“Sunergy” brings together synthesists Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani for the thirteenth installment of FRKWYS, RVNG Intl.’s intergenerational collaboration series. For this edition, a panorama of the Pacific Coast provides the place and head space for a musical appreciation and consideration of a life-giving form vast and volatile with change.
Fortuitously (as is the freaky way), Smith and Ciani were discovered to be neighbors in the small coastal community of Bolinas, California. The two had become close friends, bonding over their experience as woman musicians and, more unusually, their shared passion for the Buchla synthesizer. The music of “Sunergy” embraces this kinship, with Ciani and Smith respectively performing on the Buchla 200 E and the Buchla Music Easel, two modern configurations of the innovative instrument developed in the ‘60s by Don Buchla.
“Sunergy” was recorded in the Bolinas home where Ciani has lived for the last twenty-four years. Her living room overlooks the Pacific Ocean from a cliffside perch, creating an idyllic, inspired setting for music making. Setting up their synths side-by-side, Ciani and Smith took turns keeping time and freely improvising for the album sessions. As a complete piece, “Sunergy” is shaped by slow, pulsing forms and sinuous, melodic sequences that conjure both an oceanic world and the unlimited sound made possible by modular processing.
For her part, Ciani has long been a Buchla voyager. Suzanne proselytized the live performance potential of Don’s synthesizer in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a document of which was uncovered in the improvised live recordings of Buchla Concerts 1975, recently released by Finders Keepers. After pioneering commercial sound design for Madison Avenue (including the ubiquitous Coca-Cola “Pop ‘n Pour” sound effect), Ciani was able to finance her debut album “Seven Waves”, a suite of original compositions orchestrated electronically and connected by Buchla-designed ocean sounds, and start her uniformly spirited label, Seventh Wave.
Since its 1982 release, “Seven Waves” has become an important chapter of the ambient canon within which contemporary artists like Smith have developed their own synth syntax. Smith was born just a few years after the appearance of “Seven Waves”, growing up in Orcas Island, Washington. A place of profound natural beauty, the islands would inform “Tides”, her first instrumental collection from 2014. Smith composed “Tides” as an accompaniment for Yoga classes, ultimately freeing her from conventional songwriting into the exploratory, synth-based compositions demonstrated in ecstatic variety on 2016’s “Ears”.
Despite the serene setting where “Sunergy” was realized, the album does not romanticize a complete oneness with nature. Smith and Ciani use their collaborative ground to reflect on the unstable forces at play across the Bolinas horizon. Sunergy takes stock of Bolinas in the 21st century, a once-thriving artist’s refuge now vulnerable to real estate pressure extending from affluent San Francisco, and more irreparably, the specter of climate change erasing its many waterfront habitats.
A diametric dynamic is present in “Sunergy”; a somber meditation amidst the intense cultural and solar forces transforming the landscape, and a hopeful assertion of the surviving creative culture of Bolinas. Far from rehashing the gentle grace of the artists’ seminal works, “Sunergy” instead seeks to awaken and bear witness, employing the Buchla waveforms to mirror the infinite rhythms of the ocean and our essential relationship to it.