Suzanne Ciani Quadraphonic Sound Performance

Suzanne Ciani Quadraphonic Sound Performance


WENDY WESTGATE: Hello, everyone, and welcome
to Central Library. My name is Wendy Westgate and I’m part of
Los Angeles Public Library’s LA Made team. LA Made is a series of cultural programs funded
by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In our fourth seasons, we have 165 educational
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what is what’s going on in your neck of the woods or pick up one of our lovely event calendars
on your way out today. Before we introduce today’s program, I wanted
to let you know about the next couple of LA Made events taking place here in the Mark
Taper so you can mark your calendars. On Sunday, April 28th at 2:00, students from
the Colburn’s Schools Youth Chamber Music Institute will present works by Revel, Beethoven,
Chopin, and Mozart. Then on Saturday, May 4th at 2:00 o’clock,
Pianist Composer Josh Nelson presents The Sky Remains a multimedia love letter to his
hometown of Los Angeles that blends narrative, original music, and video. So we hope you can join us for some of those. Just a few housekeeping items before we start,
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please look for the sign up sheet clipboard on the check in desk on your way out. The place where you checked in. I also want to thank the following companies
that donated their time and equipment that allowed us to do this awesome program: Bedrock
LA, Spitfire Audio, Future Lighting, Dub Lab, ACE Hotel, and Meyer Sound which provided
the quadraphonic sound reinforcement for this event. Can we have a round of applause for these
generous donors. [Applause]
Following Suzanne’s performance today, she will be interviewed on stage by Claire L.
Evans lead singer of the band Yacht and author of the book Broadband: The Untold Story of
the Women Who Made the Internet. There will be a Q&A following the interview. Please ask your question in the form of a
question. And wait for the microphone before asking
your question because this program is being recorded. Okay. Suzanne Ciani is a five time Grammy Award
nominated composer, electronic music pioneer, and neo classical recording artist who’s work
has been featured in countless commercials, video games, and feature films. She provided the voice and sounds for Balley’s
groundbreaking Xenon Pinball Machine, created Coca Cola’s pop and pour sound, designed Atari’s
sound logo, played concerts all over the globe, and carved out a niche as one of the most
creatively successful female composers in the world. Over the course of her 30 plus year career,
she has released 16 solo albums. And the latest the last available copies of
her latest release Live Quadraphonic will be available for purchase in the hallway after
the show. So don’t miss your chance to grab one cause
when they’re gone, they’re gone. We are pleased to welcome her to the LA Made
stage today so please give a warm welcome to Ms. Suzanne Ciani. [Applause]
[Musical Performance] CLAIRE EVANS: Hello. Hi. Okay, can we just give another hand to Ms.
Suzanne Ciani right now. [Applause]
I’m Claire Evans. I’m going to be interviewing her as soon as
she’s ready to be spoken too. Hi. [Applause]
Wow. SUZANNE CIANI: Wow! CLAIRE EVANS: Wow! That was amazing. That was incredible. SUZANNE CIANI: It’s most fun for me. I always thought, you know, that jazz is more
fun to do than to listen too. So, you know, I know I had a good time. CLAIRE EVANS: Is this jazz? If this is jazz, I’m all about it. SUZANNE CIANI: Well, it’s in the moment. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. I mean you know, but you don’t know. CLAIRE EVANS: So it’s all improvised. SUZANNE CIANI: It’s improvised, but there’s
a starting point. But you’re free in the moment to decide what
to do. CLAIRE EVANS: Do you only ever play in quadraphonic
sound now? SUZANNE CIANI: I’ve only always played in
quadraphonic when I played the Buchla right from the beginning right from the 60’s. CLAIRE EVANS: So was it easier or more mainstream
to play in quad in those days or was it challenging to get theaters and audiences to set up for
it? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, I’ve led a sheltered
life. I grew up in kind of Buchla’s studio and it
was quad. And I came out into the world and found out
that quad wasn’t okay. [Chuckles] So
CLAIRE EVANS: Quad’s okay. Quad’s okay. SUZANNE CIANI: But, you know, my first confrontation
you know, I went to New York after LA, and I actually found an agent who was going to
represent me to play the Buchla. This was absurd. He got me a concert in Lincoln Center at Avery
Fisher Hall. And I went in, you know, as a preproduction
and said: I’ll need a speaker back there and a speaker back there. And they said: What? Um, we can’t do that. We don’t do that. You know, that’s not you know, we can’t. And I said, “Well, then, I can’t play.” And so I never did the concert, and I started
a non-profit corporation ambitiously to try to get the theater redesigned because… [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: A woman of principle, I like that. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, but that didn’t happen. CLAIRE EVANS: So what opportunities do you
find that playing and composing in quadraphonic presents for you as a composer? SUZANNE CIANI: It’s, you know, this instrument
that Don Buchla designed is a performance instrument. It’s an electronic analog modular. We never use the word synthesizer because
that was kind of loaded. It had implications that were not appropriate. And Don was a very stubborn guy, and you don’t
meet this kind of person often. Maybe never. So he had his principles and he held to them. And one of them was quadraphonic, and it’s
because electronic music is essentially a monophonic signal. The oscillator puts out a tone, and that tone
travels through certain paths, filters and envelopes or whatever, and comes out .you
know, as a single sound. And, in order to bring it to life, you want
it to move. And the movement is organic to the sound because
it’s voltage controlled movement. So it can dance in the space and that brings
it to life. CLAIRE EVANS: How would you I mean, is that
what you would characterize as what your initial attraction was to this instrument the fact
that it could move in this way? SUZANNE CIANI: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. That was just part of it. That was part of the instrument; it was a
given. I didn’t even think of it as anything different
