“How long have I been playing for?” As the last whirr of her Bechla 200e drifts through the nave of this ancient Anglican Church, Suzanne Ciani poses the question. So lost has she been in the moment she genuinely does not know the answer to her question. “45 minutes” comes the reply from somewhere deep within the church’s pews. And yet it could quite as easily have been 45 hours, or quite possibly the same number of days, so far does the Italian-American composer’s music transcend both the concept and the constraints of a conventional clock. The pure synthesis of sound that she creates is one of permanence, a thing of such great sensual beauty that it inhabits its very own unique time and space.
Suzanne Ciani is now 72 years of age and while she may be better known as the person who created Coca-Cola’s famous “Pop ‘n Pour” audio signature – the sound that was used in every single Coke commercial all over the world during the ‘70s and ‘80s – for nearly half a century she has been in the vanguard of electronic music innovation and sound design. Her instrument of choice is the Buchla. It was first designed in the mid-60s by the American electronic musical instrument inventor, Don Buchla, an unorthodox man who placed a far greater emphasis upon intuition and experimentation than perhaps did his then great synthesis contemporary Robert Moog. A hefty analogue modular synthesizer, the Buchla (and it’s modern digitally controlled-analogue equivalent, the 200e) is a complex tangle of multi-coloured wires, LEDs, knobs, buttons, switches and sliders.
Suzanne Ciani is opening her current UK tour in York on what is now the eighth day of York Mediale 2018, a brand new biennial international media art festival providing 10 consecutive days of exhibitions, installations, live performance, theatre, dance, music, workshops and parties. That York Mediale and Ciani have chosen to present this performance in St Michael le Belfrey, a Grade I listed building which lies in the shadow of York Minster and dates from almost 500 years ago merely adds to the already heightened sense of historical occasion.
For 45 mesmerising minutes, and without the aid of any pre-recordings or samples, Suzanne Ciani brings to quite stunning life an imaginary, idealistic world in quadraphonic sound. Enhanced by the church’s natural acoustics, this sonic experience is one of continual movement and immense possibility. Ciani and her Buchla 200e take us right to the edge of aural invention and onto a much higher level of natural consciousness. Together they create a magical, fluid conceptual experience that carries us far beyond that of our most immediate senses.
Earlier in the evening, Stocker/Eyes – the percussion and electronics duo of percussionist Beau Stocker and multi-instrumentalist Ben Eyes – opened our ears to an improvisational musical landscape of what the world may sound like when it stands on the precipice of an apocalypse. They produced a sprawling collision of cohesion and experimentation that set the scene perfectly for an evening that explored the very frontiers of sound.
Photo: Simon Godley
More photos from this evening can be found HERE