Thursday, March 03, 2011

I Can’t Sleep In My Kitchen

Suzanne Ciani was the first woman to make a name for herself by composing commercial sound signatures. She was known as “the woman who could make any sound.” From the radical world of countercultural Berkeley to New York City corporate life, she was accompanied by a machine that, to her, “was my life. I mean, it was, I was in love.” That love was for a Buchla 200 synthesizer.

... Suzanne was so enamored with her Buchla that in New York it was just about all she had for companionship. Her apartment contained no furniture, just her Buchla with its flashing lights sitting in the middle of the room. It was her partner, co-worker, and courtesan: “You know, a sound didn’t just exist—everything was in flux. There was no ‘is’ there, it wasn’t a static thing. Everything was shifting, everything was breathing. This instrument was, I mean, I had a problem, in a way. I remember when I went to New York and I was, I was scared, in a way, because I was in love with a machine. And I had this Buchla, and it was on, literally on for ten years.”

... Suzanne used her instrument “to create a poetry, a language, a musical equivalent of an idea, something that wasn’t based in notes. You know, notes are little islands, and you can make a melody. Or you can have a chord. But now we had something else. You could make a gesture, a sweep.”

... Unquestionably, the most remarkable thing about Suzanne is her special relationship with her synthesizer. But that relationship eventually came to an end. She discovered there was no resident electronic technician in all Manhattan, including the Audio Engineering Society, capable of fixing her Buchla. No one understood its insides. She had to ship it back to Don every time it needed repair, and this broke her heart: “You can imagine the psychological anguish that I suffered.” Her synth’s problems weren’t helped by the fact that the Buchla almost always returned from its travels damaged again.

Suzanne eventually had to give up her Buchla. The emotional strain produced by her relationship with the instrument was overwhelming: “I was too emotionally attached, and, frankly, I was having a nervous breakdown, because when the thing was broken, I was broken. I was so attached to it that when it didn’t work, I didn’t work.” So she started looking at other synthesizers, even though she felt intensely guilty about it: “It was like a lover, you know, being unfaithful. I went generic, I finally just went generic and I said, I miss all the magic and uniqueness of the Buchla, but I can sleep at night now. I know that if this thing breaks, I can get another one, or someone who knows how to fix it, or they can send me a part.” With the acquisition of a generic digital synthesizer, Suzanne finally found peace.

Trevor Pinch
Frank Trocco
writing in “Analog Days”

My kitchen is like a beautiful quilt
but even though my kitchen is a quilt
I can’t sleep in my kitchen. My kitchen
is beautiful because all the world grids
overlap in my kitchen, little squares
oriented at every angle
imaginable, pretty, intertwined
electrical lines, water lines, gas lines
and there’s a phone with a wire on the wall
and there’s the product distribution grid
bringing food here from Italy and France
and China and even Australia
by ship and airplane and railroad and truck.

My kitchen is like a beautiful quilt
but it’s an electric quilt and it hums.
It has oscillators that make waveforms
and the overtones make beat frequencies
and all the changes create melodies
and rhythms and percussion. It’s music.
It’s not discordant or scary music.
It’s beautiful music. Peaceful music.
There’s a beat and it’s like a heartbeat but
it’s not like disco, it’s like a heartbeat
you hear with your ear pressed against someone.
It’s the kind of music every song
is a simple approximation of.

If my guitar strings break I can change them.
One time I took the back off my guitar
and re-soldered one of the wires attached
to a volume potentiometer.
That cleared up some static I’d been hearing.
The beautiful music my kitchen makes
terrifies me because what if it stops?
What if there’s static or it turns to noise?
People who live on boats say it’s humid
all the time and they’re always fixing things.
When you live on a boat you can fix things.
It’s like a quilt you can sew if it rips.
I think I could sleep, living on a boat.

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