than what should be there you know. CLAIRE EVANS: You have kind of a more traditional,
you know, composition background. I mean you studied composition outside before
you encountered this instrument. So when you came across the Buchla for the
first time, what did it represent to you in terms of new freedoms and possibilities that
opened up? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, that’s exactly the word
“Freedom.” Because I was a traditional composer getting
my Master’s Degree of Music Composition at the University of California Berkeley. And, honest to God, I mean, it’s not even
a secret, if you were a woman in those days, it was bleak. I mean it was so part of the fabric of our
culture that women were not allowed to have any position of, you know, command. You know I took a conducting class, and I
was told women have no right on the podium. I wrote, you know, for my composition class
I like to write small short pieces. I don’t know why, I just did. I was told: Well, women don’t know how to
write major pieces. And all of this was just woven into the experience
of, you know, you’re coming of age in a world that you wanted to give you openings. So you saw that there were no openings. And then when electronic music, you know,
when I saw this instrument, I intuitively knew that I could be independent. CLAIRE EVANS: So you’re saying the synthesizer
is inherently a feminist’s instrument. SUZANNE CIANI: It is. It is. In fact, if you look at the history of electronic
music, you will find and I know you cause you wrote a book on all kinds of things you
know Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, I mean, they started the Radiophonic Workshop. And I this year, I played or last year I played
at Royal Albert Hall in a program of women pioneers and, for the first time, they played
a piece that Daphne Oram wrote in 1943. CLAIRE EVANS: Wow. SUZANNE CIANI: And it was brilliant. Nobody, no I’m sorry, I’m not competitive
and I’m not comparing but no man has done. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: I’m with that. No, it’s funny. I was going to ask you basically the same
question because you know, I read about tech history, and one thing that I have found in
my study of this is that, if you’re looking for women in tech history, it’s easier to
look at the beginning of things because that’s where women often come in before there’s a
canon, before there’s an institution, before there’s a precedent. I mean the first computer programmers were
women, and they were doing it because it was a job that was not taken seriously. SUZANNE CIANI: Just like knitting. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, and it didn’t have any
established place in society you know. I don’t know as much about electronic history,
but I have the intuition that it’s kind of the same deal. So does that stack up for you? SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah. They did it because it was an independent
thing. It wasn’t team work. It wasn’t the boys network. It wasn’t, you know, women worked alone. They didn’t have, you know, a collective consciousness
at that time. We’re just starting to get it now. CLAIRE EVANS: You know there’s a sense of
an all in one instrument here. Where you’re not beholden to someone else’s
conception of what it is you are able or supposed to do. You don’t have to rely on anybody else to
perform. You’re really just able to do exactly what
you want to do if what you want to do is make electronic music. SUZANNE CIANI: Right. CLAIRE EVANS: Moving on, I want to talk about
sort of your early life at the Buchla. I saw you play at Moog Fest a couple years
ago. The one thing I really took away from the
after show Q&A not unlike this one that you did is you talked about how had for a long
time kind of lived with the Buchla almost like almost like it was a pet or something. And that you would sort of put sounds on in
the house and just leave them on all day. I really like this idea of living with a piece
of technology. I want to talk about like what happens when
you open up your space to that kind of intimacy with a machine. SUZANNE CIANI: Well, this machine is kind
of alive. I mean, Don designed it to be responsive and
to give feedback. So it has little lights that tell you what’s
going on and it’s very communicative. It’s not just a you know, I look at some of
the they’re changing now, but a lot of the Eurorack systems that started to come out
in this new era, this new renaissance of interest in analog music. They had no life force in them to see, and
I miss that. So, yeah, this instrument can be on. It is on all the time. Why would you shut it off? I mean, why? [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: It’s a beautiful thing. I mean, it’s kind of we all have a like a
real sort of physical and emotional intimacy with our machines, but our machines today
are so opaque and ungiving, you know. Whereas this machine is so tactile and that
I feel like it creates this embodied connection that is really, really deep. And I can see that when you play. I mean you know this complicated thing with
great intimacy. It’s a beautiful thing. SUZANNE CIANI: Yes, and there are sections
of that piece I did that could go on forever. Because the machine knows how to play itself
as well. Because of all the feedback loops with the
control voltages you can set up something that’s really an installation that’s ever-changing
but evolving. CLAIRE EVANS: Do you ever do durational performances
that are really long? SUZANNE CIANI: Oh, yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: What’s the longest you’ve ever
gone? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, I had an insulation in
Berkeley that was there for a couple weeks, and it was just on for a couple of weeks. But in those days, honestly, nobody knew where
the sound was coming from any way. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: They thought there was a little man inside pedaling. [Chuckling] Well, you know, times really have
changed. That kind of leads me to my next question
which is that, you know, you’ve been doing this for so long that you’ve seen these massive
technological and generational shifts happen. And here we are in 2019 and there’s still
this or again there is this passionate audience for this kind of old school analog synthesis. And I, you know, I mean does it feel like
things have come full circle for you. Is it déjà vu or is it a new thing? SUZANNE CIANI: It’s very déjà vu. And it’s magical for me because in the old
days I dreamed of this. I was doing just what I just did although
