‘Sisters With Transistors’: A Brief History of Electronic Music’s Unsung Pioneers
80-minute documentary is a much-needed spotlight on women like Pauline Oliveros and Suzanne Ciani, despite significant gaps in the story it tells
Electronic music — or, as we think of it today, most popular music — is so taken for granted that it’s easy to forget its original pioneers were iconoclasts of their time. Lisa Rovner’s new documentary Sisters With Transistors, about the women who expanded the technological and artistic possibilities of the form during the 20th century, presents those forebears with grace, accessibility, and a touch of the avant-garde.
Beginning with Clara Rockmore, the violin prodigy who dazzled audiences in the 1920s with her theremin (an electronic instrument played via hand movements through the air, rather than direct touch), Sisters With Transistors winds through the work of largely European and American composers and musicians, presenting each woman individually in short segments with narration by famed sound artist Laurie Anderson. Its most charming archival interviews are with Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, two post-war British innovators whose careers flourished through the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the Sixties. (Derbyshire’s most famous composition is the Doctor Who theme song.)