Do you remember the aquariums at Woodfield? The tanks that were at Center Court in a tunnel beneath the fountain? Can you remember the music that was piped into those tunnels?

The sound track that you heard was “Fish Music” and was created by a young woman named Suzanne Ciani. In 1971, the developers of Woodfield Mall commissioned Ms. Ciani to compose the music just as the mall entered its final stages of construction. According to Ms. Ciani, a recent law “required new shopping centers to provide for the artistic enhancement of spaces.”

At the time, Ms. Ciani was getting started in a new field of music. It centered around a synthesizer called a Buchla which was developed by Donald Buchla in the early 1960s. It was a 160-pound instrument composed of panels, wires, buttons, knobs and a piano-like keyboard that could be used to both create new sounds or mimic such sounds as leaves rustling, water flowing or a snake hissing.

Ms. Ciani recalls that Tamara Thomas was the art subcontractor who approached her about the aquariums. Ms. Thomas primarily represented sculptors and, according to her 2004 obituary in the LA Times, “established herself in New York in the late 1960s, building an art collection for shopping center mogul Alfred Taubman and installing artworks in his properties.” As it turns out, Mr. Taubman was the developer and long-time owner of Woodfield Mall.

Ms. Thomas found her through two sculptors both women worked with–Harold Paris and Ronald Mallory.  Mr. Paris likely mentioned Ms. Ciani, as his house was next door to Donald Buchla’s studio in Berkeley, California.

Using the Buchla at his studio, Ms. Ciani created a unique composition for Woodfield that was designed to musically mimic the exotic fish swimming in the aquariums. It was an unusual idea and a distinctive addition to a mall that, when it opened in September 1971, was the largest indoor shopping center in the United States.

As a subtle pleasure, the underwater sounds of Ms. Ciani’s music played in a continuous loop for visitors who explored the tunnel and the aquariums. Her contribution was nothing less than first class. You can listen to a portion of it here.

The fountains, the waterfall and the aquariums remained in place until about 2004, when they were removed from the mall.  The Woodfield “Fish Music” however, was only the beginning for Ms. Ciani.

Take a listen to this tidbit from a documentary called “A Life in Waves” in which Ms. Ciani adds her unique touch to a Coca Cola commercial. Or, you’ll definitely recognize this creation that she did for AT&T. It sounds even more memorable now that you know who did it–and that she, too, is part of Schaumburg Township’s history.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

My thanks to Suzanne Ciani for her input with this blog posting as well as her contribution of the photo. She was very gracious in providing information and, between us, we managed to uncover the connection linking her, Tamara Thomas and Alfred Taubman. Thank goodness, she remembered Ms. Thomas’ first name–it was a wonderful find!  

The upper photo of Woodfield Mall was used courtesy of the former Profile Publications of Crystal Lake. The lower photo is from Chicago Magazine.



  1. mashke Says:

    AHH! great posting. I think about the aquarium every time i return to woodfield. There was that great little tunnel where you could walk under the waterfall. It is missed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: