Synth Pioneer Suzanne Ciani Talks "Sunergy", Sexism and Coming Full Circle
Suzanne Ciani was one of the first pioneers of the modular Buchla synthesizers in as early as the 1960s. Sandra Song from Paper Mag catches up with one of the first audio wizards about creating new material and empowering women to pursue music.This article originally appeared on Paper Mag
It's not everyday you get to speak with a living legend, and if anyone deserves that title, it's synth pioneer and five-time Grammy nominee Suzanne Ciani, whose groundbreaking work with the modular Buchla synthesizer is the stuff of ambient folklore. And while she may have left electronic music for several decades in favor of traditional piano compositions and commercial work (which included coming up with Coke's famous "pop/pour" sound effect), her most recent release makes it feel like the "Diva of Electronic Music" never left.
Working alongside critically-acclaimed newcomer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for RVNG Intl.'s intergenerational FRKWYS series, the two created the stunning Sunergy -- an improvised masterpiece defined by its lush, slow-burning oscillations and the way its romantic oscillations eerily recall the motifs from Ciani's standard-bearing 1982 debut, Seven Waves. Accompanied by a documentary of the same name (filmed by Kanye West's "Only One" director, Sean Hellfritsch), it's evident that Ciani is still as dynamic as ever -- so we reached out to the trailblazer herself to talk a little bit about man's relation to the machine, sexism in the industry and how things really sometimes do end up coming full circle.
Let's talk a little about Sunergy, the album you just put out with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Can you tell me a little about your collaboration, the dynamic you had together and how you went about composing?
I met Kaitlyn by sheer coincidence in this very small town where I live. So that in itself was unusual -- to meet a sister Buchla player out here. I hired her at first as an assistant to help me get ready for a tour that I was doing in Europe. She brought up this idea of the FRKWYS collaboration and brought [RVNG Intl. label head] Matt Werth out here. We talked about it, and then it kind of got put on the back burner. At a certain point, we had an incentive because she was going to move away to L.A., and we looked at it and said, "If we're going to do this, we have to do it now."
So we took a few days in July, and it was just really impulsive -- not a lot of preparation. I had done some live Buchla concerts in 1975, which were recently released -- and as part of the release, I included a paper that I wrote that year describing how you play the Buchla. It was a paper for the National Endowment for the Arts -- they gave me a grant, and I had to produce something. [And this paper] turned out to be like a little recipe book, a starting point. We took some of the sequences that were specified in that paper. There were four 16-stage sequences, and we used those as a starting point for our collaboration together. She played a Music Easel, and I played a 200e -- both Buchla designs -- and we kind of took turns driving. So you have a clock and one person's clock controls the other person's clock. So that how we got locked together.