Last month Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith teamed up with fellow Bolinas, California resident Suzanne Ciani, legend of synthesis, sound design, and New Age music, to release an improvised album as part of RVNG Intl.’s cross-generational FRKWYS series. Sunergy is an immense, expansive meditation on the natural world, it’s uncontrollability, and humanity’s role within it. At first blush using electronic instruments as a medium to consider nature might feel counterintuitive, but as Smith eagerly points out, “Electricity is nature, I don’t see a separation between them.” The two artists find common ground in their intuitive understanding of electronic synthesis as a part of our surroundings.
Both artists have explored this relationship before. At a live performance presented by Portals and S&S at a Brooklyn church last fall, Smith’s sounds weaved with reflections from the stained glass light in a delicate dance, as her husband, filmmaker Sean Hellfritsch, projected a series of vibrant, circular textures onto the sanctuary’s ceiling which seemed to orbit above the candle-lit altar like a halo. Sound nestled in subtle harmony with setting. It was easy to comprehend that the further one drifts from a traditional venue experience – closer to a real, breathing space – the more sense her music makes.
“The ocean is a constant metaphor in my composition,” notes Ciani. The electronic design of ocean sounds that she perfected on her 1982 classic LP Seven Waves is boldly echoed on Sunergy. “When I was Kaitlyn’s age,” she recalls, “there were really no opportunities for releasing Buchla performances. It’s good to see that things have changed!”
Hellfritsch joined the pair to document their session, but soon expanded his scope, also filming the slow, undulating California coastline outside Ciani’s home studio. “The interplay of water, wind, and sunlight was mesmerizing to watch,” he notes. The non-narrative documentary that emerged, also titled Sunergy, matches the majesty and patience of the environment captured in the recordings.