The album consists of a selection of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed on a Moog Modular synthesizer system, one of which can be seen at the back of the room on the album cover. "Switched-On Bach," or "S-OB" as Carlos referred to it, was recorded on a custom-built 8 track recorder (constructed by Carlos from superseded Ampex components), using numerous takes and overdubs. This was long before the days of MIDI sequencers or polyphonic keyboards. Recording the album was a tedious and time-consuming process -- each of the pieces had to be assembled one part at a time, and Carlos, Elkind and Folkman devoted many hours to experimenting with suitable synthetic sounds for each voice and part.
Carlos -- a highly proficient musician and studio engineer and a former student of Vladimir Ussachevsky -- worked closely with Moog throughout the recording process, testing his various components and suggesting many improvements. In 1968, not long before the album was released, Moog gave a paper at the annual Audio Engineering Society conference, where he played one of Carlos' completed recordings:
"At the end of the talk I said to this fairly big audience, 'As an example of multi-track electronic music studio composition technique, I would like to play an excerpt of a record that's about to be released of some music by Bach.' It was the last movement of Walter's Brandenburg No. 3. I walked off the stage and went to the back of the auditorium while people were listening, and I could feel it in the air. They were jumping out of their skins. These technical people were involved in so much flim-flam, so much shoddy, opportunistic stuff, and here was something that was just impeccably done and had obvious musical content and was totally innovative. The tape got a standing ovation."
"CBS had no idea what they had in Switched-On Bach. When it came out, they lumped it in at a studio press party for Terry Riley's In C and an abysmal record called Rock and Other Four Letter Words. Carlos was angered by this, so he refused to come. So CBS, frantic to have some representation, asked me to demonstrate the synthesizer. I remember there was a nice big bowl of joints on top of the mixing console, and Terry Riley was there in his white Jesus suit, up on a pedestal, playing live on a Farfisa organ against a backup of tape delays. Rock and Other Four Letter Words went on to sell a few thousand records. In C sold a few tens of thousands. Switched-On Bach sold over a million, and just keeps going on and on."
Carlos followed the release of this album with a number of other classical Moog albums:
The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (Columbia, 1969)
Switched-On Bach II (Columbia, 1974)
By Request (Columbia, 1975)
Switched-On Brandenburgs Vol 1 & 2 (Columbia, 1979) . The album received a mixed reaction at the time of its release. Some critics reviled it for trivialising the work of one of the most revered classical composers of all time, but others were excited by the freshness of the sound and the virtuosity that went into its creation. Regardless of the negative reviews, the album caught the public attention and sold better than anyone had expected. Suddenly Moog's company found itself inundated with requests from record producers for Moog systems, and a rash of synthesizer albums were released to capitalise on the popularity of the new sound.
Some of these albums were similar to S-OB in being synthesized versions of classical pieces including:
The Moog Strikes Bach by Hans Wurman (RCA 1969)
Chopin À La Moog by Hans Wurman (RCA 1970)
Switched on Gershwin by Gershon Kingsley & Leonid Hambro (Avco 1970)
Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog* (*But were afraid to ask for) by Andrew Kazdin and Thomas Z. Shepard (CBS 1973)
The Unusual Classical Synthesizer (ABC 1972) by Mike Hankinson -- unusual in that it was performed on an EMS VCS3 synthesizer rather than the more typical Moog modular synth.
Snowflakes Are Dancing (Clair De Lune) by Isao Tomita (RCA Red Seal 1974)
Jon Santo Plays Bach (Synthesized Electrons) MCA 1976)
Others capitalised on the Moog craze by creating synthesized versions of contemporary artists and other genres:
Switched On Bacharach and More Switched On Bacharach by Christopher Scott. (Decca 1969)
Switched-On Rock by The Moog Machine. (Columbia Records 1969)
Music to Moog By by Gershon Kingsley (Audiofidelity 1969)
Moog Plays The Beatles Marty Gold (Avco 1970)
Country Moog - Switched on Nashville by Gil Trythall (Athena 1970)
Plugged-In Joplin by The Eden Electronic Ensemble (Pye 1975). Comes with splice, pads and a 7 day money-back guarantee.