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Reality of Dreams - An interview with Suzanne Ciani

by Serge Kozlovsky and Alexander Petrov

1. Who has influenced you most in your music and why?

At different stages of my life in music, I have had various influences. Amongst the most important were the classical composers I played and listened to as a child: Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Beethoven, Shostakovitch, Bartok, Puccini, Verdi, to name just a few. And I would have to include my parents, for providing a beautiful Steinway piano and for giving me the freedom to follow my dreams. Later, my music professors certainly had an impact on my development. After university, I began to actually make my living writing music for television and films, first in Los Angeles, and then in New York City, where I became a pioneer in the new area of sound design. Working in "the trenches" of the music business exposed me to a different aspect of music, working with the extremely talented studio musicians and learning to write and produce music under pressure. On another level, the people who have had an emotional impact on my life have given me something to say, the desire to express a special feeling.

2. Your album "Dream Suite" was recorded in Moscow in 1994. Could you please tell about your work on this album. What impressions - creative and personal - do you have after visiting Russia?

"Dream Suite" realized my dream to write an extended work for piano and orchestra, returning to my classical roots. I chose to record the orchestra in Russia for several reasons. Now that Russia was open after so many years, I wanted to finally go to this country that had always impressed me with its high level of artistic expression. I wanted to work with the young musicians there. I wanted them to bring the Russian sense of passion to the music. I was not disappointed, although working there was not what I expected: there were many issues of security and I had to have a guard with me whenever I went out. I was upset to see that some of the values of the culture were changing -- that some people just wanted money and would commit any crime to get it. I saw a new wealthy stratum of society, but at the expense of the poorer people. In some ways it seemed like a lawless time, like "the wild west" more than a century ago in this country. I was sad that the artistic legacy of communism, with funding for artists, was gone now and many of the artists were leaving. I was impressed to see the high regard Russians had for poets, whereas in this country we do not pay them much attention. I was surprised at how much things cost for foreigners, even more than in this country.

3. In my opinion, at present one can observe in your music a tendency to use acoustic instruments and orchestra. For example your albums "Dream Suite" and "Live" were recorded with an orchestra. What kind of music do you prefer to create at present and why?

My early albums were an expression of my love affair with music technology, particularly with analog synthesis, and in particular, with the Buchla synthesizer. Over the years, I began to incorporate acoustic instruments, including the piano, which was my first instrument, but which I had renounced for ten years during my intense electronic period. My evolution towards the acoustic sound is, I believe, paralleled by changes in music technology, which I find less interesting from a sonic perspective. When "synthesizers" began to lean more towards the replication of acoustic instruments, I felt it was more interesting to return to the original acoustic instrument itself, as well as to the musicians who devote their lives to playing these instruments. Thus, my more recent albums feature both orchestra and some of my favorite musicians who are grounded in the classics, but also improvise in the sense of jazz.

I have just finished a new album, "Turning," where I continue to write for piano with the instrumentation used on the "Live" album: oboe, flute, violin, cello, guitar, bass, and percussion. Last year I toured Spain and Asia with "The Wave," the group I formed to record the "Live" album, and I wanted to write especially for these musicians who play both classically and improvise as well. One important departure on this album is the title song, featuring an extraordinary vocalist I met while touring in Taiwan. So it is the first time I have written music and lyrics for one of my albums.

4. Your music became well-known and popular in Russia mainly thanks to the program "Back To The Universe" on a Moscow FM Radio station. Do you maintain creative and personal relations with any Russian musicians and/or DJ's?

I would like to thank "Back to the Universe" for bringing my music to Russia. I have corresponded with Oleg Onoprienko in the past, but I am not sure what his radio program is called. Also, I would like to be in contact with the Russian conductor of the orchestra for Dream Suite, Mark Gorenstein, but do not know how to contact him.

5. Do you know that you're having many fans in the former Soviet Union countries?

No, I did not know and I am very pleased to hear this. I have a great respect for the artistry of the Russian people and have always wanted to share my music with them. That is one reason why I recorded with a Russian orchestra.

