Suzanne Ciani on Two Television Programs, 1980

Exhibit / February 13, 2017

Object Name: Suzanne Ciani appearances on 3-2-1 Contact and The David Letterman Show
Maker and Year: Children’s Television Workshop, 1980, and Worldwide Pants, 1980
Object Type: Television segments
Video Source: RivaProductions and Suzanne Ciani
Description: (Michael Grasso)

Electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani got her start in the staid musical conservatories of Wellesley College, but left for the West Coast in the late ’60s to get a Master’s at Berkeley, where she met synthesizer designer Don Buchla and began experimenting with electronic instrumentation. Buchla had developed his first modular system, which allowed a composer to add and subtract sonic elements as needed, in 1964, funded by a Rockefeller Grant. He insisted his products should not be called “synthesizers,” as they were designed to create novel sounds, not simulate traditional instruments, and he resisted forcing his products to adhere to the limitations of the traditional piano keyboard (unlike his contemporary, Robert Moog).

Upon returning to the East Coast in 1974, Ciani made music for television commercials (in order to afford a Buchla 200) and began making her own music. By 1980, she was a well-known name in both commercial and artistic electronic music, with her compositions appearing in TV ads, documentaries, other artists’ albums, and even pinball machines. Ciani appeared on the PBS educational program 3-2-1 Contact in 1980 to discuss her process and demonstrate the capabilities of her synthesizers to a grade school audience. 3-2-1 Contact, throughout its eight-year history, used artists, musicians, and other non-technicians to help explain scientific concepts.

Reaching a very different audience with a very different, looser sort of demonstration, Ciani also appeared on David Letterman’s short-lived live morning show in the summer of 1980. Letterman’s soon-to-be-famous ironic persona is in embryonic form in this piece, as Ciani braves live television to spotlight not only her musical technology but also voice-altering software. In the 1980s, Letterman would go on to revolutionize the late-night talk show format, while Ciani would release foundational electronic/New Age albums Seven Waves (1982) and The Velocity of Love (1986).

6 thoughts on “Suzanne Ciani on Two Television Programs, 1980

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