Suzanne Ciani

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Suzanne Ciani
Suzanne Ciani 2012.jpg
Suzanne Ciani (2012)
Background information
Born (1946-06-04) June 4, 1946 (age 75)
Indiana, U.S.
  • Synthesizer
  • keyboards
  • piano
Years active1974–present

Suzanne Ciani ( /ˈɑːn/ ; born June 4, 1946) is an American musician, sound designer, composer, and record label executive who found early success in the 1970s with her electronic music and sound effects for films and television commercials. Her career has included works with quadraphonic sound. She has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album five times. Her success with electronic music has her dubbed "Diva of the Diode" and "America's first female synth hero". [1]


Early life

Ciani was born in an army hospital in Indiana. [2] She was raised in Quincy, Massachusetts, a southern suburb of Boston. [2] She has four sisters and Italian roots. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] Her father was a physician and she started to play the piano at six. [8]

From 1964 to 1968, Ciani studied traditional liberal arts at Wellesley College in nearby Wellesley where she received classical music training. [5] [8] [9] She also took evening classes, one of which was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which is where she first learned about music technology. [10] One artist she cites as a big influence is German photographer Ilse Bing, who provided lyrics and drawings to her track "Lumière", along with classical music composers and pianist Glenn Gould. [11]

A Buchla 200 modular synthesizer Buchla 200 (2) @ nordcafe, Teknisca Museet.jpg
A Buchla 200 modular synthesizer

Ciani studied for a master's degree in composition at University of California, Berkeley, from 1968 to 1970. [12] In her first year, she met synthesizer inventor and pioneer Don Buchla through her boyfriend at the time, and became highly influenced by his analog modular synthesizer, the Buchla, then a competitor of the Moog synthesizer by Bob Moog. [13] [1] [10] Ciani became a devotee, working for Buchla. [14] "I call Don the Leonardo DaVinci of instrument design." [14] She spent time with a Buchla synthesizer in a rented studio at the tape music center at Mills College in Oakland, paying $5 for each visit. [8] She took a summer course in computer music at Stanford University [8] where she was taught by Max Mathews [15] the father of computer music, John Chowning and Leland Smith at the Artificial Intelligence Lab. [16] [10]

After graduating from Berkeley, Ciani took up work at Buchla and Associates to earn enough money for a Buchla synthesizer of her own, the Buchla 200. There she "Sat and soldered joints and drilled holes for three dollars an hour. When the synthesizers were finished, tested and shipped off, I felt as though I were losing children". [17] [8] [13] [10] Her first paid job in composing was in 1969, producing for 10 Macy*s Christmas advertisements. [8] Around this time she worked on sound installations at galleries, exhibitions, and dance performances, composed at San Francisco Tape Music Center, which was housed at Mills College, composed for films, and recorded experimental pieces in her garage studio. Ciani also started a furniture company, but ceased after six months after two "unsaleable" designs, theft, fire, and vandalism. She realised that she was not doing what she liked and decided to make her living at music. [8] In 1970, she released her debut record, Voices of Packaged Souls (1970), a collaboration with sculptor Harold Paris, put together using music concrète techniques at the KPFA radio station in Berkeley during the night shift. The album had an initial release of 50 copies. [9]



In April 1974, Ciani began a nineteen-year stay in New York City, travelling only with clothes and her Buchla synthesizer. Among her first activities was a solo performance at the Bonino Gallery in conjunction with the opening of a Ronald Mallory exhibition. [18] Ciani became a session musician, [19] but soon struggled to maintain a steady income. [9] [18] She once accepted a concert performance at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan, but when she was denied a four-speaker quadraphonic sound setup, she refused to perform. She also spent three years on the venue's renovation, but "that didn't work". [20] At a solo show in April 1975, Ciani learned that Vladimir Ussachevsky had attended and recommended her to a grant. She later wrote that she was "homeless and happy" at this time and moved from the loft of art critic Robert Hughes to the floor of Philip Glass's basement recording studio. [18] By 1976, Ciani had secured a National Endowment for the Arts grant. [18]