6. Have you ever suffered from "piracy" in Russia or/and somewhere else?

It is difficult to monitor the different types of illegal copying that occur. On one level, there is the case of the individual who makes a copy of a tape or CD for a friend, thinking that this is OK to do. On another level, there are larger scale "pirates" who manufacture quantities of CDs by illegally copying them. This occurs primarily in parts of Asia, South America and in countries where the market is not structured. Unfortunately, this pirating activity inhibits the development of the marketplace. I have no proof that I have been "pirated" in Russia, but right now I do not have a distributor there. One can obtain my CDs on the Internet at Amazon.com, for example.

7. In the recording of your very successful album "The Velocity Of Love," Vangelis took part. Could you please tell us about your collaboration with Vangelis. What have you obtained from this collaboration (in personal and creative senses), have you left some remarkable recollections from this collaboration?

I first met Vangelis in London in the early eighties. I invited him to play on my up-coming album, "The Velocity of Love" and we worked in his studio and then in New York in mine. He added tracks to three of my compositions, playing the Yamaha CS-80. I left spaces for him to add an improvised line. Vangelis was like a life force, a "larger than life" character, with great passion and sensitivity. We share a Mediterranean spirit: our music is romantic and sensual. He does not read or write music, but he has a strong classical sense. He paints in big strokes, with spontaneity and a sure sense of what the music is saying. We are still friends, though I have lost track of him in the past several years.

8. As we know, your music was used in the films "Earthdance" and "Earthscapes," released by Miramar Productions. Could you please tell a little about your taking part in the work on these films? Did you write music specially for these films?

I believe that these were compilations of films created by David Fortney, with whom I've worked extensively over the years. David is a uniquely talented visual artist whose work I admire tremendously. He has selected various of my recorded compositions to which he marries his poetic images of nature.

A few years ago, I released a series of videos called "Natura Poetica" which features the work of several visual artists, including David Fortney.

9.What are you working on now? When could we listen to your new album?

I finished the new album, "Turning," in March and it will be released in the United States in September. It features a vocal song which I wrote for a Taiwanese singer, Chyi Yu. It is the first vocal song to appear in my albums. It also features performances by the musicians in "The Wave," the group that I recorded the "Live" CD with. I will send you a CD.

I am currently working on my third book of piano solos, to be published by the Hal Leonard Corporation.

I am also preparing to tour in Asia this fall, this time as a soloist, and am hoping to perform in South America as well.

10. Would you like to make any new project with Russian musicians?

I would love to perform the "Dream Suite" album live in Russia. I have performed this album in Milan, Italy and in Lagoa Orta, Italy.

11. Why did you live and work on Capri for a rather long time? What new inspirations have you got while being in this famous island?

I went to Italy to find my roots -- to meet my Italian family and to be inspired by my favorite country. Capri was the perfect choice for spending the winter: it has incredible natural beauty and has always attracted artists. Plus, it was near our family home, where my grandfather was born and where my cousins still live. All of my Italian discoveries became part of the music for the album, "Hotel Luna." Later, after recording the orchestra for "Dream Suite" in Moscow, I returned to Capri to record the piano and to mix the album at Capri Digital Studios. The very next day, Joe and I were married on this magical island.

12. When and how did you meet your husband?

About 7 years ago, after living and working in New York City for 19 years, I decided to make a dramatic change and moved to a rather remote seaside cabin in northern California. After I arrived, I was very happy to be surrounded by magnificent nature, but felt a bit lonely. As luck would have it, Joe walked into the house one day. Amazing!! I guess you would call this destiny. We have been together since and have worked together as well. As an attorney, Joe became president of our record label, "Seventh Wave Productions." As a musician, he has produced two of my albums ("Pianissimo II" and "Suzanne Ciani and the Wave: Live") and is someone with whom I can always share the subtleties of music.

