SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS (PG)
SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS (PG)
Director: Lisa Rovner
Runtime: 86 minutes
Cast: Laurie Anderson (narrated)
Synopsis: the untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers, re- markable composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies to utterly trans form how we produce and listen to music today.
Sisters with Transistors is the first feature documentary from artist and filmmaker, Lisa Rovner.
The remarkable world of electronic music has been constantly evolving since its inception in the early 20th century. From the unlimited possibilities of digital synthesisers, to the recent ana logue recording revival; from the impossibly perfect pitch of Auto-Tune, to the democratisation of music-making for a generation of ‘bedroom’ producers – each of these extraordinary developments is directly connected to the work and artistry of the women featured in Sisters with Transistors. Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Delia Derbyshire, Maryanne Amacher, Pauline Oliveros, Wendy Carlos, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Spiegel are among the greatest pioneers of modern sound and we continue to feel their influence yet most people have never heard of them.
But as easily as these stories have been forgotten, they all too easily could not have happened. As Laurie Spiegel says: “Composers were all white dead men. It was just not something I thought of as something I could ever do.” She explains: “We women were especially drawn to electronic music when the possibility of a woman composing was in itself controversial. Electronics let us make music that could be heard by others without having to be taken seriously by the male dominated Establishment.”
Classically there were no high- profile women composers. but with the discovery of electronic music, women no longer needed permission from their male counterparts to create – music now required just one person and a bunch of equipment, opening up a whole new avenue for female composers. Many embraced this opportunity from the outset to create a new genre of music that also gave rise to almost every sound heard on a day-to-day basis.
One wonderful sequence among all the fascinating spliced-together archive footage is the striking and glamorous image of Clare Rockmore (9 March 1911 – 10 May 1998).
Though electronic music was uncommon in formal music settings at the time, the classically trained Lithuanian virtuoso with perfect pitch, performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony with her theremin, one of the very first electronic instruments. She mastered the instrument and participated in its design, helping its inventor Professor Theremin to fine-tune earlier models to improve range and precision. Wowing audiences around the world, she ushered electronic music to concert hall prestige. “I had to make – and then meet – my own standards; I had to win the public over into thinking of the theremin as a real, artistic medium,” Rockmore said.
With Laurie Anderson as our narrator, this remarkable documentary tells the story of electronic music’s pioneering heroes – the women who embraced machinery and technology as a form of liberation. With the wider social, political and cultural context of the 20th century as a backdrop, this all-archival documentary reveals a unique emancipation struggle, restoring the central role of women in the history of music and society at large.
Streaming now on digital platforms including: Curzon Home Cinema; BFI Player; Barbican and IFI Home
Images courtesy of Modern Films