Move Your Body
As connections go, the one between contemporary electronic auteur Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and pioneering electronic sound designer Suzanne Ciani – the “diva of the diode” – runs pretty deep. Both classically-trained musicians, the pair fell hard for the pull of Buchla modular synths. “It’s a relationship. It’s deep, it’s organic, it has a brain,” said Ciani, analysing her long-standing interaction with the Buchla 200 in a film for The Vinyl Factory last year.
Lest we forget, Ciani worked with inventor Don Buchla himself, soldering his inaugural machines, and has long employed the Buchla to innovative effect across all manner of arcade and video games, soundtracks, jingles, and her own beguiling and hugely influential music.
Smith’s obsession with Buchla synths has defined her work, too. First introduced to the Buchla 100 by a neighbour, not long after graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2008, she became so enamoured with its analogue pulses that her indie/folk band, Ever Isles, was soon jettisoned.
Smith and Ciani are kindred spirits, with interesting parallels. Both are rooted in nature: Ciani has spoken of how the sounds of the ocean are often a starting point for her music, while Smith’s synthetic forays – the rustle of leaves, ripples of water – frequently reference the natural world around her, an interest sparked by the “magical and peaceful” forests and pretty beaches of Orcas Island in Washington state where she grew up.
Having met in 2014, at a community dinner party in Bolinas, California – where they both lived, coincidentally – Smith and Ciani talked Buchlas, and clicked immediately. The chance encounter let to Smith becoming Ciani’s studio assistant for a while and she continued to be mentored by her, so it’s no surprise that Ciani has spoken of a distinct “synergy” between them. This culminated in their 2016 ambient-ish collaboration album – titled ‘Sunergy’, unsurprisingly, and made using Buchla synths – part of a series of releases pairing contemporary artists with influential music pioneers.
Smith’s own colourful Buchla experiments punctuate her critically acclaimed albums: 2015’s playful ‘Euclid’, 2016’s ‘EARS’, a blissful joy, even in its heady disorientation, its 2017 follow-up, ‘The Kid’, widely considered her most accessible release to date, and the elemental, new age-y passages of last year’s ‘Tides: Music For Meditation And Yoga’, which is both soothing and restorative.
As you might expect, there’s more than a smattering of Ciani-esque frequencies throughout ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’. But although Ciani is clearly a massive influence, the album finds Smith very much continuing to forge ahead on her own terms.
Like her mentor, Smith has an almost symbiotic relationship with modular synths. Experimenting with sound design, she describes the album as an “expression of love and appreciation for electricity”. But more than just making electronic music with heart and soul, ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’ sees Smith using her own body as a conduit, specifically improvising physical movement and vibrations, known as “cymatics”, to visualise frequencies (in the same way you might send a current through a synth and speaker), then using those to generate, compose and recompose a “mosaic” of new music.
It all sounds a bit confusing and complicated, but even if you don’t fully understand the concept, the resulting music is sublime. Turned up loud through headphones, you’re lost to its sheer, all-consuming, “Buchla-spawned” loveliness in an instant.
Physicality is a recurring theme throughout, most notably on the meditative ‘Carrying Gravity’, its subtle, twinkling arpeggios backed by electronic throbs and thuds that feel like the music is breathing, almost coming to life. For the most part, it’s a rejuvenating and atmospheric experience, easy to zone out to, but there’s the odd surprise, just to keep you on your toes, like the unexpected Buchla-driven surge that appears halfway through ‘The Spine Is Quiet In The Center’ like a euphoric jolt.
The crowning glory, though, is saved for last. Closing track ‘Expanding Electricity’ is a gentle riot of full-on electronic expression, a joyous and eclectic assemblage of symphonic passages, babbling synths and beatific vocal harmonies, putting a seal on this wholly rapturous listening experience.
It’ll be interesting to see where Smith’s modular synth experiments, Buchla or otherwise, take her next. If she ends up mirroring Ciani’s trajectory – in her own unique way, of course – we should be very excited about what the future holds. However Smith’s work unfurls, it promises to be quite the ride.