it was a different machine. So I was playing the 200. This is the 200E, and unless you’re really
into it, I wouldn’t bother to explain the differences. CLAIRE EVANS: I think some people might be
really into it, but maybe that’s Q&A time. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah. But there was such a gap between myself and
the audience that after and I thought it would close quickly. I really thought it was around the corner,
but this is the consciousness that’s been around this type of music for a long time. That it was just going to be everyplace. And, you know, it started with a Theremin. It didn’t start with the Theremin, but it
was an episode that was quite fascinating. CLAIRE EVANS: Also an instrument that was
really most masterfully played by a woman Clara Rockmore. SUZANNE CIANI: Exactly. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, makes you think. [Chuckling]
I think it’s interesting because I feel like probably initially people’s attraction to
this instrument, you know, as audiences would be like how new-fangled and futuristic it
was. You know, try to imagine what it would be
like to hear a sound like that for the very first time. Whereas today, we’ve lived it long enough
that maybe some of the attraction becomes about nostalgia and like the old school quality
of it. So it’s this weird timelessness outside of
time you know. SUZANNE CIANI: My mission right now actually
is to show I mean, I think, if you wanted to get philosophical
CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, I do. SUZANNE CIANI: Okay. Well, when things come into being, when they
first crystallize, there’s an energy in that manifestation that is very powerful. You know, the music around the piano when
the piano came out. The violin when, you know, when the instrument
finally crystallized, there was this surge of this amazing repertoire technique. And that’s what I think happened in this instrument. That in those days, when it really had the
force of beginning, there was an energy that now we need to reinvestigate because and I
needed to reinvestigate it too. When I came back to the instrument, I had
forgotten the techniques that I had in the 60’s and 70’s. And I went back to them. Thanks to a paper that I wrote for the National
Endowment. Anyway, it was a 40 page paper that I had
to write to satisfy the requirements of a grant. CLAIRE EVANS: Oh, been there. SUZANNE CIANI: You been there? Yeah. And I thought: Oh, God, why am I doing this? And then 40 years later, it’s really the cookbook. It’s it’s… CLAIRE EVANS: Everything old is new again. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: And also it never hurts to write
things down. Those are two important lessons I think we
can take away with this. SUZANNE CIANI: Cool, yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, I was going to ask you
how your relationship with the instrument has changed. Cause you took a long sort of break away from
the Buchla or live performance and you came back to it only quite recently. Is it something where you’re inventing new
techniques now or are you leaning on this paper that you wrote? SUZANNE CIANI: You know, it’s a combination
because the machine you have to meet it half way. And this new instrument the 200E didn’t have
what I was used to. And so I got a couple of clones. So I have a clone morph the top left that
thing that I’m playing a lot that doesn’t exist in the 200. That’s another reason why I’m out playing
is that I want to, before I leave the planet, you know, have some impact on the design of
the instruments because you can not do something unless you have the tool. So it’s a collaborative process. CLAIRE EVANS: Oh, yeah. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, we need the tools and
then we need the technique. CLAIRE EVANS: I’m nodding hard because this
is the kind of thing like, again, in computing history this happens a lot. This privilege that’s paid to the people that
create the hardware and the people that, you know, create the software activate the hardware
through performance or use often seem to be marginalized or unimportant. This distinction between front end and back
end. But I think relationship between, you know,
I guess in this case, the artist and engineer is so vital. I mean it can determine the future of an instrument’s
development but also, .you know, where the technology actually touches human life is
where it really counts. SUZANNE CIANI: It’s very collaborative. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah. So, I mean, how would you describe your ideal
relationship between an artist and engineer. I mean I know you work closely with Buchla. SUZANNE CIANI: [Making sounds]
CLAIRE EVANS: Oh, wow! I did not expect that sound. SUZANNE CIANI: Well, you know, when I came
back to this, you know, Don you know, Don and I moved back to the West Coast from New
York City in ’92, and Don and I reconnected but mostly as friends. We played tennis. He was a good tennis player. And I would, you know, come pick him up in
Berkeley at his shop and see all these little machines, but I wasn’t tempted. I absolutely had no intention. I was giving concerts with the piano, and
writing with the piano, and sitting in my ocean side studio with the piano looking out
over the sea, and writing about birds. You know… [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, the dream basically. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, right. And then, you know, a certain moment came
where he said: If you’re ever thinking of getting back into this, now is the time because
I’m going to sell the company. And I wasn’t thinking about getting back into
it, but I heard him and I thought: Well, all right, let’s do it. You know, let’s get a little system and so
we put together a little system. He gave me a very good deal. And, you know —
CLAIRE EVANS: I heard a story about that. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, how I traded my car. CLAIRE EVANS: You traded an Audi for a Buchla. SUZANNE CIANI: And the Audi, you know, was
my favorite machine. I loved it. And, within a year of giving it to Buchla,
it was covered with oh, God! Mold. It was just
CLAIRE EVANS: You just had that effect on technology. You just instantly so, yeah, the Buchla came
back into your life. SUZANNE CIANI: Buchla came back into my life
and then, when he died, I got this kind of booster stage where you know and I found you
know I came out from under a rock. I had no idea what was going on. And these early albums had come out. The Buchla concerts 1975 on Finders Keepers,
