Suzanne Ciani for The Caret

I headed up to Bolinas recently to photograph a musician I greatly respect, Buchla pioneer Suzanne Ciani. I discovered Suzanne’s music after learning about modular synths via Kaitlyn Auriela Smith,  a fellow Bolinas musician whose album Ears I listen to all the time, especially while traveling.

As someone who listens to 6-10 hours of music a day most days, whether I’m in the studio, traveling, or on a shoot, I’ve got a tendency to go down rabbit holes, following a string of artists on a certain label or subgenres or mixtapes, stumbling upon tremendous albums and musicians along the way.  One of my favorite labels, RVNG (pronounced ‘revenge’ to most folks), puts out a series called FRKWYS, where they ask an older luminary to collaborate on an album with with a younger, more contemporary musician. RVNG describes the series as an “equilibrium of classic artistic sensibility and modern day sentimentality. Each volume is a unification of progenitor and contemporary musician.”

I’ve listened to many FRKWYS albums and they are some of my most cherished, particularly the Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper’s collaboration, or the recent Visible Cloaks, Yoshio Ojima & Satsuki Shibano album. The albums cross all genres and musical disciples; please give a listen if you want to bend your mind a bit.

Suzanne and Kaitlyn have also released a tremendous FRKWYS album called Sunergy, and I played it all week leading up to the shoot. To be honest I was a little nervous to meet her, she’s such a legend in her field but I knew I was meeting a relaxed and energetic woman who has this kind of temerament on Dave Letterman. When I pulled up I realized I’d almost slept on her deck overlooking the ocean on a multiday hiking trip up the coast years ago, I told her about it when I walked in, then we had a lovely couple of hours shooting together. 

I came into the shoot with all sorts of ideas of portraits I wanted to take of her, but sometimes you just can’t plan for what might happen; in this case Suzanne was on a deadline and eager to work, didn’t love being in front of the camera for formal portraits, and her studio was so amazing that we decided to shoot more in situ shots of her working with her incredible equipment on a new composition. The Buchla is an incredibly complex instrument, and Suzanne has a gift and desire to teach those around her about it, so I got to learn a bit about tuning and the new patches she recently got. I also got to experience her work in quadraphonic sound, which was an auditory dream. Overall, a really special two hours. Thank you Suzanne and Evvie.