Suzanne Ciani (born June 4, 1946) is an American musician, sound designer, composer, and record label executive who found early success in the 1970s with her innovative 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".
Ciani was born in an army hospital in Indiana. She was raised in Quincy, Massachusetts, a southern suburb of Boston. She has four sisters and Italian roots. Her father was a physician and she started to play the piano at six.
From 1964 to 1968, Ciani studied traditional liberal arts at Wellesley College in nearby Wellesley where she received classical music training. She also took evening classes, one of which was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which is where she first learned about music technology. 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.
Ciani studied for a master's degree in composition at University of California, Berkeley from 1968 to 1970. 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. 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. She took a summer course in acoustics, the psychology of acoustics, and computer music at Mills where she was taught by composer Max Mathews and worked at Stanford University in the Artificial Intelligence Lab.
After graduating from Berkeley, Ciani took up work at the San Francisco Tape Music Center 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". Her first paid job in composing was in 1969, producing for 23 different advertisements. Around this time she worked on sound installations at galleries, exhibitions, and dance performances, composed for films, and worked the night shift at KPFA, a radio station in Berkeley. 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 returned to Los Angeles to concentrate on music. In 1970, she released her debut record, Voices of Packaged Souls (1970), put together at the station's recording studio. The album had an initial release of 50 copies.
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. Ciani became a session musician, but soon struggled to maintain a steady income. 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". 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. By 1976, Ciani had secured a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
In 1974 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. 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. She is also responsible for "logo" sounds pertaining to Energizer and ABC. Such was the demand for her services, that at one point she was doing up to 50 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". 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, a 1986 documentary about Mother Teresa, and for the soap opera One Life to Live. She also composed the 1976 Columbia Pictures and Columbia Pictures Television theme jingles.
In 1979, Ciani was commissioned to provide sounds to the pinball machine game Xenon, which featured her own voice fed through a vocoder. 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.
In 1980, Ciani demonstrated several of her sound effects on national television with an appearance on The David Letterman Show. 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. That same year, she also appeared in on the syndicated PBS Children's TV show [3-2-1 Contact] demonstrating her synthesizer. 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.
Ciani scored the soundtrack to Lily Tomlin's film The Incredible Shrinking Woman which marked the first solo female composer of a Hollywood film.
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". She started on her first, Seven Waves, in 1979 which saw an initial Japanese only release. Ciani reasoned this to the difficulty American record labels had in selling an electronic album by a female artist that lacked vocals. In 1984, it was released in the US by Atlantic Records. Most of the album was produced using an MC-8 and MC-4 sequencer, a Prophet 5 synthesizer, and a Roland TR-808 drum machine.
In 1985, Ciani received a Bronze Lion award at the Cannes Film Festival.
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.
In July and August 1987, Ciani performed her first live solo concerts in 15 years.
In 1987, Ciani signed a deal with Private Music, which released a number of albums from 1988 to 1992, including re-issues of her first two albums.
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.
In 1994, Ciani founded her own independent record label, Seventh Wave. Her husband became the label's president. 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. Ciani was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Ciani performs in a new-age jazz group, The Wave.
In 2014, she started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary movie on her life as an electronic music pioneer. The campaign was successful, and the award-winning film, titled A Life in Waves, had its premiere on March 12, 2017 at the South by Southwest Festival, did the festival rounds and is now released on DVD.
In February 2015, Ciani was one of three Wellesly College alumni to receive an Alumnae Achievement Award.
In 2016, Ciani released Buchla Concerts 1975, formed of two live performances in New York City in April 1975. 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". 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.
In 2016, Ciani released Sunergy, a collaboration using Buchla synthesizers with the musician Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, as part of the RVNG Intl. FRKWYS Series.
In May 2017, Ciani became the first female to receive a Moog Music Innovation Award at the annual electronic festival Moogfest.
In June 2018, Ciani and producer KamranV released LIVE Quadraphonic, a live album documenting her first solo performance on a Buchla synthesizer in 40 years. The show took place at Gray Area in San Francisco on March 5, 2016, presented in four channel quadraphonic sound. It marked one of the first quadraphonic vinyl releases in over 30 years and used a matrix recording system developed by Involve Audio in Melbourne, Australia, based partially on the QS matrix system. The vinyl LP saw a limited physical release of 227 copies, each costing $227 with a custom designed QS-compatible quadraphonic decoder, also developed by Involve Audio, included in the package.
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.
In 1992, Ciani was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer which she recovered from after successful radiation treatments and surgery. The news prompted her relocation from New York City to California and she has resided in the coastal community of Bolinas since.
From 1994 to 2000, Ciani was married to producer and entertainment attorney Joseph Anderson. The marriage ended in divorce.
Awards and honors
- Moog Innovation Award, 2017
- Nominee, Grammy Award for Best New Age Album: Neverland (1988), Hotel Luna (1991), Dream Suite (1996), Pianissimo II (1997), Turning (2000)
- Best New Age Keyboardist, Keyboard magazine, 1992
- Lifetime Achievement Award (Granny), Women in Audio Section of the Audio and Engineering Society, 1997
- Winner, American Federation of Independent Music (Indie), Silver Ship, 2006
- Most Valuable Synthesizer Player Award, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1987
- Clio Awards, Excellence in Advertising, 1977–1989
- Bronze Lion Award for Excellence in Advertising, International Advertising Film Festival, 1985
- 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)
- 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)
- The Private Music of Suzanne Ciani (1992)
- Meditations for Dreams, Relaxation, and Sleep (2002)
- Pure Romance (2003)
- Lixiviation (Ciani/Musica Inc. 1969–1985) (2012)
- Starland Vocal Band – Starland Vocal Band (1976)
- Philippé Wynne - Starting All Over (1977)
- Elliott Randall - Elliott Randall's New York (1977)
- Meco - Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk (1977)
- Art Farmer and Joe Henderson – Yama (1979)
- Cindy & Roy - Feel It (1979)
- Spyro Gyra - Morning Dance (1979)
- Alien – Sons of the Universe (1979)
- Yusef Lateef – In a Temple Garden (1979)
- Steve Hackett – Spectral Mornings (1979)
- Fuse One – Fuse One (1980)
- Goldstar - The Future Is Now
- Various – Fame: The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture (1980)
- Ray Barretto - La Cuna (1981)
- Steven Kindler – Across a Rainbow Sea (1990)
- Various – A Very Green Christmas (1997)
- Patti Austin – Body Language (2003)
- Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe (2013)
- Suzanne Ciani & Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – FRKWYS Vol. 13: Sunergy (2016)
- 1997 Suzanne Ciani and The Wave Live!
- 2008 Natura Poetica
- 2008 Galapagos: A Musical Odyssey
- 1991 Suzanne Ciani: New Age Piano (Hal Leonard)
- 1995 Suzanne Ciani: Dream Songs (Hal Leonard)
- 1999 Suzanne Ciani: Turning (Hal Leonard)
- 2007 The Best of Suzanne Ciani (Hal Leonard)
- 1981 The Incredible Shrinking Woman (Universal Pictures)
- 1986 Mother Teresa, (Petrie Productions)
- 2001 Mother Teresa: The Legacy (Petrie Productions)