Suzanne Ciani at First Congregational Church Of Los Angeles

  • The electronic music pioneer plays the LA debut of experiential event series Ambient Church.
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  • On Friday, two years after launching in New York, Ambient Church made its LA debut at the historic First Congregational Church Of Los Angeles. Founded by Brian Sweeny, the roving experiential series aims to "bring new ecologies to architecturally unique spaces through transcendent audio and visual performance," though it was also a response to multiple venue closures across New York's DIY scene. (A problem LA, and the nation at large, has grappled with following the Ghost Ship fire). Churches in particular are "acoustically and architecturally beautiful," Sweeny told Pitchfork, "but they're the least utilized venues. There's an event every Sunday, but for the most part they're empty." That wasn't the case on Friday evening. Well before the show's scheduled start time, a line of smartly dressed patrons had encircled the courtyard outside. From afar, the church's interior looked pitch-black, but walking into the hall revealed vibrant washes of colored light and intricate stained-glass windows. Its vast size, concrete walls and looming arches, styled after the English Gothic Revival, commanded a powerful and almost intimidating presence. When the opener, Sarah Davachi, began, a hush fell over the previously chatty audience—even the sound of shuffling feet was loud by comparison. Performing on the pipe organ, which the church touts as one of the world's largest, Davachi's chords waded into a deep, heavy drone that felt soothing and overwhelming, ethereal and somber, all at once. After the intermission, the room again went quiet as the night's headliner, Suzanne Ciani, stepped up behind her Buchla 200e. For an all-too-brief 30 minutes, she performed in quadraphonic sound, stimulating the audience's senses from four different directions. We were submerged in the ambient lull of her machine-made ocean, birds circling overhead. Next came a series of bleep sequences fit for a sci-fi film, and then what sounded like a freight train hurtling by. The music never stayed in one place, and neither did the sound. Hosting concerts in a place of worship might be, for some, a tad distasteful. But what else is music if not holy when it has the power to silence a room full of people and darken their phone screens for even a couple hours? Ambient Church isn't the first event of its kind, but its growing presence will offer people more chances to see groundbreaking artists in settings free from both the monotony of traditional venues and the uncertainty of their DIY counterparts. "Someday, probably in your lifetime, but maybe not in mine, there will actually be theaters designed for this kind of sound," Ciani told the audience afterward. "The sound will be perfectly spatial and easy to do. We're just going a little bit forward in that direction." Photo credit / Michael Melwani