Since 2010, the synthesizer company Moog has awarded notable figures in the world of electronic sound design with the annual Moog Innovation Award. This year's winner is Suzanne Ciani, the pioneering synth innovator and composer.
Ciani's accomplishments include groundbreaking work in sound design, quadrophonic analog synthesizer performance, and composition. She has released nearly two dozen studio albums and earned five Grammy nominations, and she was the first woman to score a major Hollywood blockbuster (1981's The Incredible Shrinking Woman). But even those not familiar with these works have almost certainly heard her music and felt her influence: She was the artist Coca-Cola sought out to synthesize the sound of a Coke bottle opening, and her compositions have appeared in many ads, video games, and even pinball machines.
"I'm now kind of like a conduit to the exciting past when these instruments were first conceived and designed," she mused over the phone discussing the award with Noisey. While most people think of synthesizers in the context of keyboards and digital tools, Ciani is an advocate for the earlier analog incarnations, and her work in that space has experienced a revival in recent years, in part due to Moog's embrace of it. "Now we're reconnecting with the analog origins of this exciting—which was, back then, extremely exciting—and we're rediscovering it today, so it's also exciting," she added.
Ciani was a protegée of and collaborator with analog synth pioneer Don Buchla. Her live work originally centered around playing the Buchla 200. That instrument no longer really exists, but in recent years, thanks to Moog's encouragement, she has begun once again exploring analog synth performance. Her live show now uses the Buchla 200E, played in quadraphonic sound like the original Buchla 200. Her four-hour durational performance at last year's Moogfest was one of the festival highlights. This year she will return as a performer in addition to winning the company's award. She will also be screening a documentary about her work, A Life in Waves, which premiered earlier this year at South by Southwest. Ciani is the first woman to win the Moog Innovation Award. Past recipients include Devo, Brian Eno, Thomas Dolby, Bernie Worrell, and Gary Numan.
"I'm a person who doesn't really believe in legacy," Ciani mused to Noisey. Nonetheless, it's clear that Ciani's importance is becoming more and more widely understood. She went on to add, "My goal isn't to be remembered forever… I think of myself as a composer. I think of my work in electronics as revolving around that."
Find out more about Suzanne Ciani's Moogfest performances here.
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