The chance meeting of Buchla synthesizer pioneer Suzanne Ciani and emerging Buchla composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith happened at a community dinner in the tiny coastal town of Bolinas, just north of San Francisco. Struck by the coincidence of finding a fellow disciple of Don Buchla’s complex machines, their acquaintance has swelled into a symbolic collaboration on Sunenergy, an album which represents the closing of a generational gap and a twin meditation on the cyclical rhythms of sun & sea.
Sunergy is the latest record in the Brooklyn-based label’s FRKWYS series of cross-generational collaborations, which most recently offered transportive meditations from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Ariel Kalma and guitar melancholia from Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper. Ciani and Smith have orchestrated their varying approaches to their Buchla machines (built by the company Don Buchla founded in 1963 in Berkeley, just a couple of hours drive from Bolinas) into a bed of spiraling synth percolations and interlocking legato melodic patterns; a Vivaldi-like stream of aquatic sounds grooved in poetic randomness. Designed as a synth odyssey, Sunergy’s production is also a shared expression of Ciani and Smith’s hometown, its history as an artistic haven and their own seemingly fated meeting.
Ciani, who has lived in Bolinas since leaving New York City in 1992, was an early adopter of electronic music whose work with the Buchla 200 in the 1970s exposed many curious listeners to the possibilities of synthesised sound production; she even taught Philip Glass how to program his first synth. Smith, meanwhile, has become known in recent years for her own fluid and multi-instrumental approach to the self-contained, briefcase-like Buchla Music Easel. Her most recent album EARS, released on Western Vinyl, blurred electronic production with woodwind arrangements and vocal processing to conjure invigorating, organically mutating soundscapes.
Their stories of the Buchla run parallel and heavily inform the techniques behind Sunergy. Both musicians speak of the synth, its sound and features, as though they were tangible materials; Ciani suggests they were practicing an organic type of composition, piling sounds together as though they were mixing ingredients. They decided to tether their Buchlas together, tangling up each other’s processes, as a starting point for the record. “The synths were side-by-side and we were actually connected by an umbilical cord,” says Ciani. “We were locked rhythmically and could let the energy of the propulsion of the sequencing propel us, and from there we would interact and improvise.”