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Watch Suzanne Ciani Create Sounds for a Pinball Machine

Geary Yelton

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Armed with synthesizers, effects, and her own voice, Ciani breathed life into a science-fiction world of imagination.

In 1979, coin-operated arcade game maker Bally Manufacturing approached pioneering synthesist Suzanne Ciani for a top-secret project. They tasked her with creating the sounds for their high-tech wonder, the Xenon pinball machine. It was their first talking game with a digitized human voice. Suzanne suggested using a female voice and making the game audibly respond to the player’s actions.

She created the Xenon’s music and sound effects on her New England Digital Synclavier II and Buchla 200 modular synth. She processed her voice, which became the voice of the game itself, using a combination of rackmount processors she called the Voice Box. Bally burned her voice, music, and effects onto the very latest sound chips at the time. Then they installed them in 11,000 machines and began distributing them around the world in December 1980.

Omni Magazine produced this segment on the making of Bally’s Xenon pinball machine for their TV show in 1981. To learn more about Suzanne Ciani, check out this month’s “Pioneers of Electronic Music” on Synth and Software.

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