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Suzanne Ciani Has Designs On Music

September 11, 1987|DON HECKMAN

"It may look as though I'm alone up there when I'm performing solo, but I'm really not. I call my companion Conrack--my con cert rack of equipment. And it really feels alive, blinking and beeping and buzzing, like some kind of other version of myself."

Suzanne Ciani, a slender, soft-spoken, auburn-haired woman young enough to look ageless, was only half-joking when she described the rack of electronic instruments, computers, etc. that accompanies her live solo performances.

She is one of the most successful sound-design artists in the country, a performer, composer, producer, arranger and the owner of a commercial music production company that has created music and sound for everything from Merrill Lynch's "Bull in a China Shop" commercial to Bally's "Xenon" pinball game. Recently she has expanded her busy schedule to include concerts as well.

This summer, Ciani's recordings, "Seven Waves" (Xanadu) and "The Velocity of Love" (RCA Skylark)--highly personal musical statements that mix classical inspiration with the kaleidoscopic timbres and colors of a new generation of electronic music devices--were caught up in the rush of interest in New Age music.

Like many composers suddenly propelled to prominence in the rocketing success of the new music category, Ciani was a bit surprised, but not at all dismayed. "I know some people object to the term New Age because they feel it defines them too much, and so they feel misunderstood," she said a few days ago from Ciani/Musica, her state-of-art electronic music studio in New York City.

"But for me, the genre is simply personal composers' music--personal art music that's conceived within the environment of a tremendous amount of new technology. And the truth is that I'm grateful for anything which organizes the product in such a way that people know where to find it in the music stores."

In July and August, Ciani returned to live solo performance for the first time in 15 years with standing-room-only concerts at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and the Roxy in Los Angeles. This evening, she will perform at the National Assn. of Broadcasters Radio Annual Convention at Anaheim's Inn on the Park Hotel.

Reflecting the expanding commercial significance of New Age music, her Roxy program was sponsored by KTWV-FM, a local New Age radio station, and her solo program this evening will support the introduction of "Soft Passages," the first 24-hour, syndicated New Age radio format.

"I'd been wanting to get back to playing concerts for a long time," Ciani said. "But it never seemed to work out; either the equipment wasn't right, or my schedule was too busy. Then, suddenly, everything came together.

"And it was a good decision. Performing is in my blood. I find it so intense, so much an experience of the present, that it can be almost unbearable. The moment of being on-stage is one of almost complete relaxation for me--whatever is at that moment-- is. "

After spending so many years working in the controlled environment of the studio, she did not return to performance without some apprehensions.

"Working live in front of an audience is completely different from the recording process," she said.

"In the studio, things build up, a layer at a time. But it's a completely different situation when everything is live--much more intense, with a tremendous number of things all happening at once. The whole trick, of course, is getting things to happen flawlessly, on command. Sometimes there are so many things to be coordinated at one time on stage that it feels like I'm trying to raise the space shuttle."

Despite the technical hazards, Ciani feels the array of new music equipment--sequencers, samplers, drum machines, digital reverberation units, etc.--have created the opportunity for a unique, one-to-one connection between composer/performers and their audiences.

"I've always felt that a real performance should include the presence of the creator of the music, generating it in real time. And that's what the electronic music tools allow us to do.

"Strange, isn't it? It took all that hardware just to get us back into direct communication with our listeners. But it's worth it, no matter how complex the procedures.

"Besides," Ciani said with a laugh, "how many things can go wrong? I've been with Conrack for more than a year now, and I think we've come to know each other pretty well."

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