Suzanne Ciani
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Suzanne Ciani

San Francisco, California, United States | INDIE

San Francisco, California, United States | INDIE
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"Suzanne Ciani, Trailblazing Synth Musician, Looks Back"

March 4, 2012
Suzanne Ciani's start in music was traditional enough. She was classically trained, majored in music at Wellesley College, and got a fellowship to study composition at UC Berkeley. But when she arrived there in the mid-1960s, just in time to witness the student protests that consumed the Bay Area during that decade, her focus shifted.

"It was a very amazing time — there was tear gas coming through the window and riots, and nothing was normal," Ciani says. "And in this fertile ground of creative change is where I met the designer Don Buchla, really the consummate designer of electronic music instruments."

Through her relationship with Buchla and other computer music pioneers, Ciani became one herself. She founded her own company in 1974, Ciani/Musica, and became an in-demand producer of major Hollywood film scores, commercial jingles and video game sound effects, releasing albums of her own music all the while.

She discusses her career, including the new retrospective album Lixiviation, with NPR's Jacki Lyden. - NPR


"Suzanne Ciani's plugged-in path"

By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
March 6, 2012
About 15 minutes into a phone conversation regarding her new collection "Lixiviation: Ciani/Musica, Inc. 1969-1985," electronic music composer Suzanne Ciani tossed out a surprising musical factoid.

In her youth as a busy session player in New York City, her mastery of early portable synthesizers resulted in as many as four gigs a day. It also landed her a guest spot on David Letterman's old daytime show and provided an opportunity to make the tones, moans and Vocoder-enhanced voice of Bally pinball's android seductress Xenon. But her best-known creation arrived when Ciani was hired by producer Phil Ramone in 1975 to craft an electronic sound effect for group called the Starland Vocal Band.

The idea was to create on the synthesizer the sound of rockets firing through the air during "Afternoon Delight," the lusty hit song about a midday rendezvous.

"Yes," says Ciani, laughing, "the skyrockets." In that and other sessions, she says, she would load the jukebox-sized Buchla synthesizer into the control room, with its "hundreds of little blinking lights and knobs," and commence noisemaking until something stuck. Although now all that processing power and more can be carried on your iPhone, in the '70s Ciani needed a hired mover to travel with her from studio to studio.

The work from those sessions became advertisements for Atari computers and Almay lotion, experimental sound sculptures to accompany museum installations, corporate audio logos for Discover magazine and a PBS show called "Inside Story" – and now they're the highlights of "Lixiviation." The album captures a fascinating moment when computer-generated music was easing its way into America's subconscious one corporate tag, quirky pop-fizz and orgasmic missile at a time. Named for a chemistry term that Ciani used for an art gallery commission, the collection features 16 pieces — some, like her Atari audio logo, as brief as seven seconds, others such as "Second Breath," extended synthesizer compositions — that shine a light on the oft-anonymous realm of commercial music composition.

Ciani, who is best known for her string of 1980s and '90s albums such as "Hotel Luna" and "Dream Suite" (both of which earned her Grammy nominations in the new-age category), studied piano and composition at Wellesley College in the 1960s before continuing her education at UC Berkeley, where sound theorists Max Matthews and John Chowning were making revolutionary advances in frequency modulation and synthesis.

A friend of Ciani's told her about his neighbor, who was teaching music at Berkeley. "He took me next door to Don Buchla's equally big loft and there was a towering, massive musical module there," recalls Ciani on the phone from her home in Northern California. "For me, this was a meeting that was like destiny. I had been looking for electronic music."

The epiphany, she says, was in the richness of the tones that the machine created, a sensation that's hard to fathom four decades later. "Nowadays, a lot of ears have heard a lot of things, and they don't understand the newness that was part of it back then," says Ciani. "Your ears woke up. The frequency spectrum was so much bigger. It had the high end and the very low end, and you could go to the very top and the very bottom. After hearing that, acoustic music seemed to occur along a very narrow path. It wasn't alive."

Plus, the whole endeavor was much more efficient, she says. "You realized very quickly the challenges of that career, because many composers die without ever hearing their music performed. There was something about electronic music that had the promise of freedom, where I could create my own — and have control of my own — world as a composer. I could do it myself."

