Suzanne Ciani – Atari and other forms of love

As we are all well aware now, I have a new-found love and passion for different types of experimental music – the world of sound opening up for me currently is nothing short of life-altering.

There is one small problem with these joyous discoveries. The deeper toward sound I move, the fewer women around me.

In my teen years, this would have been a joy to see – lets eliminate the competition, more cool intelligent men for me. However, those childish thoughts are long behind me, and I FEEL the women missing from the creative expression. The art wants them, and I don’t completely understand why there are so few in this powerful and exciting sphere. In a world where women are so obviously frustrated if their only creative outlet is beauty,  interior decorating or relationship analysis, I don’t understand why they don’t shun those things and move toward loftier macrocosms.


Having offered that tiny rant, I’d like to swiftly add, there are women in the filed of experimental and avant-garde music, and as soon as I find them I check them out. The topic of today’s post is one of these brilliant women.  Given my observations above, there is ‘something’ stopping women from connecting with art like this – it’s probably connected to confidence, or perhaps to the unwillingness to let go of the path-beating circular voice carefully nurturing the neural pathways, both of which I had to confront in order to be free to listen to this sort of music. I had to want it – I fought my way into the world. Given that I had to do that just to be a listener, I can’t imagine what a woman like Suzanne Ciani battled inside to force her way into the universe.

Suzanne Ciani  is an Italian American pianist and music composer who found early success with innovative electronic music.  She received classical music training at Wellesley College and obtained her M.A. in music composition in 1970 at University of California, Berkeley where she met and was influenced by the synthesizer designer, Don Buchla. She studied computer generated music with John Chowning and Max Mathews at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Labs in the early 70’s.

In 1974 she formed her own company, Ciani/Musica, and, using a Buchla Analog Modular Synthesizer, composed scores for television commercials for corporations such as Coca-Cola,Merrill Lynch, AT&T and General Electric. Besides music, her specialty was reproducing sound effects on the synthesizer that recording engineers had found difficult to record properly; the sound of a bottle of Coke being opened and poured was one of Ciani’s most widely recognized works, and was used in a series of radio and television commercials in the late 1970s. Such was the demand for her services that at one point she was doing up to 50 sessions a week. Her sound effects also appeared in video games (the pinball game Xenon featured her voice).


(take the time to watch this!  It’s freaking brilliant! I definitely need “chips in my earrings”)


In 1977, Ciani provided the sound effects for Meco’s disco version of the Star Wars soundtrack, which was certified platinum. Ciani scored the Lily Tomlin movie The Incredible Shrinking Woman distinguishing her as the first solo female composer of a major Hollywood film, Lloyd Williams’s 1975 experimental film Rainbow’s Children and a 1986 documentary about Mother Teresa, as well the TV daytime serial (“soap opera”) One Life to Live.

She also composed and perhaps best known for the Columbia Pictures and Columbia Pictures Television theme jingles. Her music, renowned for its romantic, healing, and aesthetic qualities, has found a worldwide audience, and her performances include numerous benefits for humanitarian causes. She has toured throughout the United States, Italy, Spain, and Asia.

Now, only because we’ve all been such GOOD little girls and boys, Finders Keepers records have brought out this stunning collection (listen to the sound bites in the link at the top of this post) for our extreme pleasure.

Boomkat have this to say:

Includes booklet with intro by Andy Votel and track notes by the artist.  Suzanne Ciani is a foundational electronic explorer who created a wealth of experimental synth music traversing academic and commercial boundaries. After completing an MA in music composition, Ciani was introduced to synth designer Don Buchla, whose Buchla 200 synthesizer would come to define much of her work for the next two decades. She counted the likes of synth maverick Vangelis and electronic music pioneer Harold Bode among her close friends and would set up Ciani Musica Inc. to publish her commercial endeavours for companies such as Coca Cola and Atari, while constantly working at the cutting edge of advances in electronic music and amassing an expansive vault of underexposed music which has remained untouched for over 30 years… until now. With ‘Lixiviation’ Finders Keepers contextualise Ciani not only as one of the very few female exponents and explorers of electronic music – alongside Chicago’s Laurie Spiegel, Italy’s Doris Norton, and a post-op Wendy Carlos – but also as a hugely significant cog in the machinery of modern electronic music, scanning her scores for TV and early Atari games alongside her work at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab with Max Matthews and John Chowning. It’s an incredible collection, at once playful, colourful and wildly imaginative, and also hugely disciplined, complex and searching. Like the Daphne Oram Tapes which snuck out late last year, this album crucially places emphasis on the oft-neglected role of female artists in electronic music history, but perhaps more importantly rescues a chunk of treasure from the vaults which deserves to be heard by any self-respecting fan of synthesized sonics. 

Grab your copy here.