Carbonation in a Coca-Cola doesn’t make much noise, but electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani created a sound so true to fans’ experience with the refreshing drink that people around the world have come to recognize it as the sound of those beloved bubbles.

Those bubbles helped put Ciani and her music on the map. And more than four decades since the sound’s creation, it continues to hold resonance.

“I've been touring around the world with an international audience, and we're all looking for something in common,” Ciani said. The sounds and experience of Coca-Cola, she believes, provide a common ground.

It Began with a Buchla

On April Fools’ Day 1974, Ciani arrived in New York City from Los Angeles with little more than a Buchla – her Analog Modular Synthesizer – to perform electronic music live in an art gallery. She loved the city too much to leave.

Given the spontaneity of the move, Ciani didn't have time to transfer her belongings from L.A. to New York. She sent what remained on the West Coast to storage, where it would stay for the next five years until she could afford shipping.

“I was starving and looking for work,” she explains. “So, I got out the REDBOOK, which, before the Internet, was the catalogue of all the advertising agencies.”

Every week, she'd call the city's top 20 firms to inquire about a job, but her form of electronic sound-making was so new that even she was unsure of how to describe her skills.

“We didn’t know the words ‘sound designer’ back then,” Ciani reflects, “but I said, ‘I have an electronic instrument and I make sounds. I'd like to meet with you.’"

Billy Davis, a prolific music director at the McCann Erickson agency, partially took the bait. He agreed to meet with Ciani three times, only to stand her up on each occasion.

Ciani had had enough.

“I went marching up to Times Square, knocked on the door of his studio and walked into the control room," she recalls. "And there was Billy.”

Ciani had crashed a jingle-writing session for Coca-Cola. Davis and his team were hard at work creating “Coke Adds Life,” and were stuck on a particular section.

"Can you do something in there?" Davis asked her.

Ciani recalls, “I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Well, what do you need?”

She needed her Buchla.

Making a Music Logo

Ciani sent for the instrument, too heavy to carry, via a cartage company. With wires and knobs resembling a switchboard operating system, the Buchla was an unfamiliar sight to those in the room when it arrived.

“Most people were very intimidated by this, but not Billy," Ciani remembers. "I give him big credit for being open to this new technology, because the record labels were not.”

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Recognizing a monumental opportunity when she saw one, Ciani immediately got to work.

The in-progress Coca-Cola jingle was melodic, and her first impulse was to create a call-and-response to fill the blank space. She quickly realized, though, that her sound would have many more applications if it did not rely on melody and instead could be used in songs written for any key.

It needed be a sound that captured Coca-Cola. A musical logo, so to speak.

“That's when the idea of the bubbles came up,” Ciani explains. “Of course, bubbles don't make sound, but this is the magic of sound design... you can create the concept of a sound and it seems real.”

Unlike a computer, the Buchla has no memory storage. The compositional process is inherently fluid.

“Billy would say, ‘Let's go back to that sound I heard five minutes ago,’" Ciani recalls with a laugh. "And I would say, ‘Well, I don't remember what that was.’”

The two ultimately developed a way to explore sounds; Davis would slap Ciani’s hand when he heard something he liked.

“When he slapped my hand,” Ciani says, “I would pull my hands away from the instrument because it was so responsive. You could move a knob just a tiny bit and the whole sound would change.”

Eventually they found their sound, creating what came to be known as the “Coca-Cola Pop ‘n Pour.”

Imagining the Real Thing

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After perfecting the “Pop ‘n Pour,” Ciani continued to work closely with Davis to enhance other Coca-Cola jingles. The “electronic augmentations” she provided opened new realms of possibility for commercial storytelling.

She fondly remembers one ad in which three guys are hard at work on a hot road, dreaming of the Coca-Cola they hoped to soon drink. Ciani used her synth to create what she imagined to be the sound of heat.

“What you do in electronics is you design that imaginary idealistic world that's larger than life,” she says of creating a sound that depicts something experienced, not heard.

By imagining the sounds of inaudible moments, Ciani crafts more authentic aural experiences, cementing her works’ resonance with audiences.

“Being able to design in this idealistic way connects our concepts to a higher level,” she concludes. “And that’s real.”