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Synth Legend Suzanne Ciani Stuns At NYC Church Show

Artist conjured a cosmic journey by filtering her 1984 album 'Seven Waves' through the Buchla200 synthesizer

Those familiar with Suzanne Ciani only through her series of mannered 1990s solo piano releases likely had their minds blown last night (March 2) at New York’s Church of Heavenly Rest, as the 77-year-old keyboard pioneer traded a Steinway grand for the Buchla 200 modular analog synthesizer on which she first began experimenting more than 50 years ago.

A mass of colored cables, knobs and inputs, the Buchla is as jaw-dropping a piece of gear now as it was back in the Nixon administration, when Ciani was one of the first women to make and champion the nascent genre of electronic music. A full set of her just messing around with its controls would certainly have been worth watching, but Ciani instead opted to filter the original multi-track stems of material from her beloved 1984 album Seven Waves through the Buchla interface, creating an improvised, wholly unique alternate version of an enduring classic.

With cosmic light projections dancing against the church’s 75-foot-high backdrop and the music encircling the packed house in quadrophonic sound, Ciani led attendees on an otherworldly journey. Arpeggiated sequences undulated and morphed, with Ciani weaving in barely recognizable swaths of Seven Waves‘ familiar melodies between the alien tones. Moments of ambient bliss gave way to dark, skittish, low-end patterns, while the percussive sounds of steam, passing subway trains and, appropriately, waves further deepened the transportive effects.

The set concluded with Ciani sprinkling bits of the sprightly Sevem Waves opener “Birth of Venus” into a bubbling cauldron of sound, after which the audience rose in a standing ovation. “I’m really happy, after all these years, to be back with the Buchla and to have an audience,” she said, noting that Seven Waves was recorded during her 19-year stint living in New York. “Because in the early ‘70s, when I wanted to play here, I couldn’t. [People would say], what’s that? What, you don’t sing? What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m in seventh heaven,” continued Ciani, whose legacy was saluted in the 2017 documentary A Life in Waves. “I never expected to have this renaissance happen, and I thank all of you. I don’t know what generation you are, but we’re taking technology backwards.” Noting that Seven Waves arranger Mitch Farber was in attendance, she then invited the crowd to “come and admire the Buchla, because it loves to be admired.”

Following her inaugural Seven Waves/Buchla performance in late February at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, Ciani will next take the concept to Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church on May 17. The shows were conceived by curatorial platform Reflections, which is hosting upcoming performances across the country by fellow synth heavy-hitters such as Nine Inch Nails’ Alessandro Cortini, Steve Roach, LARAAJI and the Sea & Cake’s Sam Prekop.

Last night’s event opened with a set from Atlanta-reared producer Kaye Loggins’ Time Wharp, who dabbled in effects-drenched electric guitar workouts and minimalist, melodic electronica with shades of Jo Johnson and Kelly Moran.