Even if you don’t immediately recognize the name, you’ve probably heard sounds created by Suzanne Ciani at some point. In the ’70s, the classically trained experimental electronic composer formed Ciani/Musica Inc., through which she produced scores for Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Skittles commercials and jingles for Columbia Pictures and Atari. She was responsible for sound effects emanating from pinball machines across the country as well as Meco’s platinum-certified disco version of the Star Wars soundtrack. She also scored Lily Tomlin’s The Incredible Shrinking Woman, making her the first woman hired to score a major Hollywood movie. And that’s just the beginning. Ciani has an entire library of innovative synth-based pieces beyond the commercial work that paid her rent.
And who better to excavate Ciani’s early sonic experiments than the master crate diggers over at B-Music/Finders Keepers Records? Their latest is a collection of Ciani’s early commercial and compositional work from 1969 to 1985 in the form of Lixiviation, a 16-track album packed with fun corporate spots—she seems to have a great sense of humor—and original electronic compositions, mostly created on her legendary Buchla 200 synthesizer.
Some of her best work includes a quick, futuristic, Vocoder-based Discover Magazine TV spot, a “Pop and Pour” campaign for Coca-Cola, in which she captures the popping of a bottle cap and its fizzy contents being poured into a glass with her electronics in eight seconds—a logo that she says changed her life—and an incredible PBS piece with clanking typewriters, ringing phones, and snapping cameras mashed up in an imagined newsroom with electronic urgency. A lot of tracks are playful; “Sound of a Dream Kissing” is Ciani’s computer-generated interpretation of a fantasy. But there are some darker tones here, too; Ciani hones in on her fascination with sonic textures on drone-y closer “Second Breath”. Ciani anticipated the forthcoming digital age and knew how to package the excitement and urgency of emerging technology in a matter of seconds.
But there’s a lot more to Lixiviation than just the music. In addition to throwing open the doors of the Ciani Archive, Finders Keepers puts together yet another stellar booklet to accompany the album. Opening with label head Andy Votel’s introduction to Lixiviation, Ciani goes through the entire album, track-by-track, reflecting on her experience working on each individual project with a wide variety of clients. Most interesting is her discomfort using the word synthesizer (“it had strange and inappropriate connotations”), her characterization of the synthesized wavelength as a “very feminine” form, and her practice of spending “weeks just living with the machine, always on.”
Lixiviation is a fantastic introduction to Ciani’s expansive body of work. Four-second corporate tags might not seem like ideal listening to some, but for synth fetishists and electronic music nerds, this is golden.
Essential Tracks: “Sound of a Dream Kissing”, “Second Breath”