and suddenly I became aware of this renaissance, and I and so I stepped into it. CLAIRE EVANS: With grace. SUZANNE CIANI: Yes, thank you. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s fascinating
to me reading about your life and interviews about you over the last couple days. You know, how many times you’ve kind of transformed
yourself. I mean, you’ve always been, from what I can
tell at least from the outside, been fiercely independent and prone to these kind of reinventions. You left classical composition behind to stake
a life with the Buchla. Then you took that Buchla to New York and
created a commercial agency that basically scored the 80’s from what I can tell. Then you left that behind to produce, and
record, and release your own new age records. Where does that drive for transformation and
reinvention come from in you? SUZANNE CIANI: It’s organic. I never plan anything. And, in fact, I always used to say, you know,
when I started the Buchla, I could hear myself say: I will never play the piano again. And then I came back to the piano. I said oh, that’s strange. I said I’d never do that again. And I said I’d never play the Buchla again,
and then I was playing that. And so now I know that I have no idea what’s
going to happen. And I’m as surprised as anybody at every turn
that it’s taken, but it just happens. I’m a follower really. CLAIRE EVANS: A follower of your own muse. SUZANNE CIANI: Yes, I’m a follower of my muse. My muse, you know, I trust it. You know, it’s a little voice. I don’t know you know, before I got back to
this, I had gone in my traditional way, I had gone to Venice in Italy and I wrote an
album. So I like to travel and get settled in an
inspirational place and write. And I came home, and I was about to record
that, and it never happened. And I always thought it was going to happen. And I don’t know if it will ever happen. If I die, it’s on my computer. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: Okay. What’s the file? What’s the name of the file? What folder is it in just so we know for later. Are you sitting on a lot of unreleased material
that we don’t know about? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, if you call archival
stuff unreleased. Finders Keepers. You know I have vaults filled with tapes from
the day, you know, but I never thought of them as releasable. I mean they’re releasing commercials and weird
stuff you know. So I have a lot of that. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, you never know what’s
going to come around and be really interesting to people down the road. I’d love to talk about your commercial work. I know a lot of artists today try to balance
art and commerce as best they can in order to bank roll their lives and creation of art,
but it seems like you did it all at once. For 10 years, it seems like you were making
sound logos for Coke and Atari and soundtracks for movies. What can you tell us a little bit about that
time? And what motivated you to start doing that
work? And when did you and why did you sort of check
out from it? SUZANNE CIANI: You know technology was super
expensive then. When I hear kids complain about how expensive
something costs, I just laugh. Really. Because I had one instrument a Synclavier. It was $200,000. And, if you wanted to record, I mean, we didn’t
have home studios. You had to go rent a studio for thousands
of dollars a day. So, if you wanted to do something that was,
you know and I’ve always wanted to be at the forefront. I don’t know why. If you’re going to do something, you might
as well do it the best way. CLAIRE EVANS: You’re an early adopter basically. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, I guess you’d say that. Yeah, except for children. Yeah. I don’t know. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: But any ways, it was expensive. So money was the partner in the whole thing. You needed money. And the money, you know, I was only interested
in making the money viz a vi supporting the artistic career. And I did separate my time because commercials
didn’t happen on the weekend. So I could do commercial work all week and
then I could do my stuff on the weekend. And it was a beautiful space that opened up
because the weekend was quiet and continuous, you know. CLAIRE EVANS: So you still managed to do your
own sort of your soul work on the weekends even while making Coke. Can you talk about how you got into the commercial
game. I heard a story about how you got the Coke
gig. It was kind of interesting. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, that was a tough one. Well the first one I did well I was still
a student at UC Berkeley. And then actually that’s what got me to LA
because I was doing a commercial for MJB Coffee. CLAIRE EVANS: Okay. SUZANNE CIANI: Making the sound of coffee. And, you know, percolating and all that, you
know. And they said let’s record in LA. So I put the Buchla in my, you know, sports
car of course. CLAIRE EVANS: That’s so cool. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, I was so cool. So cool. Top down, you know, [Chuckling] drove to LA. And I you know, I don’t know what happened. I’m not sure how I got connected in LA, but
I know I met a lot of people. And I was the only girl in town with a Buchla
and that helped a lot. CLAIRE EVANS: That’ll do it. And you knew how to use it. SUZANNE CIANI: And I knew how to use it and
I gave lessons to a lot of top film composers. CLAIRE EVANS: Oh, really. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, they were interested. The film world is very, you know, they are
always looking for something new, something inspiring. You know, technology is inspiring, right,
because it’s different. CLAIRE EVANS: You scored some films, maybe
I’m jumping ahead a little bit, but in the 80’s you scored this Lilly Tomlin movie The
Incredible Shrinking Woman, which is such a great, weird, wonderful movie. SUZANNE CIANI: I love that. CLAIRE EVANS: I know. It’s incredible. Can you tell us a little bit about working
on that film and working with Lilly Tomlin. SUZANNE CIANI: Well, you know, in retrospect
I had no idea at the time when they hired me to do that, that technically I was the
first woman to be hired to do a Hollywood feature solo, whatever – however you want
to quantify it. And then I found out years later that there
wasn’t another I was reading the obituary of I can’t even remember. I’m so sorry a woman composer in The Society
of Composer and Lyricist, you know, SCL. It’s a LA kind of group. And she had done a film in 1994 and said she