13. What musical instruments are you using now in your creative work?

I use a MacIntosh G3 with Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer, the 2408 digital recording software, a Yamaha M01V Mixer, Lexicon reverbs, and Genelec speakers. I use a Yamaha Disklavier Piano and a variety of synths from Yamaha, Roland, Korg, Kurzweil, Kawai and Alesis.

14. Recently you've been to Europe. How did you spend your time there? Did you enjoy being there?

I spent a couple of weeks in Provence exploring all the little towns and attending the Arts Festival of Avignon. Then I went to Italy and spent time with my family, vacationing in Capri, Ischia, and Palinuro, swimming every day in the Mediterranean. Heaven!!

15. Are you going to record any other artists on your label Seventh Wave?

In the past, Seventh Wave had a roster of artists, but now we are concentrating our energies on my releases and have given back the masters to the other artists. Seventh Wave was an artist-friendly label and we worked to further the careers of our artists, but did not assume ownership of their work as major labels do.

16. For the record of your last album "Live" a group of remarkable musicians was gathered and they were united into a group "The Wave". What connections do you have with these perfect artists?

They are all magnificent musicians and wonderful people. I feel very fortunate to be with them. I have known Teja Bell the longest, having worked with him years ago when I came out to California to record the "History of my Heart" CD. Later I met Paul McCandless, whom I had heard of for years, but then discovered we live in the same small town I live in now. (By the way, Paul has just returned from Moscow, where he recorded a new orchestral album with his group, Oregon.) I first saw Michael Manring at one of his concerts. At one moment, he was playing three basses at the same time! He is so consumed with playing the bass -- he is a master. On the new album, Steve Kindler plays violin. I had met him through Teja when I came out to record "History of My Heart." He was always the wunderkind. With the other musicians I have less of a personal history, but the greatest professional respect.

17. In general, which musicians can be named as your friends?

Well, let's see. We've already mentioned Vangelis. And "The Wave." And then there are many, many famous musicians I've worked with in my New York years, but I guess they would be considered "acquaintances" and not "friends." And the musicians on Seventh Wave were friends, like Georgia Kelly and Michael Hoppe. Dominic Frontiere I include amongst my musician friends. In the early seventies in Los Angeles, I gave him synthsizer lessons and he taught me film scoring. I shared a studio in my early New York years with Philip Glass and also taught him synth. About this time I also met Ornette Coleman. But the truth is, although I've met and worked with all kinds of wonderful musicians, from pop to classical, I have very few and precious friends.

18. What are your interests in life?

Other than music, my interests are tennis, nature, cooking, collecting black-and-white photography and learning languages.

19. What religious and philosophical views are you close to? What is your spiritual search?

I was raised as a Catholic, but am not involved now in organized religion. To me, there is evidence of God every place I look in nature and I continuously marvel at the creation that surrounds me.

20. Are you practicing any spiritual exercises (techniques)? Do you belong to a particular religion?

I try to spend part of each day in unspoiled nature, hiking, and for me this is not difficult because I live in a beautiful place. I practice Yoga almost everyday, but not so much in a spiritual sense, but to honor the body in which I live and to connect with it. I think of my time at the piano as a meditation.

21. What is important for you to express in your music?

I try to express my own simple truth, to be myself. I want to create something of lasting beauty, well-structured compositions that are based in the poetry of what I have to say.

22. What long-term goals do you have in your life?

I want to live a balanced life, with time for both my art and my family. (I have no children, but many sisters, nieces and cousins.) I want to continue to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, but also to explore and discover new experiences, especially people from other cultures.

23. What is the new age music in your view? How could you define it?

I think it is a catch all phrase for instrumental music that has no real meaning or definition. It is simply a marketing phrase so people will know where to look for music. Some people have other ideas about what it means, but for me this is all there is to it. I don't think of my music as "new age." That is just the section of the store in which you find it.

24. What would you like to wish to the readers of our magazine?

I wish that they enjoy my music and that they correspond with me at my e-mail address: sevwave@aol.com

Thank you very much for the interview.

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© 1999 Serge Kozlovsky

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