If you’ve ever heard Meco’s classic space disco version of the Star Wars theme, or played the Xenon pinball machine, or saw the original Atari TV commercials, then you’ve heard the pioneering electronic music of Suzanne Ciani. From her earliest days studying with Don Buchla at UC Berkeley and Max Mathews at Stanford to her commercial work in the 1970s and 1980s to Grammy-nominated New Age music in the 1990s, Ciani has been a prolific composer and electronic music innovator. Here is a 1979 interview with her about creating the sounds for Bally’s Xenon pinball machine:
The excellent Finders Keepers Records has just issued Suzanne Ciani: Lixiviation, a fantastic collection of her early recordings — TV spots, corporate IDs, advertising jingles, and other short bits of brilliance.
From Finders Keepers:
A classically trained musician with an MA in music composition this American Italian pianist was first introduced to the synthesizer via her connections in the art world when abstract Sculptor and collaborator Harold Paris introduced Suzanne to synthesizer designer Don Buchla who created the instrument that would come to define Ciani’s synthetic sound (The Buchla Synthesiser). Cutting her teeth providing self-initiated electronic music projects for art galleries, experimental film directors, pop record producers and proto-video nasties Suzanne soon located to New York where she quickly became the first point of call for electronic music services in both the underground experimental fields and the commercial advertising worlds alike. Counting names like Vangelis and Harald Bode amongst her close friends Suzanne and her Ciani Musica company became the testing ground for virtually any type of new developments in electronic and computerized music amassing an expansive vault of commercially unexposed electronic experiments which have remained untouched for over 30 years… until now.
Suzanne Ciani is an Italian American pianist and music composer who found early success with innovative electronic music. She received classical music training at Wellesley College and obtained her M.A. in music composition in 1970 at University of California, Berkeley where she met and was influenced by the synthesizer designer, Don Buchla. She studied computer generated music with John Chowning and Max Mathews at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Labs in the early 70′s.
In 1974 she formed her own company, Ciani/Musica, and, using a Buchla Analog Modular Synthesizer, composed scores for television commercials for corporations such as Coca-Cola,Merrill Lynch, AT&T and General Electric. Besides music, her specialty was reproducing sound effects on the synthesizer that recording engineers had found difficult to record properly; the sound of a bottle of Coke being opened and poured was one of Ciani’s most widely recognized works, and was used in a series of radio and television commercials in the late 1970s. Such was the demand for her services that at one point she was doing up to 50 sessions a week. Her sound effects also appeared in video games (the pinball game Xenon featured her voice).
In 1977, Ciani provided the sound effects for Meco’s disco version of the Star Wars soundtrack, which was certified platinum. Ciani scored the Lily Tomlin movie The Incredible Shrinking Woman distinguishing her as the first solo female composer of a major Hollywood film, Lloyd Williams’s 1975 experimental film Rainbow’s Children and a 1986 documentary about Mother Teresa, as well the TV daytime serial (“soap opera”) One Life to Live.