As the Ultimate Carlos Fan and an analog synthesist, I was elated to discover that By Request, which I've had since it appeared on vinyl, was at last available on CD. I'm happy to report that it is just as good now as it was almost three decades ago. That's right--three decades!
The music on this well-remastered CD still shines even though songs like "What's New Pussycat?" are no longer in vogue. The CD is a hodgepodge of various tunes from Bach to Beatles supposedly requested by listeners after The Well Tempered Synthesizer was released. The result may only only be mildly interesting to the occasional listener, but to followers of electronic music, it's like rediscovering a lost gem.
The three dances from The Nutcracker aren't particular standouts by Carlosian standards, nor are some of the other selections. Suffice it to say of the album that when it is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad it is merely good. Here are random notes on some of the more interesting pieces:
"Dialogues" and "Episodes" are early piano/synth pieces in the academic style. They will NOT appeal to some listeners, but they are well composed and extremely well performed, given the difficulty of creating electronic music back then.
"What's New Pussycat?" of Bacharach fame is another early Moog piece that is about as "Moogy" as Carlos has ever gotten. The Moog waa-waa filter cliche normally shunned by Carlos is here put to playful use in a chorus of drunken cats. I can't listen to this piece without smiling at the obvious good humor and sense of fun behind it.
"Geodesic Dance" remains one of my all-time favorites and appears here in all its modernistic glory. The piece is beautifully composed and full of the spatial and dynamic subtleties that set Carlos' analog work leagues above the rest. It ranks with "Timesteps" and "Country Lane" from the later Clockwork Orange album as thoroughly competent and quintessentially Carlos.
The CD's Big Finale, of course, is "Pompous Circumstances," a playful send-up of the Elgar classic performed in a wide variety of styles. Once again, Carlos' talent as a composer and consummate synthesist shine through, along with a dose of good humor. It's a pastiche, but not without it's serious moments, which might be why it's such a satisfying work.
Given the extreme difficulty and tedium of recording on a monophonic analog synthesizer--where changing a sound means striking a patch that may have taken hours to create and starting all over again--it's a wonder that the outcome could sound so good. But Carlos is a perfectionist and it shows on this album as it does on all of the Moog works. I confess that Carlos' digital music sounds flat and mundane to me and doesn't stand up to repeated listening. The analog works, for all their difficulty, continue to sound fresh and spirited. My request for Wendy's next "By Request" album would be to do another one like this--all analog.