Suzanne Ciani & Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

There aren't a lot of restaurants in Bolinas, a secluded costal community in Marin County, California.

Actually, explains electronic composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, "There’s only one there’s a lot of house gatherings."

One evening, she was hosting a dinner when she met Suzanne Ciani. It only took them a few minutes to realize their connection.

"We both bonded over being Buchla players," Smith says.

Of course, Ciani was more than just a Buchla player. A noted sound designer -- that was her distinctive "popping" sound in vintage Coke commercials -- she was among the first composers to utilize and demonstrate the potential of Don Buchla's unique synthesizers, which the designer introduced in 1963.

Ciani went on the great acclaim in the new age field, gathering Grammy nominations and influencing younger electronic musicians like Smith, whose bubbling LP Ears is among our favorite albums of the year.

"I didn’t know who I was talking to until it clicked when she asked me what I played, and I answered 'the Buchla,' and she knew about it," Smith says.

When she realized she was talking to an electronic pioneer, she was thrilled. The two became friends and eventually, collaborators. Friday, September 16th sees the release of their debut album as a duo, Sunergy. Part of RVNG Intl's FRKWYS series, which has united cross-generational artists like Steve Gunn  and  Mike Cooper, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe with Ariel Kalma, it's an immersive, majestic record, a document of both their friendship and shared melodic approach.

We spoke with Ciani and Smith via Skype. Following, our conversation, which has been edited for clarity.

Aquarium Drunkard: Suzanne, you were one of the first people to help demonstrate to people what the Buchla was capable of. What were your initial thoughts about the instrument?

Suzanne Ciani: I was proselytized by Don Buchla himself, working in his factory for awhile. He always felt that the instrument was a performance instrument – that was his concept. I recently found out that Don's muse, Mort Subotnick [electronic composer of the groundbreaking Silver Apples of the Moon from 1967] -- who inspired Buchla to make an instrument -- never thought of the Buchla as a performance instrument.

So I had come along a few years after Mort and by that time Don had crystallized the idea of what he wanted to design. I came under his vision, that this was indeed a performance instrument. My dedication to that machine was to do live performance. The problem was, there were very few outlets for that in my day. Most theaters didn’t have quadrophonic sound and I insisted on having it. I couldn’t make a living doing live performance. I needed money, and I eventually started using the Buchla for sound design [for films, commercials, and video games].

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