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Thread: A LIFE IN WAVES (Brett Whitcomb 2017)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    A LIFE IN WAVES (Brett Whitcomb 2017)



    Lady of the synthesizer

    Suzanne Ciani is a pioneering figure as a woman and electronic music composer and sound designer with the synthesizer, which she has used for art and commerce. After Wellesley (where at the start of this film we see her recently getting an alumnae achievement award) she went to Berkeley in 1968. She fell in love with the Buchla, an early modular synthesizer. You patch them, you plug in wires like in an early telephone system, and sound blends and changes. No keyboard necessary. That kind of synthesizer has a personality, we're told. Well, sure it does. It's a an extension of you, an electronic person that does your bidding and creates wonderful sounds to delight you. Her enthusiasm, energy, and her talent and early corner on a new market led to financial success and a life that favored work.

    A concert led her to settle in New York, and some time in the 1970's (this mostly talking heads documentary isn't so much on dates), she wound up going from angular, avant-garde electronic sound to being a star on Madison Avenue. She made the sound effects for a Pepsi-Cola ad that went global. That got people's attention, and led to many other sound effects for advertising jingles and theme songs. They, and indeed her music, may seem ordinary now - but she and the firms she eventually formed were among the first to do them, and her music was new when synthesizers were new. She had fun with a commission to do all the beeps and pings made by a pinball machine, though she says they weren't ready for sounds of a whip and a whimper when a ball hit a tumbler. Naturally, she did some Hollywood sound tracking too.

    Her advertising dollars financed Ciani's true love, composing music, and to issuing records, starting in Japan, which fit in no record store category till the term "New Age" was invented. Alas, her soothing, flowing electronic piano sounds seem numbingly conventional. But then, New Age has many ramifications and has its place, if only in massage parlors and zen gardens and on late-night radio.

    A bout with cancer led Suzanne to leave New York, which had so inspired her, and to tone things down. Her driven lifestye seems to have largely crowded out marriage and family, but she has now lived for 25 years in Bolinas, California in a house dangerously, but breathtakingly, by the Pacific Ocean - soothed by another kind of waves. There she allowed herself time for romance , though she says her now-ended seven-year marriage with a man 18 years her junior - making up for lost time - but glimpsed in this film for about two seconds - has turned off her romanticism. At least she had those seven years with that handsome young man. Maybe that, and a request from a publisher to issue her unpublished early electronic music, has led her away from the tinkly piano and back to the most angular and dry compositions of her earlier days, and to widespread public recognition as an early figure in a world that's now greatly expanded, nor has she given up New Age, though it has rebranded as Ambient Sound.

    A Life in Waves, 74 mins., debuted at SXSW in March 2017 and has played in Boston Underground and Seattle. The end credits give equal listing to Bradford Thomason & Brett Whitcomb; Thomason wrote the script and Whitcomb directed. The film is being released by Gunpowder & Sky on VOD nationwide August 4, 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-31-2017 at 11:19 PM.


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