Xenon Speaks (again)
by Bill Baverstock

In addition to collecting arcade games I'm also a music lover, and I've been listening to Suzanne Ciani's music since she first released "Seven Waves" back in 1982. So it was quite a kick to be able e-mail her directly a few questions regarding her work on Xenon. Needless to say after twelve albums her musical fan base is much larger than those who appreciate the Xenon pinball machine, so I'd like to express my thanks to her for indulging us and turning on the "way back machine" for a few moments.

 

Dear Suzanne,

I'm not sure if you are aware that among those of us who collect and preserve arcade pinball machines, Xenon is a popular and much sought after game that has achieved something of a cult status. This is due to the combination of a great theme, stunning artwork and your efforts on the sound and voice tracks. Thank you for taking the time to reflect on these few questions which, with your permission, I will post on my Xenon Pinball web page.

 

BB

What are your memories of that project? Was it a fun gig etc.?

 

SC

Well. I was amazed when Bally called. Their representative flew out from Chicago to meet me at my studio to discuss the project. I didn't want to confess that I had rarely even played a pinball game. He was talking all kinds of pinball jargon that only later did I come to understand. Particularly impressive was going to the "factory" at Bally and meeting the designers and "artists." Up until that time, my concept of art was Renoir and Degas and my sister Mary, so I was a bit struck by my visit to their "Art" department. All those cartoony women with big breasts.

 

BB

for the record. Did you do ALL of the voices on Xenon, including the deeper male one?

 

SC

All of the voices are mine, except for one obvious opening voice that someone at Bally added "after the fact." I had a grouping of voice processing gear that I designed into something I called the "Voice Box." This included a Harmonizer, a Vocoder, various filters and processing modules. I modified my own voice with the Voice Box to produce all of the voices.

 

BB

synthesizers and recording technology have evolved dramatically over the years. What were your main tools for this job.

 

SC

I was given the specs on the chips that would be used for the project. I replicated the limitations of these chips in my very expensive Synclavier and then worked within those parameters. I wanted to maximize the use of the chips. There were two: one a voice chip that was newly designed and more powerful than earlier chips and thus capable of reproducing the higher frequency female voice. The other was a simple sound chip which was used for the "musical" part of the sound design.

 

BB

Were there any other pinball or arcade machines that your firm designed sound or music for?

 

SC

I never created sound for another pinball game, but I did do sounds for Atari at one point...I can't remember right now. I worked a bit with the government, with Texas Instruments, with Yamaha...various entities that were interested in the new possibilities of the new sound chips.

 

BB

Most of us collectors who frequent the web are familiar with the Norwegian documentary that was done about your work on xenon. Did Bally present you with a complimentary machine and if so was it the same one depicted in the film?

(Note: I've since been informed that the documentary was in fact a Dutch production hosted by Ruud ter Weijden. )

 

SC

There was a documentary done in this country by Nova. Was it? ...a television program narrated by that big movie actor with the deep voice...I don't know if this one is related to the Norwegian documentary. We filmed at Bally headquarters and in my New York studio. Bally did present me with a complimentary machine, but somehow, I never had the space for it, so it was loaned to friends with a big Park Avenue apartment and then later moved out to the Hamptons, where my friend somehow managed to make a coffee table out of it by eliminating everything but the top back panel! Later, my husband presented me with a machine for my birthday...so very thoughtful, but after the divorce, once again, the machine was orphaned to a friend's home, where it is now.

(Note: Suzanne later informed me that she has since spoken with the director of this piece, Riva Freifeld. It was originally produced in the US for Omni Magazine, a television program based on the science magazine of the same name. Ciani's segment was narrated by Peter Ustinov. Often news and educational type programming are sold or given for use in foreign countries where they are translated and dubbed, or the original narration is scrapped and re-recorded using local talent. It would appear that this is the case with the clip from Dutch Television. )

BB

If so,do you still have it?

 

SC

See above.

 

BB

And if so.......does it still work?

 

SC

It works beautifully. It is a fine machine!

 

BB Thanks a bunch and best wishes!

This picture of Suzanne Ciani appeared in an article in CashBox magazine around the time of Xenon's debut.

CLICK HERE to see Bill's Xenon Page

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