In 1978 Ciani founded Ciani/Musica. Inc. to produce jingles for advertisements for companies such as Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, AT&T and General Electric. She enjoyed the opportunity to work for such companies and enjoyed the creative freedom because few people understood what the Buchla could do as it lacked a keyboard. [21] The sound of a bottle of Coca-Cola being opened and poured was one of Ciani's most widely recognized works and was used in radio and television commercials in the late 1970s. [22] She is also responsible for "logo" sounds pertaining to Energizer and ABC. [23] Such was the demand for her services, that at one point she was doing up to 10 sessions a week.

Ciani performed as a guest artist on various albums from 1976. The first was the same-titled album by the Starland Vocal Band, including the "swoosh" sound to "Afternoon Delight". At the time, Ciani thought the work was just a "song about spaceships". [16] In the following year, Ciani provided sound effects for Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk , a disco version of the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope soundtrack by Meco. Ciani scored Lloyd Williams's 1975 experimental film Rainbow's Children, and for a 1986 documentary about Mother Teresa. She also composed the 1976 Columbia Pictures and Columbia Pictures Television theme logos. [24]

In 1979, Ciani was commissioned to provide sounds to the pinball machine game Xenon , which featured her own voice fed through a vocoder. [25] This marked the first female voice heard in a pinball game and Ciani had never played pinball before the project arose. In 2013, she was inducted into The Pinball Expo Hall of Fame for her work on the game. Ciani then sampled her voice onto a sound chip with the aim of selling it for use in other applications, including elevator announcements. The US federal government approached her to design sounds for flight simulators. [26]


In 1980, Ciani demonstrated several of her sound effects on national television with an appearance on The David Letterman Show . [27] The producers agreed for her to perform her own music with the show's house band, but they cut to a commercial break when they started to play. [26] [28] That same year, she also appeared on the syndicated PBS Children's TV show [3-2-1 Contact] demonstrating her synthesizer. [29] Ciani's television work in the 1980s included an Atari commercial and work on a proposed "negative vocoder" with Harald Bode, but development ceased following Bode's death in 1987. [26]

Ciani scored the soundtrack to Lily Tomlin's film The Incredible Shrinking Woman , which marked the first solo female composer of a Hollywood film. [30]

In 1982, Ciani released her first studio album characterised by electronic and new-age music. She later said that making albums was something that she had always wanted to do, calling it "my destiny". [31] She started on her first, Seven Waves, in 1979 which saw an initial Japanese only release. [2] Ciani reasoned this to the difficulty American record labels had in selling an electronic album by a female artist that lacked vocals. [26] In 1984, it was released in the US by Atlantic Records, thanks to Ilhan Mimaroglu who was an executive at the Finnadar label. The album was produced using an MC-8 and MC-4 sequencer, a Prophet 5 synthesizer, a Roland TR-808 drum machine [32] the Buchla 200, Bode Vocoder, Lyricon, Synclavier, Polymoog, and Arp and Eventide Processing.

In 1985, Ciani received a Bronze Lion award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. [33]

Ciani's 1986 album The Velocity of Love, released by RCA Records, features the title track which became her best known song. It marks her first piano recordings for many years since focusing her work on the Buchla. [7]

In July and August 1987, Ciani performed her first live solo concerts in 15 years. [34]


Although emphasizing electronic music in her recordings, her solo piano album Pianissimo, from 1990, became her best-selling album. Ciani ended her contract with Private Music with the compilation The Private Music of Suzanne Ciani, in 1992.

In 1991, Ciani released Hotel Luna, the music for which was inspired by her travels to Italy to learn more about her Italian ancestry. [35]

In 1992, the soap opera One Life to Live introduced a new theme song written and performed by Ciani, who also did scoring for several episodes of the show. [36]

In 1994, Ciani founded her own independent record label, Seventh Wave. Her husband became the label's president. [20] [35] All of her subsequent albums have been released on the label.

