She might not be a household name, but Suzanne Ciani has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. Her five Grammy nominations are just the start of it. In 1974, the musician, sound designer, and synthesizer pioneer founded Ciani/Musica, a company that crafted sounds for advertisements for Coca-Cola, AT&T, and General Electric. She did sound design for early video games, including the 1980 classic pinball machine Xenon, and she was the first solo female composer to score a Hollywood film, 1981’s The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Along the way, she released 17 solo albums of both synth-driven electronic music and what she calls her “romantic,” more traditional, piano-based songs. Some of her early work, like 1982’s “Seven Waves” (a classic among ambient electronic music enthusiasts), has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, thanks in part to reissues from labels like Finders Keepers. She has more music on the way.
Ciani was one of the few people to master the Buchla modular analog synthesizer and later, other iconic synths. She helped introduce these electronic instruments to the world in the ’70s, when most people had no idea what a synthesizer was, let alone the impact it would have on music. “I was in a field nobody understood, so I had total freedom,” she said on stage last weekend at the music and technology conference Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina, where she won the 2017 Moog Innovation Award.
Amid a packed festival schedule that included a live synth performance with immersive quadraphonic sound, Ciani spoke with Fast Company about her five decades in music innovation.
Fast Company: How has your Moogfest experience been?
Suzanne Ciani: You need to be cloned to properly attend this festival, because simultaneously there are so many things going on that you want to see. Even my own concert conflicted with things that I wanted to see. But it’s wonderful. I came last year and it seems to be more vibrant and…