But that was easier said than done in the mid-1970s. At that point the closest things to mainstream success in electronic music were Walter Carlos' "Switched on Bach," - Los Angeles Times


"Suzanne Ciani’s retrospective showcases her groundbreaking musical fireworks"

By Chris Richards, Published: February 24

The intersection of art and commerce has always been a volatile place.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Suzanne Ciani made it her playground. The electronic-music pioneer was living in New York, scoring commercials for Madison Avenue by day, performing avant-garde electronic music downtown by night. The results are collected on a fascinating new retrospective album, “Lixiviation,” which comes out Tuesday.

But Ciani says the disc documents her time at a more important intersection. “Art and technology was a vibrant crossing,” she says over the phone from her home in Bolinas, Calif. “They were separate worlds, but when you brought them together fireworks happened.”

Ciani bottled those fireworks in advertisements for Atari, Almay, Coca-Cola and others. On “Lixiviation,” her corporate audio tags and commercial themes blip, bloop and fizz alongside her more serious work: compositions that explored the possibilities of electronic sound with playfulness and warmth.

Classically trained in piano at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Ciani’s musical course shifted when she received a fellowship to attend the University of California at Berkeley. “I arrived at Berkeley in the late ’60s with tear gas coming in through the windows,” she says. “It was a very revolutionary time and it was exciting.”

Even musically. As she studied composition, she fell under the influence of synthesizer designer Donald Buchla and began composing on the Buchla 200, a hulking chunk of knobs and wires once at the vanguard of analog synthesizer technology.

“It was like going to the moon,” Ciani says. “Everything was a miracle back then. There was no past. If you developed a technique for playing an instrument, nobody had done it before. Everything was brand-new.”

Ciani traveled to New York City in 1974 to perform in concert and decided to stay, crashing on the floor of Philip Glass’s studio while she looked for work. She remembers confounding audiences with her performances, creating unfamiliar sounds by twisting dials and plugging in different patch chords. “Nobody understood electronic music,” Ciani says. She remembers audience members asking, “Where is it coming from?”

Record labels were equally flummoxed, so Ciani tried Madison Avenue. “Commercial advertising, they were looking for something new,” she says. “I was never really conscious of the guys in the suits. .?.?. I had total freedom. I had this thing that nobody understood, so they didn’t feel like they could intrude.”

She began designing audio logos for companies, little 2- to 3-second swatches of sound that had to be simple, adventurous and memorable. “I loved the compact world, this microcosmic compositional form,” Ciani says. “You had to appreciate the complexity of making a lasting, deep statement in such a short time.”

She was good at it, landing commercial work for Merrill Lynch, AT&T, Columbia Pictures, Black & Decker and General Electric. She composed music for pinball machines and TV newscasts. She made appearances on the children’s science program “3-2-1 Contact” and “The David Letterman Show,” where she was told she’d be allowed to perform her own music after giving a demonstration. (Instead, Ciani remembers Letterman cutting to commercial on his short-lived morning show.)

“I was very visible,” Ciani says. “I had the number one sound design company in New York. .?.?. And much to my chagrin, the commercial work kept attracting all of this attention. I wanted the attention on my music.”

That changed when the title track of her 1986 album, “Velocity of Love,” became a hit in a then-burgeoning new-age scene. Her 1988 album, “Neverland,” earned a Grammy award nomination. Numerous recordings followed, with Ciani slowly moving away from electronics back to her to her classical roots.

“I know people will come to hear synthesized music,” Ciani told the New York Times in a 1974 profile. “I grew up with classical music, and it t - The Washington Post


"Suzanne Ciani's Early Works: Seven Waves and Velocity of Love"

by Jay Williston

Suzanne Ciani is a composer, recording artist, and pioneer in the field of electronic music and sound design. She is best loved for her eleven albums of original music which feature her performances in a broad array of expressions: pure electronic, solo piano, piano with orchestra, and piano with jazz ensemble.

