A LIFE IN WAVES

★★★★

AN ESSENTIAL LOOK AT AN ELECTRONIC MUSIC INNOVATOR

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
11th August 2017

Helmed by director Brett Whitcomb (‘County Fair, Texas’), writer Bradford Thomason and executive producer Ali Clark, ‘A Life in Waves’ centres on the life of pianist and composer Suzanne Ciani, whose innovations in the 1970s and 80s had a major impact in pioneering and popularising electronic music.

Ciani discovered electronic music in the late 60s and quickly became immersed in the male-dominated worlds of sound synthesis and computer music. Differentiating herself from contemporaries like Brian Eno, Giorigio Moroder and Klaus Schulze, Ciani created sensual, feminine sounds that pulsed and flowed, with textures more akin to ocean waves than to the dark atmosphere common in early electronic music.

'A LIFE IN WAVES' TRAILER

The film takes a look at Ciani’s illustrious career, including her struggle to find an audience for her early modular compositions and unforeseen acceptance in the advertising world. With her instrument of choice, the Buchla modular synthesizer, Ciani revolutionised the ad industry, creating ear-catching effects for brands like General Electric, Atari, Skittles, Dial, and others. Perhaps her most famous piece, the Coca-Cola Pop n' Pour sound effect, was featured in hundreds of Coca-Cola commercials throughout the 70s and 80s.

Ciani also provided the sound effects for Meco’s disco version of the ‘Star Wars’ soundtrack in 1977 and scored the Lily Tomlin movie ‘The Incredible Shrinking Woman’, becoming the first solo female composer of a major Hollywood film. She began recording albums in the 1980s with a mix of electronic and traditional instruments. In the 90s, Ciani transitioned from synthesisers back to the piano and formed her own record label, Seventh Wave. Over the course of her 30+ year career, she's released 15 solo albums.

She recalls golden moments from her past, including the time she slept on her friend Phillip Glass’s floor in New York, her several Grammy nominations and concerts across the globe.

Using archival footage and Ciani’s own catalogue of music, the film sees the sound effects specialist reflect on her relationship with modular synth pioneer Don Buchla, "the consummate designer of electronic instruments”. She also recalls golden moments from her past, including the time she slept on her friend Phillip Glass’s floor in New York, her several Grammy nominations and concerts across the globe ... as well as darker moments, like a bout with breast cancer. Cianni reflects on these events with an ever-romantic, often philosophical tone, connecting the waves in her music to the ups and downs in her life.

Whitcomb was the director of the 2012 documentary ‘GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling’, which focused on the 1980s syndicated show (the inspiration for the fictionalized Netflix series ‘GLOW’). ‘A Life in Waves’ continues Whitcomb’s admirable quest to shine a light on the untold stories of inspirational women who blazed a trail. This is an essential documentary for fans of electronic music.

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