Sound Pioneer Suzanne Ciani Talks Creative Process with Students

By 
Salim ALi
April 28, 2017
Suzanne Ciani; photo by Salim ALi
Suzanne Ciani concludes a residency at Berklee with a master class for electronic production and design students on April 20.
Image by Salim ALi

Berklee’s Electronic Production and Design (EPD) Department recently featured sound design pioneer, composer, five-time Grammy nominee, Independent Music Awards-winner, and former Berklee Online student Suzanne Ciani in an intimate session on April 20 at Berklee’s 22 Fenway building. Ciani is a historic figure, having broken through the glass ceiling in the world of film scoring as the first woman to achieve a solo scoring credit on a major full-length Hollywood release (The Incredible Shrinking Woman). A documentary on her life and work, A Life in Waves, premiered at this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival.

Ciani, a Berklee visiting scholar in electronic production and engineering, began her career as a classical pianist, studying music at the University of California-Berkeley, where she first encountered the Buchla synth. She also spent time studying computer music at StanfordOutside of her career in advertising and sound design, she has made 15 albums of classically-infused electronic music, some of which she shared as a keynote performer at the recent Voltage Connect Conference hosted by Berklee.

At last week's event, Ciani showcased many of her works with the students in attendance while discussing her process as a musician and film score composer. She also spoke of her lessons from the advertising industry and ministered to her Berklee-student-filled audience on electronic music artistry. Explaining her origins in her field of work, Ciani said, "My first-ever recording project was with a sculptor...to interpret, poetically, ideas in sound. It didn’t have any history. It didn’t have any baggage. It didn’t have any rules."

Ciani took questions from eager Berklee EPD students. When asked about her electronic synthesizers of choice, she answered, "I'm back with the Buchla. That's all I care about right now," before adding, "The most useful tool I had for sound design was the Synclavier."

Ciani detailed her creative process, noting that she has had a lot of freedom in her work, so she has put every ounce of effort to use when commissioned on any job, including her advertising work. Her signature "pop and pour" sound has been used in countless soda commercials beyond its debut with Coca-Cola. Ciani urged students to think about the longevity of the sounds they may produce, saying, "You want to know what the fate of this sound is going to be and how long it has to wear."

From an artistic perspective, she continued, "If the audio could support the visual in ways that were seamless, subconscious even, it would help the viewer to see the picture and to relate to it."

The event was the capstone to Ciani's residency at Berklee, which also included an event on using technology to amplify the best elements of human nature.

Watch Suzanne Ciani discuss her experience with Berklee Online: