Dreamy Waves of Music

A versatile, sensitive pioneer and a skilled pianist, this magnificient composer and music producer has inspired an entire age with her innate talent which she displays in a variety of fields within the musical panorama of the moment. Her origins and her evolution in the musical arena are an object lesson of perseverance, hard work and courage which explain her utter success in the career this artist has chosen for herself.

Suzanne Ciani, the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant who reached the United States in 1905 to stay, and the daughter of a famous surgeon who got to be number one of his promotion at the University of Harvard, whose Iowa-born mother also was half German and half British, began to enter the realms of music at an early age, at seven, when she stubbornly struggled to copy two of her elder sisters who at the time were having piano lessons at home. However, she disliked her first teacher, since she wanted to learn classical music and he insisted on teaching her pop music. Suzanne learned to read music on her own, and after only one year of classes with that teacher, she would keep on learning by herself in the next ten years, as she herself explains. During her high school years, she would find a good piano proffessor at the Longy School of Music in Boston, who would give her some private lessons, beginning at the beginning, with scales and all that stuff, and soon after Suzanne majors in piano and composition at the Wellsley College.

Later she enters Berkeley, where she gets a degree in musical composition, and at the time she gets to know a MIT professor who is experimenting with his computer so as to make it sound like a violin, which attracts her attention greatly. There it is where she also gets to know Don Buchla, a fact that will introduce her into the world of musical electronic technology. As she finishes her studies, Suzanne gets to work for Don, in the assembly line for his synthesizers. The artist gets enthusiastic about the flexibility of the devices designed by this pioneer of musical technology, keyboardless as they are, whose functioning is based on the control of the necessary voltage to produce the synthesized sounds, in an instrument that was to become the predecessor of analogic synthesizers, and she gets to know them inside out, so that to her, her Buchla - a modular device that would take her some time to build with different components that she acquired as soon as she could afford them - becomes her favourite synthesizer.

During a summer course with John Chowning in the early seventies, Ciani gets to know the, at the time, recently discovered synthesis FM, and she also contacts Max Matthews, who is considered to be the father of computer music, in Stanford, at the Artificial Intelligence Lab, where both of them apply Max's program Music V to create music in the primitive computers of those times. So as to widen the range of possibilities her Buchla offered her, thanks to the addition of new elements, Suzanne tries to find a job as a sound engineer, an impossible thing then, just because she was a female. After some other failed attempts to find different jobs unrelated to music, at last she gets a chance to find one in the advertising world, thanks to a friend's friend who had an acquaitance of a movie producer. It is then that Suzanne enters the world of producing commissioned sounds for advertisements, which provides her with enough funds to found her own business, Ciani/Musica, which specializes in the creation of music and sound effects for ads. At a rate of some fifty weekly sessions, Ciani designs sound effects for different firms, among them, Lincoln/Mercury, American Express, General Electric, Atari, General Motors, Columbia Pictures, and Coca-Cola. Actually, one of the most popular sound effects of this period is her creation of the sound of a Coca-Cola bottle popping open and the drink being poured, a simulation she created with her Buchla, not to mention her participation in the design for the AT&T telephone company sounds, among other projects Ciani was in charge of then. Since this was a very innovative approach to the advertising world, Suzanne achieves a solid reputation in this sense.

Besides the technical applications the artist gives to her knowledge of musical electronic technology in the advertising arena, Suzanne does not neglect her musical career. Already in Berkeley she has occasionally performed live, at museums and other places, as well as in LA, where she settles for a time. In 1974 she moves to New York, a city that thrills her, where she has been invited to give a concert at the Chic Bonino Gallery. Suzanne gets a job at the recording studio owned by Philip Glass, and after several drawbacks she decides to found a non-profit corporation she calls The Electronic Center for New Music with a view to promote the new musical technologies. Suzanne was already cooperating with the group EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology), an association of artists and technology experts who used to collaborate in different projects. Furthermore, they were supported by a lawyer, Gerald Ordover, who offered them his services for free. Unfortunately, her illusions were not corresponded by the sponsors and manufacturers of musical technology, who did not trust a virtually unknown woman at a time when synthesizer music was but science fiction to the eyes (and ears) of the great corporations. Suzanne realized that the only way for her to achieve her goals was to enter the world of the record labels, release enough albums as to guarantee her a name, and perhaps then someone would pay her the attention she needed. Nonetheless, the record labels were as unfamiliar with the new technologies, and to them a synthesizer was something incomprehensible, therefore she would find no one in Europe or in America to give her a chance. Suzanne did not let this hinder her, and she decided to produce her first album, Seven Waves, by herself. It would take her two years to do it, since at the beginning she could only afford her weekends, as she needed the rest of the week for her advertising job, not to mention the fact that her budget was hardly enough to hire the sufficient recording time at a studio to produce her own music, since the available technology was then much more primitive than it is nowadays. Curiously enough, this first album that interested no one in Europe or America, despite all her efforts to promote it, becomes an incredible hit... in Japan, of all places! Suzanne had not expected such a success after her bold move to that country, where she received several offers after a mere few days there. The album is released by the Victor Co. in Japan. Soon after, an American recording label, Atlantic Records, accepts to release this record in the USA. Nowadays, both this and the Japanese version have become a collectionist item, as well as a previous release that Suzanne got to make with Harold Paris for an exhibition in Brussels (Belgium) called Voices of Packaged Souls prior to Seven Waves, in 1970, for a limited edition, made at Stanford with the computers of the time. Likewise, Private Music would re-release the album Seven Waves much later.

