Sisters with Transistors (2020)

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An interesting documentary about the female pioneers of electronic music that succeeds in elevating their names without necessarily providing a context for their work within the wider genre or their impact on contemporary music.

There is something fascinating about the concept of music being more than a melody or a lyric, rather made up of elemental sounds and human beings, and their technology, being the instruments. Lisa Rovner’s first feature documentary delves into the minds and works of a succession of forgotten women, beginning with Clara Rockmore, the first virtuoso on the theremin.

The early pioneers worked with tape recorders and electronic synthesisers and were overlooked by the music establishment, reluctant to concede that electronic sounds could be considered music. From Bebe Barron, whose ground-breaking score for Forbidden Planet (1956) had the word ‘music’ removed from the final credits, to Laurie Spiegel, who created an early music software, we meet women who were all in their way obsessed with the qualities of sound.

One of the most iconic electronic pieces of music is the Dr Who theme, made real by Delia Derbyshire, and I would have loved a bit more detail about how and why it came to be. Laurie Anderson narrates and we journey through a rather flat narrative that informs but doesn’t embody the innovation of its subjects.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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