- When I spoke with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith earlier this year, the LA-based musician and composer told me why she first fell in love with the music of Terry Riley: "I remember just being like, 'Oh... It sounds like the universe. It sounds like DNA.'" It's a quote that popped in my head frequently when listening to FRKWYS Vol. 13: Sunergy. Smith's collaborative record with her friend and former mentor, the renowned synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani, sounds as if it's exploring the universe and its natural chaos through modular synth improvisation.
Ciani herself has been interested in oceans and their cycles since before Smith was born, and those ideas endure with this collaboration. But where this year's excellent EARS and, say, Ciani's classic Seven Waves used unspooling synth sequences for melody as much as texture, these pieces are more abstractly illustrative. The 23-minute "A New Day," as its title implies, begins with promise and the tension of the unknown—the low-end ebbs and flows, as burbling synth noise swirls around it. A melodic phrase materializes about 12 minutes in, giving the waves of noise and the glittery bleeps and bloops structure, but it soon recedes into the random modular chatter. It's interesting, but feels somewhat unfocussed. Like an old-school synth recording, it largely demonstrates the instrument's array of generative capabilities instead of harnessing them more intentionally. There are plenty of records from the '70s and '80s (including Ciani's own) that have already captured those possibilities, and with the gusto of discovering new technology.
Bonus track "Retrograde" also has a broad perspective in terms of tones and trajectory, albeit with more warmth and whimsy. Those qualities—along with the subtle room recording of Smith and Ciani working in the studio—help make the piece captivating in its immersive sprawl. "Closed Circuit" stands out on Sunergy for its restraint and musicality. Smith and Ciani riff around a melodic figure with a percussive edge, filling the space around the light-footed pattern with delicate, free-flowing harmonic color. Their weightless composition is then submerged, and slowly rises from under Ciani's waves to spin, dip and billow overhead. It's the kind of dynamic structure and purposeful sound design expected from artists with the strengths of these two. And perhaps most importantly, "Closed Circuit" sounds like Smith and Ciani telling a story that bears repeating.
01. A New Day
02. Closed Circuit
03. Retrograde (Bonus Track)