was the first. So between 1980 and 1994, no woman was hired
to score a Hollywood feature. I was totally ready, willing, and able. I was hired by women. Verna Fields had edited Jaws and was promoted
to the head of production at Universal. That’s how I got hired. Men aren’t going to hire women. I mean, yes, there are a couple; but you know,
when women get in positions and then I never got another film. I was offered films by Verna, but I wanted
a romance. CLAIRE EVANS: Like a romantic film? SUZANNE CIANI: Romantic film, yeah. I wanted
CLAIRE EVANS: Why? SUZANNE CIANI: Because as a gun for hire,
you know, I was doing commercials, and for films I wanted to do my music. I wanted to do romantic music. I didn’t want to do, even in shrinking woman,
there was everything from New Orleans jazz to, you know, R&B. My idea was to do something, you know, like
the piano. I wished they’d call me for that. CLAIRE EVANS: So you qualify your music as
romantic music? SUZANNE CIANI: My other music is romantic,
yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: That’s a cool bumper sticker. [Laughter]
SUZANNE CIANI: What did you say? CLAIRE EVANS: It’s like a bumper sticker. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: This series that we’re sitting here, talking, and taking part of is called
LA Made. I didn’t know it’s called Made in LA, and
I didn’t know until this afternoon that you had lived in Los Angeles. I assumed that you had gone straight from
San Francisco to New York. And I would just love to know, yeah, what
your experience was in LA. I mean you worked in some commercial work
and film work, but where did you live? What was it like? Did you like it? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, when I first got here,
I lived in the Hollywood Hills. CLAIRE EVANS: Okay. SUZANNE CIANI: And, you know, the things that
I remember are just that there was a serial rapist in the neighborhood [Chuckling] called
the Lone Ranger [Chuckling] so I was a little nervous —
CLAIRE EVANS: Not starting out on a good foot here. SUZANNE CIANI: – so I was a little nervous. So I moved to the beach. I drove out to Malibu one day in my little
sports car and, you know, and I found a little cottage. The first house outside of the of The Colony. It had a tennis court. It was a big house and I had the little cottage
in the back. And that was perfect because I had the ocean,
which is my deepest inspiration and always has been, right there. And it was a wonderful time. And I would just, you know the traffic wasn’t
as bad, but it was bad. So I would drive in and I was very connected
with the art world. I had a friend at the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art. And so my existence was really kind of in
the art world here. I knew a lot of painters, and then I worked
with film people. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, I imagine living in Venice
in the mid 70’s is like that’s the glory days of the art world. SUZANNE CIANI: Yes. CLAIRE EVANS: Well, not the glory days, but
a peak moment in LA art. SUZANNE CIANI: It was. Yeah, it was. Malibu was a tiny little village. There was nothing. There was no shopping center. There was a gas station, and then there was
a like a little cafe and that was it. CLAIRE EVANS: So you always liked living close
to the ocean? SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, yeah. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: How does that, I mean, does that influence obviously, you said it was
your biggest inspiration. And I noticed that there were some wave sounds,
some oceanic sounds in your set today. Is that something you always try to incorporate? SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, my first album was called
Seven Waves and it was really one continuous piece. The songs come out of the waves and the compositional
form of the pieces was a wave. So, you know, the architecture. So classical music had a certain form and
I do use that as well, but I like the energy of a wave that kind of grows and then it recedes. I think of it as a very feminine anyone form. The energy is slow. CLAIRE EVANS: Back to the synthesizer of being
an inherently feminist instrument – waves a go go – let’s talk about this new recording
that they’re selling in the hallway, Live Quadraphonic, which so uniquely comes with
this sort of piece of decoder hardware so you can play quadraphonic in your own home. How did that come about? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, I have to thank Cameron
who is here someplace. You know this was his idea actually. I hadn’t yet come to terms with how to proliferate
any of my current music. And it is essentially quadraphonic. And because we’re reliving now the 70’s, in
many ways with this vast nation with vinyl and cassettes and so forth, there were systems
in the 70’s for quadraphonic sound that were just there for, you know, abandoned. The first time around the quad came in, in
the record world, I had great hopes for it cause I was a quad person. But the industry didn’t know how to use it. There wasn’t any music that was, in this case,
inherently quadraphonic and so they said: Well, let’s see if we can market this. We’ll say it’s like a concert hall and you,
.you know, put the front stage in the front and then you put the back of the hall in the
back. And that was not very convincing as a useful,
.you know, paradigm for this new thing. I tried to get my quad music, which I thought,
.you know, I played at the Asia Yes show, and I wanted it to be used in that format,
but it didn’t. And anyway the format failed, I think, for
lack of content. And so now we’re just using really the same
technology. Is that right, Cameron? Very close. He knows all about it. And so I give him all the credit for producing
that. CLAIRE EVANS: What are your hopes for the
future of quadraphonic recording and performance? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, you know, now we’re in
an era where speakers are proliferating. I just did a project for a group with 52 speakers. I played at Meyers, you know, at Moog Fest
we had something like 40 something speakers. And, so I think we’re in an era now of spatial
immersive sound, and all that’s great. And you still need meaningful content. So I don’t think there’s a problem with the
translation of quad up. You know, the project that I just did in Berlin,
which was with the 52 speakers, I basically did my quad and then, you know, we dealt with
tiers of height and layers. So if you’re moving the sound, you can also
