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Live Sound Showcase: Suzanne Ciani Gets Loud at the Library

By Steve Harvey. Nobody said “shhh” when electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani played a live quadrophonic performance at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium.

Los Angeles, CA—“We’re in an era of spatial immersive sound,” said electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani during an interview following her live quadrophonic performance at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium. Forty-plus years into her career, during which she has garnered five Grammy nominations and numerous other awards, Ciani has seen this movie before.

When quadrophonic record releases became available in the ’70s, she had high hopes for it, Ciani said in an onstage interview by writer and musician Claire L. Evans after Ciani’s performance during L.A. Made, a series of cultural events hosted annually by the L.A. Public Library (LAPL). But the quadrophonic format faded, due largely to the confusion of competing, incompatible quad vinyl codecs.

It was only last year that Ciani was able to release a record, LIVE Quadrophonic, that resurrected ’70s technology to showcase the improvised shows she has been delivering using her Buchla 200e, a hybrid synthesizer with four outputs. That limited release was made possible by CyKiK founder and arts technologist KamranV, who produced the event with the Los Angeles Public Library, with additional support from Bedrock.LA, Future Lighting and Spitfire Audio.

Meyer Sound provided multiple immersive speaker systems that enabled Ciani to deliver her performance not only in the 227-seat auditorium, but also outdoors in the Children’s Courtyard and the Flora L. Thornton Courtyard. Nonprofit radio station dublab broadcast the event live in quadraphonic sound as a part of its 20th anniversary celebration. LAPL also hosted a broadcast on its YouTube page.

This was far from the first time Ciani had played through an immersive Meyer Sound rig. “I played with Meyers at Moogfest” in 2018, she recalled. That rig comprised 51 loudspeakers, with the main Leopard line arrays augmented by 22 surround and overhead speakers. “I just did a project in Berlin with 52 speakers,” she added, which included height layers. “We’re in an era where speakers are proliferating.”

Meyer Sound’s digital products solutions architect Richard Bugg and Steve Ellison, the company’s application director, digital products, put together a system at the LAPL controlled by a Matrix3 LX-300 with CueMixer in the main auditorium. The mix system accepted four inputs from Ciani’s synth, plus the radio mics used for the post-show interview and audience Q&A, and output a quad mix to the venue and the two courtyards via three Galaxy processors, networked over AVB.

Related: The Unlikely Return of Quadraphonic Vinyl, by Steve Harvey, April 24, 2018

All three locations featured Meyer’s Ultra series products, noted Ellison, including four of the company’s next-generation Ultra-X40 loudspeakers (introduced in February at ISE 2019) in the main auditorium. “I had the pleasure of doing a system at ISE where we had 12 of these in surround. It was really something else,” he said. The point source system, which features a concentric driver configuration and a three-channel Class-D amplifier, draws its technologies from Meyer Sound’s Leo family of line array loudspeakers.

The Ultra-X40 houses dual 8-inch neodymium magnet cone drivers coupled to a low-mid waveguide surrounding the single 3-inch diaphragm high-frequency compression driver, with a field-rotatable 110- by 50-degree constant-Q HF horn. “Having a point source 110 degrees wide and that loud is great for multichannel immersive setups,” said Ellison. Four 900-LFC subs provided low-frequency extension to the Ultra-X40s.

The quad performance mix was additionally fed to a quad monitor setup. A UP4-XP coupled with an MM-10ACX miniature subwoofer was positioned at each corner of the stage for Ciani.

As for the outside locations, said Ellison, “We had UPJs in one courtyard and UPMs in the other courtyard.” Control for both locations was provided by Meyer Sound’s Compass Go software.

In the Children’s Courtyard, four UPJ speakers with two USW subs delivered Ciani’s quad mix. That system was also available for Drum & Lace, otherwise known as Italian composer and performer Sofia Hultquist, who performed in the courtyard before the main event. In the Flora L. Thornton Courtyard, four UPMs and a single M1D sub fed Ciani’s performance and the subsequent interview to an overspill audience.

As Ciani revealed after her performance, in addition to the multi-voice capabilities of the Buchla 200e, she also controls the spatial mix using a couple of iPad apps as hand controllers. “When I started performing, I had a bigger system, but it was too vulnerable to damage with the airlines,” she said. “The system I’m using [now] is very compact.”

Related: Adding a New Dimension to Live Performance, by Anthony Savona, Aug. 23, 2018

While working with an engineer from Moog, she said, he showed her Animoog, an app that enables the user to create a dynamic and constantly evolving soundscape. “I use that for the sustain phase and some melodies,” she said.

Her other iPad provides a Bluetooth interface for an Eventide H9 processor. “In the old days, we had voltage-controlled reverb. Spatially, you could make a sound close or far away, and move it. We don’t have that now [on her current synth]. I had the H9 modified so I can voltage-control the mix of the processed and the direct signals,” she explained.

Ciani met Buchla while she was studying composition at UC Berkeley in the late ’60s, and even then, she recalled, he was determined to incorporate quadrophonic capabilities. “To bring it to life, he wanted [the sound] to move,” she said. “And the movement is organic to the sound, because it’s voltage-controlled. It can dance in the space. That brings it to life.”

Decades later, when she composes with her newer Buchla 200e, acquired shortly before Don Buchla sold his company, “I don’t think about the sound,” she said. “I think about the way the sound moves.”

Meyer Sound •

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