Suzanne Ciani may not be a
household name, but the sounds she invented were in every home in America during
the early 80s. In addition to her brilliant work as an electronic composer, Ciani
pioneered the use of synthesizers to create musical sound effects – like the
fizzy pop of a Coke bottle cap (a hard attack of resonance followed by a long decay of white noise) – and 80s advertising embraced it in a big way. Soon her sound effects were in high demand - she even
designed the sensual electric coos of the Bally XENON pinball machine.
Ciani became the
unofficial spokesperson for the synthesizer in the late 70s and early 80s, appearing
on a slew of popular television programs to demonstrate some of the futuristic
sounds of this mysterious new instrument.
The new doc A LIFE IN
WAVES (playing AFS Cinema July 19 & 22) tells of Ciani’s singular path
through the music industry, despite the intense zeitgeist of sexism in commercial music, to become a modern cult figure among electronic music aficionados. Not just a great story about an overlooked
artist, the film is a veritable overdose of 80s aesthetic nostalgia, featuring
an abundance of rich archival material including Ciani’s commercials, TV
appearances and home studio. This is the stuff that Tumblrs are made of.
Here is one TV appearance
that somehow didn’t make the cut: in 1980, Suzanne Ciani brought her cosmic synth
sounds to the popular PBS kids program "3-2-1 Contact." With the soft-spoken
patience of a kindergarten teacher, Ciani breaks down some rather sophisticated
concepts of sound and synthesis, all while dropping some pretty spaced-out
synth sequences. Check it out, you might even learn a few things yourself.