Standing in a synth wave, it can appear shrill, heavy, even alien. So often, modular synthesis produces sounds that are not found in our daily lives.
But my body is always curious to know where that wave is taking me. Is it from the convergence of an estuary to the flux of an electrical current wired, rewired, and broken? I think the answers our imagination provides us with are remarkable.
I would venture to have traversed someplace between a wire and a river, during the performances of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani. The concert took place in early October at Eastern Bloc, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy. A performance—somewhat. An immersion—definitely. The back-to-back sets of both artists instilled a room of coursing body heat with circular undulations.
If you have followed the program of the Academy, you may notice that the seemingly lucrative pitch of showcasing “young fresh talent” is not what makes it appealing.
As it seems to me, the festival is an invitation into the origins of music creation. Among other things, this is a meditation on the milieux in which music is created, but also the aesthetic exchange that brings about experiences too beautiful and strange to be articulated.
Ciani, craftsman and navigator of the Buchla synth system recently collaborated with Smith to create Sunergy, an ambient work of rattling drone, melodic urgency, and acousmatic waves.
Alongside the music video, the auditory elements of their album translate directly into the concrete, through its footage of waves and the shoreline, in addition to the dynamic process of composition with a Buchla.
I only recently learned about the Buchla system and the thought of navigating one seems terrifying. It appears to be the continuous and random insertion/removal of cables from a panel. Would that make the poetics of synth playing a minefield of caesuras? This was not the case for Ciani or Smith.
My experiences with their work as it is produced live and recorded, leads me to believe otherwise. If you spend as much time as they have with the Buchla, constantly redelivering harmony to people’s ears restructured and retextured is always possible, but it takes devotion.
While they did not play together at Eastern Bloc, their performances complemented each other enough that lingering with the sound of one artist was akin to being with the other.
This concert marked my first visit to the venue, so I had no indication as to whether the luminescent, fleshy cables spanning the length of the room upon the ceiling were part of the installation, or part of the venue’s permanent aesthetic. Trailing up to Smith’s console, however, their supernatural texture seemed a quaint reminder of the path she walks between tonal and organic sound.
Smith played most of the tracks from her album Ears, an auditory waltz through singing vapours and supernatural marshes. Whatever you imagine or feel out there, in parts of the world where nature is the only aesthetic before you, appears transcribed onto Smith’s album.
Existence in the Unfurling was her penultimate song, whimsical cycles of bass, spaciousness, humming vocals, and resonance. Being with such a piece was a few degrees short of transcendence and it was easy to receive.
Ciani brought the ocean with her as she opened her set. What followed were playful, yet periodically abrasive peaks in sound. Melodies seemed to come in segments, like the tides in the Sunergy music video.
So well directed was Ciani’s music, that you missed a wave standing against the wall. Yet, while the evolution of her music was contained, stepping into and out of it was equally as pleasing as being rooted to the ground.
Eastern Bloc provided a pleasing sound system, but it was the navigators who redefined the space.