move it vertically CLAIRE EVANS: Like cubed instead of quad. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: “Qwobed” Carry on. SUZANNE CIANI: So how many, you know, how
many can you when I play the Buchla, four is perfectly adequate for me to control. And plus I have multiple, you know, spatial
configurations that I’m dealing with. So I don’t want to deal with more than quad. And it can translate into any number of speakers. So I think we’re in an era now of really I
wish that it would transform the way theaters are built, but that hasn’t really happened
yet. CLAIRE EVANS: It seems like there’s a real
hunger for it on behalf of the audience, speaking as like sort of the last millennial, .you
know, like the idea of going somewhere and having a like truly unique experience that’s
not mediated by a bunch of other things. Is like it’s radical at this point to me. I don’t know if I speak for my generation,
but it seems like there’s only going to be more and more demand and interests in these
kinds of performances. SUZANNE CIANI: Yes, .you know, and all these
performances that we got to we’ve been going to for the last 40 years, it’s absurd. You go to a rock show and these guys fill
in an arena and they come in with 25 trucks of stuff. And it’s like why don’t we have theaters,
you know, where you can just have access to those options of stuff that you want. CLAIRE EVANS: Yeah, that’s a good idea. We should find someone with a lot of money
and make it happen. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: What’s next for you? SUZANNE CIANI: I’m going to go home tomorrow. I’ve been on tour for three weeks. I’m very tired and dirty. CLAIRE EVANS: You don’t look dirty or tired. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, hair is oh, boy. Yeah. Going to play some tennis. Then I’m going to I’ve been doing classes
at Berkeley College of Music in Boston. So I go there, I’m a scholar of electronic
music. I go in the fall and the spring. And this spring, they’ve just merged with
Boston Conservatory so we’re doing a concerto for Buchla and orchestra. CLAIRE EVANS: Is it important to you to sort
of pass on this incredibly specific knowledge to future generations? SUZANNE CIANI: Yes. CLAIRE EVANS: Okay. Well on the note of passing on knowledge,
I think we should probably open it up to Q&A before the evening or afternoon ends. Does anybody have any questions? I know we have to wait for the microphone
so raise your hand nice. Okay. This gentleman here in the NASA shirt, yep. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. First of all, thank you that was absolutely
wonderful. My question is about your
SUZANNE CIANI: Thank you. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hand controllers that you’re
using. It’s a techie question. I’m familiar with the Buchla somewhat, but
I’m not familiar with the variety of controllers that you’re using. Can you maybe go into that a little bit? The ones sort of scattered about the table
a little bit. SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, the system that I’m using
now is very, very compact. When I started performing, I had a bigger
system and it was too vulnerable to damage with the airlines. So I paired it down and it’s a very disciplined
system. And I was working with an engineer from Moog
trying to get him to make a Buchla and [Chuckling] and he showed me the animoog. So one of my little iPads is the animoog that
I just love. I use that for that sustained base. It’s kind of like a .you know, and some melodies
that you’ll see me playing on the iPad. The other iPad is a Bluetooth interface for
the H9. The H9 which is an even tide processing. In the old days we had a voltage control reverb. So spatially, in terms of designing immersive
spaces, you could make a sound close or far away, and move it, and it was great. And we don’t have that now. So I miss that and I had that H9 modified
so that I could modify voltage control the mix of the process signal and the direct signal. So it’s kind of a rough way of getting the
old spatial control of reverb. Other than that, I’m using the Buchla keyboard
that you see on the left with the hand shaped like that. Do you know that keyboard? Yeah? It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. And that’s it for the key touching. Thank you. CLAIRE EVANS: Okay. How about you over here in the black T shirt. Perfect. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Could you talk more about
how you’re thinking about the spatialization patterns live and how you’re controlling that
live? SUZANNE CIANI: Okay. I have say three options so one of the them
is continuous. And, with continuous, it means that it’s not,
you know, it’s when I start out with the waves, for instance, it’s a slow move around the
room. When the rhythm comes in, I can use the pulses
of the rhythm to drive the control voltage to make a discrete pattern, and this is effective
for rhythm. So the sound moves in the rhythm of the music. I like to move it I have two ways of moving
it discretely. One is random so I have a random voltage controller
where I put a pulse in from the sequencer, and then I get a random voltage. I use that a lot for different, .you know,
operations. So I use the random voltage discrete for discrete
placement of the rhythmic part. And then I have a separate system, which is
a sequencer just dedicated to the control voltage control for a second set of spatial. And that is mostly discrete, but I also have
a nobody that I can make it continuous. Let’s see, then the other thing is using the
voltage control oh, oh. The other thing that’s easy is the swirl. So the 227 comes with a swirl button, and
you just hit that button, it lights up green, and everything swirls around. I have a controller voltage in there, and
I don’t have enough hands to move that, so my swirl is always like speeding up and slowing
down. And, then the other thing for spatial control
is what I was just talking about with the processing to make it in and out, .you know,
far and near. We have a lot of work to do on that. Does that make sense? Did you hear that different space? Yeah. The good thing about the discrete and the
continuous, there’s a, you know, problem with speakers is that, if you’re sitting close
to one and it’s making a sound, it will mask the other speakers. So you don’t get, you know, you can’t get
the experience. But, if you’re discrete, if the sound is discretely
in a speaker, then you do experience no matter where you’re sitting cause your speaker is
not masking. You know, there’s no masking because there’s
only one speaker at a time. So there are a tricks to having the experience
be more, you know, felt not only from the optimum position right there, yeah. CLAIRE EVANS: I bet you’re a great teacher. SUZANNE CIANI: You know, what? Yeah. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: Yes, you right there. I don’t know. I’m just calling them out. You can call them out too. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you describe your processor
and the relationship of how you compose? And your timbre selection and that creative
process? You had mentioned waves earlier, but I wonder
if you’re inventing a sound and then writing around that or do you write something and
then invent the sound? SUZANNE CIANI: For me, honestly, maybe because
I play the Buchla, the sound is a byproduct of everything else I do. I don’t think about the sound. I think about the way the sound moves. So this idea of it being a sound came out
of the use of conventional keyboards. When a synth was suddenly coupled with a black
and white keyboard and people could just hit a key and get a sound, they thought it was
about the sound. And so they’d say: Oh, listen to that sound. And now I have that sound. And then they started sampling sounds. And, you know, in the life of this in the
realm of this type of instrument, a sample sound is dead. It’s just dead. It has no life cause it’s not being invented
in the moment. There’s a lot going on in this. There’s a lot of energy created by the control
voltages. It’s not just you doing one action and producing
a result. You’ve got a lot of energies going on, and
so the thing is constantly morphing and alive. And also Don, you know, is very good at gates. You know the low pass gate? There’s three positions on the gate, and it
dramatically changes the sound. So that’s something that I do deal with is
which position. And then the filters. But I’m not that sound oriented, and I do
get some good sounds just because it’s a Buchla. Can’t help it. AUDIENCE MEMBER: So an instrument like this
is radically different from, you know, like a piano for example, which is very harmonically
based. But what is your approach towards harmonic
content in music or when you’re using the Buchla? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, it’s mostly dealing with
filters. You know, a filter is a wonderful way to sweep
through the harmonic content of a sound. And so, you know, that’s that’s a beautiful
thing to do. Sometimes, you know, you could I used to do
pieces that were durational where the sound just slowly just swept through the overtones. I don’t know if that answers your questions. I mean the Coca Cola bubbles were overtones. You know, I took a sub harmonic sound and
just picked off the harmonic, you know, just picked off the harmonics with the filter. So harmonics, you know, are beautiful integrated
aspects of the sound. Yeah, it’s an auto piano. It doesn’t have a sustain, but it does have
a lot of access to harmonics mostly on an individual basis. Maybe. I don’t know. What do you think? [Chuckling]
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, my intention with the question was more along the lines of something
like chord progressions or melodic content, which is what I think I was going for with
harmonic content. Like how do you approach something like that
if at all? SUZANNE CIANI: Yeah, I mean, I think of this
as a contrapuntal instrument because I’m not using a keyboard. It’s not chords. I have no more than two notes at any time. So I have four sequences and they’re four
16 stage sequences that work vertically and horizontally and obliquely or whatever. They are designed to work. And so I don’t think of it as chords. CLAIRE EVANS: We got a question all the way
over here. If the mics can move that fast. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. Thank you so much for being here and performing
for us today. Similar to the timbre’s question, but a little
different I think. When you’re approaching the instrument to
play as you did earlier today, are you thinking in terms of moving through a series of techniques
with the instrument that result in different environments? Or are you actively imagining different moods
that you’re trying to create for the audience? Or something else entirely? SUZANNE CIANI: Well, technique is definitely
part of the whole thing. I mean, it’s it’s really handy, you know,
to have. It’s like anything, if you’re playing the
piano and you have chords and arpeggio or whatever, there are techniques that are married
to the instrument or integral to the instrument. And and I do use those in a variety of ways. I guess you can’t separate the techniques
from what you can do with this instrument. I mean it can all be defined as technique
at a certain point. So I use a lot of random wave form modulation
to give a rhythmic pulse you know. You want variety I mean it’s static in a way
cause the four sequences are really just plowing ahead. And you’re trying to find ways of varying
them so they don’t drive you crazy. And those are techniques to do that. In the old days, I didn’t I wasn’t as bound. You know, this sequencer is very compact so
it’s digital. I have no access to it when I’m playing. It’s menu driven. So it’s a given and it’s set. In the old one, I could go in and changes
the pulses, change the length. I could retune it. I could do all kinds of things that I can’t
do with this one. So, you know, you’re always working within
the limitations of what your components can do and you maximize that. You know, it’s what you do and what it does. What can the instrument do? And what can you do? You know, you just I mean, I like pitch. So I was very perturbed when I came to this
instrument after the 200. It would not tune. That was before I got the clone of the Marph. So the 250 was the modern Marph called the
Darph, and I couldn’t do my music. And Don said you know, I said: I can’t tune
this. And he said: Well, come on over. I’ll show you how to tune it. [Chuckling]
So I got over there and he said: Hmm, you’re right. Can’t tune. I said: Well you know, I’m looking at the
inventor like are you going to save me? Are you going to fix this? Are you going to do something to give me what
I need like the old days? I say: Yeah, what can we do? He says: Do something else. [Chuckling]
CLAIRE EVANS: Wise words in a way. Okay. I’m told that was the last question, and I
don’t want you to give away all your secrets so I think we should call it. Thank you, Ms. Ciani. Thanks to the library, the camera, and everyone. SUZANNE CIANI: Thank you. It’s really fun talking to you.

