10/25/11

Love in the Age of Circuitry


The following text is excerpted from Analog Days and takes place in the early 70's. For additional context, you might want to first scan the wikipedia pages for the Buchla synthesizer and Suzanne Ciani.

Suzanne's ultimate goal in working for Don Buchla was to acquire her own synthesizer. She slowly built up her $8,500 synth, module by module, acquiring some of the basic ones while at Buchla's workshop. To have the system she wanted, she realized she'd need to earn more than the $3 per hour she was paid for stuffing Don's circuit boards. She got a break from a friend of a friend who filmed commercials, and was hired to make sound signatures. The skill she was developing was in "sound design": "It wasn't so much the note as it was a poetry of sound - you know, what is the sound of a fur coat? What is the sound of perfume? And developing metaphors in sound... the feeling you got listening to it. This poetry of sound is what I brought to the industry."

(samples can be found here)

With the money from these first commercials, Suzanne put together her Buchla 200. As she added modules, she found herself becoming closer and closer to the machine: "Some people have a fear of technology, they look at this thing with all the knobs and holes and dials and go, "Oh my God". Whereas for me, it was like, "I'm going to get to know this. This is a living, breathing, entity. It has desires and abilities, limitations and possibilities... and it was alive, you know, and you build up a relationship."



As a struggling artist trying to make it in New York, Suzanne increasingly turned to sound signature work. She became known for many industry trademarks: The GE dishwasher beep, the Columbia pictures logo, the ABC logo, the Merrill Lynch sound, the Energizer battery sound, the Coca-Cola logo and the Pepsi logo.

Suzanne by now was so enamored with her Buchla that in New York it was about all she had for companionship. Her apartment contained no furniture, just her Buchla with its flashing lights in the middle of the room. It was her partner, co-worker, and courtesan: "It wasn't a static thing. Everything was shifting, everything was breathing. It was on, literally on, for ten years. I had a problem, in a way. I was scared, because I was in love with a machine."


In addition to commercial work, Ciani did the voices and soundtrack for Xenon, the sexiest pinball machine in history (coincidentally, the author of the post you're reading has had a crush on Xenon since he was 11).

Yet another one of those "I can't believe I've been given the opportunity to see this" moments which happens so often while searching youtube; an Omni documentary all about the Xenon project:

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