Girls With Synthesizers: Suzanne Ciani

While attending Wellesley College, where she was studying composition, her class would visit M.I.T. There, a professor was demonstrating a massive computer based synthesizer. The computer would produce meager sounds, but that occasion would trigger in Suzanne Ciani a lifelong love of the synthesizer.

In 1968 she enrolled at Berkley. While there, she would learn about the Moog modular synthesizer and embrace the counter-cultural expression and mindset that began to happen during this period. The Hippie thing was happening and she embraced it on many levels.

She would eventually land a job working for Don Buchla in San Francisco. Things were not easy for her at first. She had to deal with the male driven surroundings and marginalizing that was still happening in society, even then. Women were still considered an appendage by the men that were still living in the past. Odd, considering that the synthesizer was considered a “heretical” machine by many in society. Despite all of this, and like Linda Fisher and Pauline Oliveros, she overcame the obstacles for the “love of a machine.”…the love for the synthesizer.

Ciani would eventually save up enough money to buy a Buchla 200. She would get the money by getting commercial deals for brands like Macy’s in New York City. That paid better than the $3 an hour she probably got working at the Buchla workshop.

Ciani would build such a long lasting love for her Buchla, that it rivals those of grown men enthralled with their vintage muscle cars. She believed that her Buchla was a “living and breathing” organism. She loved her Buchla and for a long time it was the only companion she believed she had.

She lived in Los Angeles for a while. While in LA she consulted for various Hollywood composers on programming synthesizers. It was around this time that more and more movies began to feature the synthesizer, both as a means for sound effects and for the composition of musical scores.

In 1974 she finally moved to New York City. Her first stop was in the SOHO studio of Philip Glass. There she would attempt to teach Glass about the virtues of the Buchla sequencer. Although those sessions would not prove to be as fruitful as Glass and Ciani had wished for, it began to open other doors for her. New York City suited Ciani just fine. Ciani would very soon become a living legend for her commercial work.

She began designing sound for some of the biggest brands around. She would eventually create some of the most recognizable signature trademarks for many brands. She created the GE dishwasher beep. For Coca Cola she designed the “pop and pour” sound which is still around and used today. She worked on sound designs for Sprite, Fanta, Pepsi, Merill Lynch, Columbia Pictures, ABC, and many others.

In 1982 after repeatedly witnessing the myopic use of the synthesizer by many composers, she set out to create an album comprised of only her Buchla 200. She wanted to make an album of original compositions. The album was called Seven Waves. She had a difficult and frustrating time finding a suitable engineer for the recording of the LP. She was looking for someone who shared her vision of what original synthesizer based music should sound like. Someone who had no pre-conceived notions of what a synthesizer driven album must sound like. Eventually, after an exhaustive search, she found Leslie Mona Mathus to help her complete her vision. The 2 of them would work together for over a decade on various recordings.

Suzanne Ciani defied all pre-conceptions of her and her use of the modular synthesizer. She made “poetry of sound.” This “Queen of the soft drinks” is worthy of much more exploration.

In this video for 3,2,1 Contact , Ciani walks the interviewer through a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, an Oberheim OBX and of course her beloved Buchla 200. I actually remember seeing this on TV when I was a kid. I don’t know about you, but I think Ciani got her hippie on before the segment! Enjoy…

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4 thoughts on “Girls With Synthesizers: Suzanne Ciani

  1. Spelling: Leslie Mona-Mathus

    Eventually, she settled on Leslie Mona Mathis. The 2 of them would work together for over a decade on various recordings.

    “settled on”?!!! Really?!!

    1. Leslie, thanks for finding those errors. I have made the changes to reflect a more accurate depiction.

      It was certainly never my intention to downplay your role. I am completely aware of the significance you played for Suzanne.

      Thank you for taking the time read and respond to the post. That means a lot to me!

      Best,

      Richard
      The Synthesizer Book

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