Lixiviation – Suzanne Ciani

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This is a collection of archival tracks and odd bits from Suzanne Ciani, one of electronic music’s early trailblazers, spanning the years 1968-85. The material here “re-contextualizes both secret music and commercial experiments.”

Ciani, who attended Stanford and is classically trained, had commercial deals with Atari, PBS, Bally’s and others, and she created tiny bits of music and sound for various micro-timeslots, and also did more quasi-experimental pieces that are viewed now as seminal proto-synth pop. She scored the Lily Tomlin film, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and also created the sounds for the Meco Star Wars theme and the early Atari TV commercials. (Anyone old enough to remember those?) She even performed on The David Letterman Show in 1980. How’s that for a resume?

The opening track, “Lixiviation,” (which means “to wash or percolate the soluble matter”) comes in with tinkling synths and just like that she’s off and running, with droning undertones that phase in and out, and, at a certain point, it starts to sound prescient of what would come later, and a little like mid-period Alan Parsons Project. Her patience with one note at a time and her ability to find a melody joins with a jittery, queasy, squirminess and it actually makes for a decent coupling.

This set of tracks alternates between the TV/game spots that are very short bursts of sound and several dreamy songs that unfold at their own pace, like the well-rendered “Eighth Wave,” a languid, graceful, piece of melancholy that reminded me a little of Mugison. It would make a decent short film score. In fact, a lot of this feels very recyclable as good background coloration for something else. For fans of minimalist, vintage synth experiments this is the shiznit.