Suzanne Ciani / Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Frkwys, Vol. 13: Sunergy

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The 13th entry in RVNG Intl.'s Frkwys series follows the template of most of its predecessors in that it pairs one music veteran with a relative newcomer. That said, seldom have two artists been better paired than Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. The former is an electronic and new age music pioneer who has received renewed attention thanks to a series of archival releases from Finders Keepers that began with 2012's Lixiviation 1969-1985. Her groundbreaking experiments with Don Buchla's modular synthesizers, other keyboards, and experimental recording techniques have influenced succeeding generations. Smith is also obsessed with Buchla's inventions. In 2016 she released Ears, an album that blurs the lines between electronic and acoustic instruments and natural and synthetic sounds. She and Ciani, both residents of Bolinas, California, met at a community dinner party and began working together in Ciani's studio. Sunergy is the fruit of that labor.

The pair utilize the complete possibilities of the Buchla synthesizers (including the hybrid 200E that combines analog and digital signals and sounds) in three long pieces, delivering an intensely focused, expansive result. "A New Day" begins with channel-to- channel rumbling and low-end drones before skittering bouts of midrange wow and flutter signal the movement in its journey. Bleeps, bloops, and extended notes come cascading out of the backdrop; Ciani weaves mysterious, assertive, and deliberate melodic lines as Smith paints constant humming "basslines" that have their own sense of tonal expression. Over nearly 24 minutes, it takes on varying shapes, colors, pulses, developmental sequences, and rhythms that open onto a sonic canvas evoking bird songs, the ocean, the wind, and more. It's an electronic articulation of the natural world without an iota of the ponderous. The layered rhythms, spaces, tones, and countermelodies create an internal vastly creative logic of illustrative modes. "Closed Circuit" is filled with complementary notes and cadences contrasted and juxtaposed against washes of reverb and nearly percussive rhythms and counterrhythms that intimately deliver a portrait of nature's transformative moments as they reveal their inner logic over time. The bonus cut, "Retrograde," features an organ-like pulsing vamp (à la Terry Riley) attenuated by careening blots of upper-register sound and alternating bass pulses that depict -- for the listener anyway -- the teeming aquatic life under clashing ocean currents and waveforms. The piece's eventual dissolve into silence never slows in movement, answering to no sense of harmony but its own. Sunergy is dramatic as well as dynamic; the rich textural palettes are stacked and ordered according to imaginative purpose and process, offering inspired structure rather than passive investigation. While the Frkwys series is known for its (mostly) consistent excellence, this volume is a clear standout within it.

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