Throwback: Suzanne Ciani

Suzanne Ciani

By Rachel Miller for Tom Tom Magazine

The psssshhh-tza of a coke bottle opening; the voooosh in Starland’s “Afternoon Delight”: Suzanne Ciani is responsible for some of the most iconic sounds we’ve ever heard. A student of music and composition at Wellesley and later at University of California, Berkeley, Ciani was beguiled by the mysterious potential and complexity of electronic music since seeing a professor coax sounds from a computer in the early 1960s.

Don Buchla was one of the first (along with Robert Moog) to build sound synthesizers, and Ciani began work building Buchla Series 100 modular synthesizers in Buchla’s San Francisco lab immediately following her graduation. She was fired on her first day. “But I wouldn’t leave,” she says. “He found a cold solder and blamed it on the new girl, but it wasn’t me, and he couldn’t fire me. I just came back the next day.”

In 1974 Ciani formed her own company and began building sound commercially, which paid for her more artistic endeavors, including live Buchla performances.

“Performing on the Buchla has nothing to do with a keyboard or with notes,” Ciani explains. “It’s a living compositional form. The Buchla has no memory; you switch from one sound to another manually. It’s spatial and full of movement. It’s architectural.”

Ciani’s seminal performances and a guide to performing on the Buchla, the first and only of its kind, will be published soon through Finders Keepers Records.

Her major complaint about music these days? “It’s too loud. We just don’t hear the same things; sound is different now.”

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