Three Questions with Suzanne Ciani

Three questions with legendary synthesizer pioneer and "Diva of the Diode", Suzanne Ciani.

Synth History: What did you think the first time you saw and heard the Buchla?


Suzanne: In my mind, my meeting with the Buchla was love at first sight. Without fully understanding what it would mean for me, I sensed a destiny, a promise, freedom. As a female composer in those days, about 1969, the future looked bleak; there were few openings and the assumption was that if you were a female composer, you would teach. Nothing against teaching, but that is not how I saw myself. The Buchla was off the conventional grid and I could compose and produce my music independently.


The machine itself seemed human to me  -- Buchla designed an instrument meant for live performance and so there were hundreds of active lights that told what was going on inside. It was, from the beginning, a quadraphonic and immersive sound. Probably the first time I saw a Buchla was the 100 system at the Tape Music Center housed at Mills College. But the real overwhelming encounter was when I went to Buchla's studio and saw towers of modules in the big dark industrial loft where he worked and decided right away that that was for me...that I would work for him.

Synth History: Do you have any tips for approaching a new synthesizer?

Suzanne: Be patient. Let the relationship grow.  Just start and see where it goes. It's an organic process, very intuitive if it is analog. The first stage is just recognizing what's there -- the layout, the design. Then explore the patch, making decisions about how the modules will communicate with each other. You can go towards an idea you have, or just explore openly and wait for something to trigger your musical ideas. The nice thing about a good instrument is that the relationship can deepen and grow. Writing down a patch is a good idea until you get very used to it.



Synth History: What are your three favorite naturally occurring sounds and why?


Suzanne: The ocean waves, the birds, water in a stream. The ocean waves are my mantra: I live with them now and they were the inspiration for my first album, Seven Waves. 

The birds represent nature's music --- joyous, antiphonal and free. Running water in a stream sparkles with high frequencies that I love to hear.


References: Synth History Exclusive, Suzanne Ciani.

synthhistory [at] gmail.com