In July, I got to sit down and speak with stunning (and legendary) electronic producers Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani. Both women – of two different generations – are highly regarded in the industry, having mastered their craft and stunned audiences worldwide. The good news is that they met each other while living in the same town in California, and their knowing each other and of each other’s talents brought them together to record an album titled Sunergy. It was released on September 15th, partnered with a documentary detailing the project. Check out the documentary below, and then find out what Kaitlyn and Suzanne had to say about working together.
When did you decide that music was your calling?
Kaitlyn: I kind of just started how most people start, with piano lessons. I feel like my big “a-ha!” moment was when I was thirteen. I started working with a film composer and he gave me a Kurs While sampler and taught me Pro Tools. I just made really dorky sounding scores with it, but that was my first experience of making all of these crazy sounds out of one thing.
Suzanne: You can tell we’re different generations! (laughing) Child. I didn’t have that until I was probably in my twenties. When I was very little I wanted to be a ballerina. My big sisters were playing music and had piano lessons. I just started to play their lessons naturally. My mom wanted me to get lessons then. I took lessons for one year. I didn’t like my teacher, so I was self-taught until high school. I played for hours and hours a day because I had such a romance with music. It was probably in high school that I figured out it was my destiny.
But I had this epiphany in middle school out on the playground when I knew I’d pursue music.
How did you both get in cahoots for Sunergy?
Kaitlyn: We had been neighbors in Bolinas for about a year. We were working together, so we developed a friendship from that. Matt at Revenge is a big fan of Suzanne’s. He and I were chatting one day and he found out she was my neighbor so he proposed the idea of us making an album together and said he would put it out.
Did you write and produce everything together, or did you collaborate separately?
Suzanne: It was really an improvisation. We were familiar with each other, so we decided to get together. We just set up our two machines in my studio and just did it. There wasn’t a lot of pre-production other than familiarity with each other’s work. I had seen Kaitlyn perform in Bolinas.
Kaitlyn: And I am definitely familiar with Suzanne’s music. She’s a legend in the electronic music world.
Suzanne: The energy was wonderful. When we came together to do this kind of spontaneously, and it was captured that way. It was a moment. It was really, truly live. I think we were both committed to this idea of being able to perform live, and not seeing it as a recorded medium. Seeing it as performance-oriented.
What do you each love about each other’s respective talents?
Kaitlyn: There are so many things that I love about Suzanne’s work. It’s been such a treat to get to know her because then it just adds to it all. I was familiar with her music before and I was always really attracted to her sense of composition and the way she creates so much feeling in her music. I always felt moved. Now I have gotten to know her and have seen her process. I love her curiosity and her persistence. I feel like one of the main things that I learned from her was just to not give up and to give space to ideas. If you persist through your work, it will work out.
Suzanne: What I see in Kaitlyn’s work is that she’s very professional. Perhaps that goes without saying, but that’s what impressed me about her in the beginning. Her clarity and commitment to the music. She always shows up on time, she’s always 100% focused. She has a really deep connection with her music, and I recognize and respect that about her.
When people listen to Sunergy, how do you imagine them hearing it?
Kaitlyn: Suzanne has a really good white wine that she usually drinks. What is it called?
Suzanne: I moved on from that. It was a chardonnay. Now I’m on to Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc. That’s my new one. But how do people listen to electronic music now? Do they turn off all the lights? In reality – in my electronic world – it’s quadrophonic. I like immersion. I want to be inside the speakers three dimensionally.
Kaitlyn: I agree. I second that.
Suzanne: I want people to hear it as a continuous piece. I’m fine with any kind of listening. Put it on in the background, sit in front of it like it’s a movie. Every way to listen works. There’s so much detail in music and so many aspects of it to grab onto in a sonic sense. The spatial aspects of it are very important.
Kaitlyn: Just make sure you’re always listening in stereo, not just on one speaker.
If you could describe this work in one sentence, how would you do that?
Suzanne: Live performance collaboration between the two of us. I think it’s important that it’s noted it’s a “live performance.”
Kaitlyn: With buchla instruments.
Suzanne: We realized it on the coast of northern California while looking out at the sea.
What would you say is each other’s spirit animal?
Kaitlyn: That’s such a good question.
Suzanne: This is hard. There are many dimensions. Kaitlyn can be recessive and dominant. She can be soft and strong. Maybe a doe and a stag? Are there animals that embody both?
Kaitlyn: We can both be Animorphs.
Do you have plans to perform Sunergy live?
Kaitlyn: There has been some talk around it. It would be loads of fun, but we have nothing confirmed yet.
Any fun anecdotes from the recording process?
Suzanne: When you’re working together electronically, you have to integrate the two machines. One of the things we did was we kind of took turns driving, so to speak. Our buchlas were umbilically connected, rhythmically. Sometimes I would drive and sometimes she would drive. It depended on how we hooked up the clocks.
Kaitlyn: (laughing) One time you got that engine revving sound. Do you remember that?
Suzanne: Yes! Like, “Who’s driving?” But it was all done in the moment. It was so cool. Because it was an improvisation we were kind of in the moment. One time it got really goofy and we decided to flip out on a tangent, pretending we were guys recording because of all the talk about how guys who play electronic music like loud noises and strange sound effects. It wasn’t our objective, but we sure know how to do it.
After working together on this, is there any talk of collaboration in the future?
Kaitlyn: I would love to do many things together. I moved to Los Angeles so our locations are now different, but I’m always open to do more stuff.
Suzanne: I think for sure we’ll find an opportunity to play live together. Kaitlyn is doing a lot of live performing right now and I’m starting to do more as well. When you talk about actually performing the album, I guess I hadn’t thought about that. Electronic instruments are so fluent that even I change my instrument every few months. It’s never the same. Even if I had some memory stored from that project, the machine now is completely different.
Kaitlyn: I’m not sure we would try to recreate it, but we could do a version.
Suzanne: We could use the same materials and go in with an idea.
What are you most looking forward to about the release?
Kaitlyn: I’m excited to see the documentary part of it. To share it and to direct even more attention toward Suzanne’s work in general. She has a reissue album that just came out that’s really beautiful.
Suzanne: Buchla Concerts 1975. The connection is that those concerts used the same sequencer rows that we used in this project. They’re organically connected, even though you might not be aware of it. Isn’t that kind of funny?
Do you have anything else you’d like people to know?
Suzanne: The documentary was actually filmed by Kaitlyn’s husband. They’re a very talented couple. He’s in visuals and animation and film.
Kaitlyn: Yeah. That was a treat. He made my visuals for my live show too.
Suzanne: We just hope everyone enjoys the energy of the album. It’s energy. It’s Sunergy. Energy of the sun.
Kaitlyn: And go swimming.