Graded on a Curve: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani, Sunergy

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has been busy of late; earlier in 2016 the synthesizer specialist released her third album in two years, and by way of fruitful collaboration she’s wasted no time in adding another entry to her discography. Smith is the upstart and fellow synth expert Suzanne Ciani the groundbreaker, but on Sunergy these lines of experience become appealingly blurred, their interaction illuminating equality rather than hierarchy; the results comprise the 13th entry in RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series and it’s out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital September 16.

The intention of RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series is to celebrate “intergenerational collaboration,” or put another way, to present complementary team-ups of veteran artists and comparative newcomers, with most of the groupings falling under the large and loose categorization of “electronic music.” Extant since 2009, the subsidiary really hit its stride in 2011 with Vol. 6’s pairing of Julianna Barwick and Ikue Mori.

FRKWYS sustained level of success can be attributed to its collaborative sensibility never deteriorating into the gimmicky or trite as the accumulated material gets heightened rather than constrained by stylistic parameters. This state of affairs continues with Sunergy, its two tracks (plus a CD/ digital bonus) finding Smith and Ciani in duet on a pair of Buchla synthesizers, the warm analog devices named after their pioneering creator Don Buchla.

There are differences in model, with Ciani playing the Buchla 200 E and Smith helming the Buchla Music Easel, one of numerous synthesizers she’s used to productive effect across her solo output; in April of this year Smith reached an apex of both quality and profile with the release of EARS, her fifth full-length collection and third for Western Vinyl after 2014’s digital only Tides (featuring ten pieces designed to accompany yoga classes) and ’15’s multi-format Euclid (which has been described as her first “official album”).

Alongside instrumentation and the exploratory nature of their recordings, Smith and Ciani are interestingly connected by geography, the two residing in the coastal California community of Bolinas but discovering it only recently; while Ciani has lived there for the last quarter century, Smith grew up in Orcas Island in Washington State, a locale that inspired the instrumental soundscapes found on Tides.

Ciani’s LP Seven Waves illuminates the experienced side of Sunergy’s equation, coming out in 1982 (before Smith was even born) with seven glistening instrumental compositions featuring Buchla-sourced ocean sounds. Although ultimately too melodic to comfortably fall into the New Age camp, her album’s environmental foundation is immediately fathomable as the whole definitely registers of early ’80s vintage. Its datedness is never really a fault, instead shining a very pleasant spotlight upon the personality of its maker.

For those with an interest in experimentation, Finders Keepers’ recent release of Ciani’s Buchla Concerts 1975 forms a fine trifecta with EARS and Sunergy. As an aside, folks with a passion for the micro-compositions and catchy fragments used in commercials should love Logo Presentation Reels 1985, a double cassette of pieces and sound effects for a variety of products (Coca-Cola, Atari, Glidden Paints, Skittles). Sadly, Finders Keepers only made 55 copies in 2012 so good luck finding a copy.

Buchla Concerts 1975 consists of two side-long pieces, one from the WBAI Free Music Store and the other from composer Phill Niblock’s loft, and it’s a New York album all the way. By contrast, Seven Waves is just as strongly a West Coast creation, and the same is true for Sunergy, although in “A New Day” the environmental aspects are instantly darker in hue.

As detailed in RVNG’s notes, Sunergy is in dialogue with a contemporary Bolinas impacted by the interests of real estate developers and climate change. Opening with a foreboding and somewhat cinematic ambiance interjected with sci-fi-like bursts, the initial four minutes of “A New Day” form a prelude of sorts for the explorations to come.

Upon rising back up, the duo nicely intertwines, consistently drifting, occasionally tangling, and while it’s tempting to credit Ciani with the oceanic sounds and Smith with the electro burbles and squirts, it’s necessary to resist assumptions; Ciani has Seven Waves under her belt, but it’s Smith’s name that’s attached to Tides. Cresting with a cyclical motif roughly mid-way through, the piece then deftly reframes itself before launching into another somewhat Terry Riley-esque pattern of repetition before plateauing in rich early avant-electronic territory.

It important to note that Smith and Ciani have very successfully carved out a place in the current experimental-electronic realm. Some might complain that at only 12 minutes in length side two is an unequal contender, but please allow this writer to strongly disagree. Like “A New Day,” a main strength of “Closed Circuit” is that it’s only as long as it needs to be. Covering substantial sonic terrain, it connects as quite contemporary and distinct from either participant’s prior output.

Those pining for more should seek out the bonus track “Retrograde” after Sunergy’s release on September 16. It should serve as a swell capper for this productive encounter, one hopefully garnering enough positive response that Ciani and Smith are inspired to contemplate a follow-up.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text