In the eighties and early nineties, in order to finance her recording projects, Ciani brought her expertise to Madison Avenue. Her New York-based commercial production company, Ciani-Musica, Inc., was the leader in the field of sound design and TV spot scoring, creating award-winning music for a host of high profile Fortune 500 clients, including Coca-Cola (using the Buchla to create a musical effect called the "Pop & Pour" which became internationally famous), Merrill Lynch (scoring the famous "Bull in the China Shop" commercial), AT&T, and General Electric. Additionally, Ciani has scored the Lily Tomlin feature 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman', and 'Mother Teresa', as well as scoring for the TV daytime serial 'One Life to Live'.

A pioneer of the early "New Age" movement, her many recognitions include five Grammy nominations for Best New Age Album, an Indie nomination for Best New Age Album, numerous Clios, a Golden Globe, and Keyboard Magazine's "New Age Keyboardist of the Year." Ciani is a graduate of Wellesley College and holds a Masters in Music Composition from the University of California at Berkeley.

Seven Waves, released in 1982, and The Velocity of Love, released in 1986, were her first two recordings. They feature many vintage synthesizers including her beloved Buchla Series 200. - Synthmuseum.com


Discography

Silver Ship -- 2005 Seventh Wave, Indie Award, Best New Age Album
Pure Romance -- 2003 Seventh Wave (collection)
Meditations -- 2002 Seventh Wave. (collection)
Pianissimo III -- 2001 Seventh Wave
Turning -- 1999 Seventh Wave. Grammy Award nominee. Indie Award nominee.
Suzanne Ciani and The Wave: LIVE! -- 1997 Seventh Wave. Indie Award nominee.
Pianissimo II -- 1996 Seventh Wave. Grammy Award nominee.
Dream Suite -- 1994 Seventh Wave. Grammy Award nominee.
The Private Music of Suzanne Ciani -- 1992 Private Music/BMG
Hotel Luna -- 1991 Private Music/BMG. Grammy Award nominee.
Pianissimo -- 1990 Private Music/BMG.
History of My Heart -- 1989 Private Music/BMG.
Neverland -- 1988 Private Music/BMG. Grammy Award nominee.
The Velocity of Love -- 1986 RCA Records; 1991 Private Music/BMG; 1995 Seventh Wave.
Seven Waves -- 1982 JVC/Victor; 1984 Atlantic/Finnadar; 1988 Private Music/BMG; 1994 Seventh Wave.

FILM SCORES

Mother Teresa: The Legacy, 2001 (Petrie Productions) -- Feature documentary on the life, death, and legacy of Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa, 1986 (Petrie Productions) -- Feature documentary on the life of Mother Teresa. Winner of the Moscow Peace Prize.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman, 1980 (Universal Pictures) -- Comedy feature film with Lily Tomlin and Charles Grodin.

Photos

Bio

Suzanne Ciani is a composer, recording artist, and pioneer in the field of electronic music and sound design. She is best loved for her fifteen albums of original music which feature her performances in a broad array of expressions: pure electronic, solo piano, piano with orchestra, and piano with jazz ensemble. Her music, renowned for its romantic, healing, and aesthetic qualities, has found a rapidly growing international audience, and her performances include numerous benefits for humanitarian causes.

Currently Ciani resides in Northern California where, in 1995, she established her own record label, Seventh Wave. Ciani felt the need to own and control her own creative work. "In many ways, this label represents the culmination of the long journey of my evolution as a recording artist," says Ciani.

In the eighties and early nineties, in order to finance her recording projects, Ciani brought her expertise to Madison Avenue. Her New York-based commercial production company, Ciani-Musica, Inc., was the leader in the field of sound design and TV spot scoring, creating award-winning music for a host of high profile Fortune 500 clients, including Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, A T & T and General Electric. Additionally, Ciani has scored the Lily Tomlin feature 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman,' and 'Mother Teresa', as well as scoring for the TV daytime serial 'One Life to Live'.

In the early nineties Ciani re-located to northern California to concentrate on her artistic career from her sea-side studio. She has toured throughout the United States, Italy, Spain, and Asia.

Her many recognitions include five Grammy nominations for Best New Age Album, an INDIE award for Best New Age Album, numerous Clios, a Golden Globe, and Keyboard Magazine's "New Age Keyboardist of the Year."

Ciani is a graduate of Wellesley College and holds a Masters in Music Composition from the University of California at Berkeley.