36 comments

  1. Well done Suzanne Ciani!
    "Library programs are designed to encourage community members to meet and discuss civic issues, work together using new technologies like 3D printing or learn alongside one another in English language or technology classes."

    http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks/natlibraryweek?utm_source=CNN+Five+Things&utm_campaign=d84670f7de-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_04_04_05_55&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da287d761-d84670f7de-103152693

  2. Just a bit surprised (pleasantly) Suzanne is playing what is essentially Berlin-School. Hope she records this in a studio and releases it.

  3. I've always enjoyed her work. Happy to see her still doing it. What I don't need is the dopey light show. I haven't dropped acid in 50 years, and I'm more likely to have a seizure than be "turned on" by this! Thankfully I can just listen.

  4. Is how institutional myopia and nepotism works. While in her youth, no one particular hailed or even bothered to see/listen into her pioneering works and music – Now a host of magazines, blogs, tastemakers (frauds) small and medium institutions and writers are worshipping her, like folks do to a Bjork or Rihana. Celebrity cult worship now steps into modular and experimental music as well … Its a racket based on hype, predictable and late – yet never-the-less kudos to Suzanne Ciani now or back then…
    Pathetic populism. Worship one and ignore the rest. There are hundreds if not thousands of women composers, yet these boring exclusivity driven institutions will always opt for the easy way out – cherry pick what mainstream media as deemed best – Always behind the times and changes …

  5. Enjoyed listening very much as always! She is a master. Edit out the talking librarian lady.
    Interesting her choice of iPad for expressive solo control. She uses it well.
    Somebody should build a proper touring performance rig for Suzanne. My back aches watching her hunched over a crappy folding table. One unlocked leg and it’s all on the floor. Having one’s backside toward the audience is not the best presentation in this age of GoPro cameras and large video panels.

  6. This is not the work of a genius, turning knobs, plugging and unplugging jacks. Its so repetitive most of the time. I'm done riding this space ship.

  7. Thank you, Los Angeles Public Library, and Suzanne, for sharing a great performance and more. Contrary to comments below, I think Suzanne's return to modular synthesis helps bridge a gap between generations, and turns a whole new audience on to modular synths and quad sound. No need for cynicism here. It's a small, small pond that modular synthesists swim in – there is no need to pee in it. It will always be a tiny corner of musical expression that is enjoyed by relatively few, and there is nothing wrong with that, nor giving adoration where it is due, no matter how "deep" your knowledge of an artist or their music goes. a 6-y/o girl or boy who happened to be at the library seeing this for the first time might get a spark of inspiration that could last a lifetime, and have no prior knowledge of Suzanne or her extensive library. That doesn't negate the experience she shared with this young person, or anyone in the audience that day, and now on YouTube for all to enjoy.

    Thanks again to all, lovely performance!

  8. I'm sorry, I've been a musician for 40 years and this sounds like a child playing with a Korg Kronos at your local music gear store. This might have impressed me about 45 years ago. I know analog synthesizers are coming back, but for the life of me I don't know why…

  9. Wow this performance makes me feel like I'm witnessing some performance happening in a mall in 1977. So cool.

  10. Considering that the Buchla has been around 50+ years it seems like it could be a little better designed ergonomically. I mean, she's having to push the patch cords out of the way to get at the controls. The device is a throwback to the synth Stone Age, but Suzanne is a goddess of the new millennium.

  11. Presumably the performance was mixed to 4 channels for the audience. Would that the 2 channels here had been matrix encoded so that those with home theatre equipment could hear that. It’s not is it? (I get the feeling from the way some sounds come and go that it might even just be the front 2 channels & we can’t hear what was being bounced to the rear channels)I know the official release was matrixed 4 channel.

  12. Suzanne Ciani has been the fuel for my visions lately, there's something hypnotic and beautiful but also very dark to her soundscapes. I hope she continues to create for as long as possible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t1yOc1gPMs

  13. Not impressed. After seeing Suzanne Ciani play live piano…, this is just noise. Her live performance on the piano is heavenly!

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