The second album by Suzanne Ciani, The Velocity of Love, was released by RCA in 1986, some time before this company was bought by BGM, that eliminated the artist from their list. Luckily, Suzanne keeps the rights for this album, since she had not signed a standard contract with RCA. It is at this time that Suzanne Ciani contacts Peter Baumann in New York when he moves to the USA after leaving Germany. Peter finds out that Suzanne has the latest in synthesizers and drum machines, so he phones her for a meeting. This is how Ciani gets involved with the label Private Music. Peter would have been interested in releasing , The Velocity of Love in his label if Suzanne had accepted to record it in digital form, which the artist refused to do. Even so, later on, in 1987, Ciani signs a contract with Private Music which was to last for a mere five albums. This fact would establish Ciani's fame as a keyboardist of the New Age Music school. The label Private Music releases her album Neverland, which is nominated for a Grammy, inspired in her life experiences. Suzanne explains that the music for this recording came to her mind in the Netherlands, on a day she had gone for a horse ride, and her music is at the same time very electronic and romantic. In this record she includes a poem by a writer she admires a lot, Ilse Bing, who at age 90 writes it for her. After this album the label Private Music releases History of My Heart, composed in California, at a time when Suzanne, having created her own studio Ciani/Musica, as has been explained above, so as to finance her own productions, believed she could leave and let her business go on without her, yet she was wrong, as her employees and friends would not let her go. She managed to escape to California to record this one with a team of Californian musicians, even so. Yet at the time the label Private Music was moving to LA as well, and in the process her record is lost, which affects her so much that she feels unable to record anything else for them. Peter Baumann convinces her to produce a classical piano album, which comes to be released as Pianissimo. This new album is a turning point in Suzanne's career, as having for so long been devoted to electronic music, she had almost forgotten about purely acoustic instruments. This album is cheaper to produce than her electronic ones, and is sponsored by Yamaha, that supply the pianos the artist uses, as well as their own recording studio at Buena Park, in the county of Orange.

In 1989 Ciani travels to Italy in search for inspiration for a new album. During her stay in her country of origin, Suzanne has a chance to get to know her Italian relatives. As she keeps looking for the ideal site to get her inspiration, she arrives to Capri, where she contacts Yamaha. Suzanne establishes her studio and residence there. It is in this place where she records her album Hotel Luna, referring to a hotel that was then closed to the public during the winter season. In essence, this album reflects Suzanne Ciani's Italian soul, and is basically electronic, even if it includes some passages with acoustic instruments, like for instance a string quartet, oboe, bassoon, flute, a solo violin, bass and operatic soprano, plus a Roland Spatial Modulator. After a careful production (which would turn out to be rather expensive indeed) the album was ready. This recording is nominated for a Grammy, and yet Suzanne had some disagreements with Private Music with respect to its being released. This is why Suzanne feels unhappy and unwilling to release a new album with this label. Peter Baumann once again convinces her to release a compilation of previous works to which two new songs are added, composed in collaboration with Jeremy Lubbock, resulting in the album The Private Music of Suzanne Ciani, the last one the artist would release under this label.

With respect to the kind of contracts that a musician usually has to sign with the record labels, Suzanne expresses her viewpoints. Before she signed with Private Music, Ciani already was an expert businesswoman and expressed her views about her rights with the labels she contacted, refusing to give them the rights for her work forever. Nevertheless, with Peter Baumann and Private Music she admits she made a mistake, as she thought he was a good friend, trusting his integrity, so she signed a standard contract with him instead of committing herself to her ideas. When Peter leaves Private Music and the label becomes the property of BMG, Suzanne loses her rights for four of her albums, even if BMG have no interest whatsoever in her. So she leaves the label in 1992. Suzanne considers such a policy outrageous and abusive, and denounces it strongly. Perhaps in the past it was necessary, as the labels were responsible for all the costs that launching a record meant, yet nowadays, at a time when the artist contacts the label with the product ready for marketing and distribution, there is no excuse to continue with these archaic, slavering practices that stripe the artist from all his benefits, when it is precisely the artist the one who has invested all the money in production, not the label.

