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Synth City, Part 1 of 2

Suzanne Ciani on her March 5, 2016, Dial-Tones performance in San Francisco

By Marc Weidenbaum

This is a short interview I did via email with synthesizer player Suzanne Ciani, five-time Grammy nominee, in advance of her planned March 5, 2016, performance in San Francisco as part of the Dial-Tones concert event put on by Moog, the modular synthesizer manufacturer. The interview was for an article I wrote for 48hills.org:

Marc Weidenbaum: How did you come to be involved in the Dial-Tones event?

Suzanne Ciani: I am going to be performing at Moogfest this year in May and someone at Moog asked if I would do a brief performance in San Francisco for Dial-Tones “¦ and since I live so close to the city, and since I am preparing for Moogfest, I thought why not make a brief visit to the city for a good educational cause.

Weidenbaum: I read that it’s been 40 years since you did a solo performance with a Buchla synthesizer. How have you been preparing for the concert?

Ciani: I’m preparing by just spending time with the Buchla system. If you just be with it and interact with it and continue to get to know it, things start to happen. My new system is very very different from the old one, as I am discovering, and it’s been a challenge to let go of ingrained expectations and focus on what is possible now. Also, a limited edition LP of some of my live Buchla concerts from 1975 is just about to be released by Finders Keepers records and I will be including some little snippets of those concerts to honor my roots, so to speak.

Weidenbaum: What unique challenges and opportunities does live quadraphonic performance provide?

Ciani: In the early days, when I was an avid performer on the Buchla, I always insisted on performing in quad … and even turned down a concert once at Lincoln Center because they wouldn’t put up two additional speakers. So, I think, since I am revisitng those old days in some ways, I should uphold the vision of that time. It is very natural to include space as a musical parameter in electronic music, probably the only genre where it makes sense.

Weidenbaum: There has been so much new equipment developed in the modular synthesizer world in recent years. Do you spend a lot of time keeping up, or do you stick with a fairly set amount of equipment for your own music-making?

Ciani: I do use various hardware and software tools in my recordings, but for electronic performing, I am/was a pure Buchla aficionado. I recently went to NAMM and was awed by the number of young modular synth designers. Amazing. This reminds me of the exciting period of early analog synths when instruments were identified with their individual designers as opposed to a generic company: Don [Buchla], Tom [Oberheim], Dave [Smith]. I hope that this time around the inventors stay in control.

Read more about Dial-Tones at 48hills.org.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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