Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Try the Tube Shot Darling...

Electronic music comes in many forms and is used for all purposes. In the 1980s one such purpose was a super sexy computer voiced pinball machine called Xenon. This was the first pinball machine to use a new and improved voice board allowing multiple and longer samples to run as the player turned on the machine and started flipping away. It also was distinguished as being the first female voiced pinball machine which makes sense since the sound design was done by none other that sound and synthesizer pioneer Susan Ciani.

By 1980 Ciani was both a classically trained musician and a critically acclaimed early adopter of electronic music instruments and composition. While trying to make her mark she lived in NY and combined her unique vision and skill set in the emerging field of commercial sound design. Of her commercial work she is probably most famous for the "pop and pour" sound of a Coca-Cola can being opened. She had accomplished many firsts including being featured on the cover of  fledgling Contemporary Keyboard magazine

Ciani's weapon of choice was an early Buchla modular and early examples of her work on this can be heard at her own excellent web page here:

But it was the company Ballys and their new Pinball project Xenon that would carve out even more groundbreaking work using the new (at the time) technology of sampling. With the invention of new memory chips which could store larger amounts of recorded sound the new Pinball machines could talk to the player. And who better than the playful and creative Ciani to make the machine come to life? This was the 1970s after all so it almost made sense for an over-the-top sexy robot design to moan when you slide a quarter in it or for the Alien blinking lights to invite the player with an encouraging breathy "Welcome to Xenon" upon start up.

The full story is captured with all it's humor, ground breaking tech, and the combination of both Ciani's vision and sense of fun in this short documentary made back in the day: 

The Kickstarter funded documentary A Life in Waves on Ciani and her journey is currently showing at festivals and will be commercially released soon. In addition to her years as a classical pianist and composer she is also now performing Electronic music again including a recent concert for the Women and technology exhibition Making/Breaking the Binary: Women, Art & Technology (1968–1985)  and the upcoming Don Buchla Memorial concerts next week. 

I encourage everyone to keep up on her still full schedule and dig deep into the back catalog of this innovative and unique musician and composer who not only broke ground for women, Electronic music, and commercial sound design but did so without every compromising her spirit, creativity, or sense of joy. 

Tilt on!