and normal.
Do yourself a favor and get this CD now. It is indispensable.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
You've never heard anything quite like Beauty in the Beast, and it *does* take some getting used to. But once you have, it's a must-have record.

There are a variety of musical styles on BitB, ranging from african-sounding percussion to martian jazz. The title cut is just plain haunting.

The supplementary files include an essay on tuning, with audio files as examples. I found these to be very informative, particularly regarding the alpha and beta scales used in the title cut.

It's weird, but it works.
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Format: Audio CD
Among the pantheon of modern "microtonal" music Beauty in the Beast stands out, and is possibly heads and shoulders above. IMHO one of the greatest compostions of the 20th century. Living in San Diego I know and have known a lot of microtonal composers. Ivor Darreg was a good friend of mine. Harry Partch lived with another of my friends. Ivor enlightened me as to what might be possible due to the development of digital music and microtones. Essentially it is now possible to change tunings at will. Unlike many Microtonal pieces which are exercises in math, Wendy Carlos has created a phenomenal piece of sound. This is music rather than math. I think its telling that she's only made this one, her own compositions with radically different tunings. Its quite good, however its NOT easy listening. It DEMANDS attention so if you are looking for background music seek others. But if you are into going on an aural trip to places you've never been seek it out.

Most microtonal is too academic to me. I will recommend this great microtonal music to seek out: Ingliashon Jones/City of the Asleep, Prent Rogers, William Sethares.
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