In 1994 Suzanne gets married at the Digital Studios HQ in Capri, Italy, her husband being a lawyer who would specialize in the entertainment field, Joe Anderson. He supports her cause and that of the artists', even if this line of work is not very lucrative indeed. Besides counseling the artists needing his services, Joe is a law professor at the University of San Francisco, and collaborates with Suzanne in the founding of her own label, Seventh Wave. Joe also works in a book, Empowering the Artist, where he expresses his views about the music business, and also specializes in multimedia technology and Internet.

From Suzanne's point of view, the big labels are the worst with respect to the rights of the artists and their abusive contracts. Ciani prompts the artists to stand up for their rights, and if possible, she encourages them to establish their own labels, no matter how hard work this may seem. Suzanne herself did so, and even if in her own label, Seventh Wave, she mostly releases her own work, she is open to other artists, even if she admits she expects a certain guarantee of quality before supporting complete unknowns, and among the artists that have had some albums released by Ciani's label mention can be made of, for example, Roy Eaton, an expert pianist, and Georgia Kelly, an excellent harpist that is having a great success with the general public. Likewise, Suzanne releases her album Dream Suite, in her own label, aimed at the alternative market. Ciani admits it is not easy to overcome absurd prejudices typical of certain sectors in the public, according to which the fact that an artist releases his/her own albums in his/her own label is due to the fact that no important labels are interested in his/her work and therefore he/she has no guarantee of being good, which is an absurd falacy. This is why she shocks these people by claiming she used to be at a big label and left of her own volition, which does not diminish the quality of her music in the least. Suzanne expects that such absurd attitudes will change for the better, and will give way to the productions of independent artists without a priori rejections of their music just because they are independent.

The album Dream Suite (for piano and orchestra) is an orchestral project that Suzanne had always wished to carry out as soon as she could afford it. Ciani developed this project with the Young Russia Orchestra in Moscow. The recording process was completed in Italy with the post-production tasks. The final touch was provided by Bob Ludwig and Suzanne's sister, who was in charge of the artwork for the cover of this album.

Ciani has a wonderful studio where she can work comfortably, and which includes the latest in musical technology, as well as in acoustic instruments, and in a word, everything she needs to expresss her creativity both in the acoustic and in the electronic aspects of her music, in a most satisfactory way. Suzanne has always prided herself in having the best and the latest in musical technology. The artist explains that whenever she wishes to recycle something of her equipment, she sends the material she no longer needs to her old school. However, she will never get rid of her Buchla and her Prophet 5, she claims.

Besides all this work in Suzanne's musical career, she has also written some movie soundtracks, as for instance the one for the movie The Incredible Shrinking Woman, a film starred by Lily Tomlin, and the Petrie sisters' movie Mother Teresa among others. Also, Ciani has created a sound library for the television series by the ABC TV channel called One Life to Live, among other television productions.

Suzanne Ciani has performed live in different occasions throughout her career, not only in her country, but also in Europe. For instance, Suzanne has come to Spain, besides her frequent visits to Italy, where in one of her most recent concerts she has presented her album Pianissimo II, a work in which Ciani recaptures the style of her prior album with this same name, this time with the orchestra Salieri from Verona, conducted by Gaetano Soliman. The studio album was recorded with a masterful combination of high tech and classical instrumentation. Ciani performs her compositions using a specially constructed model of a grand piano, exclusively used for concerts. The result is a richly textured sound, not often found in a studio album. Besides playing her most well-known themes, among them "The Velocity of Love," "Hotel Luna," "Terra Mesa," "Go Gently," and "Meeting Mozart", Suzanne includes three new compositions. As is becoming increasingly usual in our days, the album includes multimedia enhancement, so that the listener can listen to the music, and besides, enjoy the computer applications about how this album was recorded, plus a brief look at the history of piano, artistic images, and a nice computer animation of a score with educational purposes. Pianissimo II is the ninth studio album by Ciani, besides its being the second one in which the artist returns to her piano origins in their purest form, where the piano becomes the soloist instrument. The artist expects this album to be as successful as the previous one, whose success surprised her as it was so different from her previous releases.

Last October 1996, Suzanne Ciani gave a classical piano live concert at the series of concerts Shakespeare At The Beach in California. The artist explains that her compositions belong into the category of contemporary classical music, and she likes giving this kind of live concerts, yet she does not forget about her electronic background. This is why she has produced several multimedia enhanced CDs, in which the listener can access a view of her beginnings, diaries, photos, videos and different musical selections.

In a few words, Suzanne Ciani is no doubt a talented artist whose varied career has been covering a wide range of fields in which she expresses her artistic creativity, both as an expert in electronic technology, an area where she has been a true pioneer, and in her work as a businesswoman, New Age composer, a specialist in sound engineering, with her sonic creations in the advertising field and outside it, as well as a virtuoso pianist, where she transmits waves of dreamy melodies in a sensitive, emotional atmosphere which becomes music of the best kind. Hopefully, such an accomplished artist will continue to delight us with her electronic and acoustic musical creations whose exquisite romanticism has gained her a well deserved recognition in the history of music.

By: Montse Andreu.

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