Suzanne Ciani Suzanne CianiLixiviation
This compilation cleverly alternates the more commercial pieces by Suzanne Ciani - an American pioneer of synthesised music from the mid to late seventies and a leading lady of New Age in the decades that followed - with her more experimental and personal efforts, without the listener noting too many changes of style. Which is probably also due to the fact that all of Ciani's music feeds off both the discoveries she made while working on music for commercials and her other musical projects - furthermore, her strong personality is always obvious.
It is interesting to note that she surfaced at a time when the use and possibilities of synthesised music was still mainly virgin territory. Accordingly, one of the major virtues of “Lixiviation” is that the tracks transmit the feeling of the joy of discovery, of fascination with new sonic ground constructed with the Buchla synthesiser (also used by, for example, Morton Subotnick). One can also recognise the compositional influences on Ciani - her classical and academic training, but also her obvious feeling for pop. The latter is visible in both her use of concise but effective melodies (for commercials) and the sensuality that informs even the most abstract passages (which Ciani claims relates to the fact that she's a woman).
In interviews she did at the time, it became clear that Ciani had to find her way in a world dominated by men - as well as in an academic environment focussed on the theoretical and technical dimensions of Electronic Music, which she rebelled against. In that respect, her work as a composer of music for commercials can be seen as a conscious escape from that world, at the same time conditioned by her need to earn money to be able to buy her musical equipment.
Ciani's pragmatic character doesn't mean that the commercials included on this record aren't delightful. One example of her courage is that they can stand on their own perfectly. They are small but visionary and playful pieces that managed to become part of the daily lives of Americans – for example her famous effect, imitating the sound of a Coca Cola can being opened and poured into a glass. Among those small musical pieces you can also find some effective miniature songs: the composition to promote “Liberator”, an Atari game, is almost Synth-Pop, while “Clean Room”, for TV Station ITT, could be something between Yellow Magic Orchestra and Japan.
The attention for this kind of corporate music has been increasing in recent times, partly because of the renewed interest in the pioneers of electronic music (especially through the musicians linked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop). Also because of the release, last year, of James Ferraro's controversial “Far Side Virtual” - which was inspired by precisely this kind of music and possessed a decidedly optimistic tone, hiding an economic reality that wasn't bright at all (an ambiguity Ferraro consciously plays with). Obviously, it's easier to defend the music of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop because of its public function - serving no commercial purpose - but you have to respect Ciani's work as a sonic document of an explosive time with regards to musical possibilities, articulated at a very specific moment in Social History.
On the other hand, the longer tracks on this album, her personal pieces, also have some delightful moments. On these efforts, she moves between sonic abstraction and immersion - experimenting with changes in timbre and dynamics, which can be linked to the drone sounds of recent years by people like Oneohtrix Point Never. Ciani herself talks about her attempts to sculpt the sound on these compositions, something which concurrently proves her ties with the Art World at the time. But you can also hear the humanising effort on warm tracks like “Princess With Orange Feet”, while on “Eight Wave” you can hear the echoes of her future in New Age.
In conclusion, during this period Suzanne Ciani was moving between the exploration of new possibilities and a more classic way of composing - possibly as a consequence of her constant travels between the East and West Coast of the United States. The only snag on this great record is that it's too short. Fortunately, the fact that there appears to be much more material of this kind still left to be released - and the interest Finders Keepers is showing in doing so - allows us to anticipate more soon. In short: Suzanne Ciani deserves to be celebrated as one of the pioneers of American Electronic Music.