Modular Synths Mimic Life In Suzanne Ciani & Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's 'Sunergy'

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani in the <em>Sunergy</em> documentary.

There is life in the modular synth, which ripples and gurgles in ways that can feel human or otherwise. Sunergy brings together two synthesists of different generations for a stunning album that feels deeply conversational. Suzanne Ciani was a classically trained pianist before meeting musical inventor Don Buchla in the early '70s, radically altering her creative path. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a more recent convert to modular synths, but has already discovered a voice of her own, especially with this year's gorgeous EARS.

Smith and Ciani's collaborative LP is documented here by director Sean Hellfritsch, whose 25-minute film was shot in Ciani's Northern California home. There, the duo makes music that evokes the motion of ocean waves and sea life, with the synths perfectly in tune with the natural world.

"When I was invited to make a film about a collaboration between Kaitlyn and Suzanne, the modular synth geek in me jumped for joy," Hellfritsch tells NPR. "I didn't hold any expectations over the film, though I was certain it wouldn't be a classic documentary — i.e., no interviews intercut with behind-the-scenes footage. As the recordings came to life, I felt more and more that what I was making should simply serve as a visual layer to the sounds — another channel for listeners to experience.

"The music of Sunergy is an ode to the sun and the sea, so I thought it natural to look to those elements for my inspiration, as well. I took a camera to the intertidal zone of Duxbury Reef and was very fortunate to find it in such a dynamic state. As I was shooting, I could see the sounds of Kaitlyn and Suzanne's synths dancing in the water and light. I thought to myself, 'Aha! This is it!'"

Sunergy comes out Sept. 16 on RVNG Intl.

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