Her 1994 album Dream Suite was recorded in Moscow with the Young Russia Orchestra, and was Grammy-nominated. 1999's Turning featured her first composition with lyrics, in the title track, sung by Taiwanese artist Chyi Yu.


In early 2006, Ciani's Silver Ship won in The 5th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best New Age Album. [37] Ciani was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists. [38]

Ciani performed in a new-age jazz group, The Wave. [12]

In February 2015, Ciani was one of three Wellesley College alumni to receive an Alumnae Achievement Award. [31]

In 2016, Ciani released Buchla Concerts 1975, formed of two live performances in New York City in April 1975. [18] She was asked to release some archived material and following its release and "All of a sudden I was in the public eye with the electronics again! I wasn't aware at all about what was going on; it felt strange. [...] There was this whole renaissance going on when I came out". [11] Buchla then convinced Ciani to purchase a Buchla synthesizer from him following his decision to sell his company, but she left it for a year before she started to use it. [11]

In 2016, Ciani released Sunergy, a collaboration using Buchla synthesizers with the musician Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, as part of the RVNG Intl. FRKWYS Series. [39]

In May 2017, Ciani became the first female to receive a Moog Music Innovation Award at the annual electronic festival Moogfest. [1] [40]

In June 2018, Ciani released LIVE Quadraphonic, a live album documenting her first solo performance on a Buchla synthesizer in 40 years. [41] [42] The show took place at Gray Area in San Francisco on March 5, 2016, presented in four channel quadraphonic sound. [43] A recording of this performance was one of the first quadraphonic LP vinyl releases in over 30 years [44] and used an encoding process based the QS Regular Matrix system. Inspired by the Buchla 227 quad output module, the $227 release was a very limited edition of only 227 numbered, 45 rpm, 180g quadraphonic vinyl discs sold. The box also included an enamel pin based on the album cover, plus a custom quadraphonic hardware decoder made in collaboration with Involve Audio to decode two channels of audio from the vinyl disc back to the four-channel recording. [44] [45]

In June 2019, Finders Keepers Records released a previously unreleased album by Ciani that she recorded in 1969 entitled Flowers of Evil. It features a recital of Élévation by French poet Charles Baudelaire with Ciani performing on a Buchla synthesizer. [46]

Personal life

In 1992, Ciani was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer which she recovered from after successful radiation treatments and surgery. [2] [20] The news prompted her relocation from New York City to California and she has resided in the coastal community of Bolinas since. [1]

From 1994 to 2000, Ciani was married to producer and entertainment attorney Joseph Anderson. The marriage ended in divorce. [2] [35]

Awards and honors



Studio albums

  • Voices of Packaged Souls (1970)
  • Seven Waves (1982)
  • The Velocity of Love (1986)
  • Neverland (1988)
  • History of My Heart (1989)
  • Pianissimo (1990)
  • Hotel Luna (1991)
  • Dream Suite (1994)
  • Pianissimo II (1996)
  • Turning (1999)
  • Pianissimo III (2001)
  • Silver Ship (2005)
  • Logo Presentation Reels 1985 (2012)
  • "Help, Help, The Globolinks!" (2017)
  • Flowers of Evil (2019)
  • Denali (2020)

Live albums

  • Suzanne Ciani and The Wave Live! (1997)
  • Logo Presentation Reels 1985 (2012)
  • Buchla Concerts 1975 (2016)
  • LIVE Quadraphonic (2018)
  • Live Buchla at Machines in Music (2018)
  • Improvisation on Four Sequences at Festival Antigel (2020)


  • The Private Music of Suzanne Ciani (1992)
  • Meditations for Dreams, Relaxation, and Sleep (2002)
  • Pure Romance (2003)
  • Lixiviation (Ciani/Musica Inc. 1969–1985) (2012)
  • A Life in Waves (2020)




Film scores

See also

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