New Documentary Sisters with Transistors Tells the Story of Electronic Music’s Female Pioneers

“Tech­nol­o­gy is a tremen­dous lib­er­a­tor,” says Lau­rie Ander­son in her voiceover nar­ra­tion for the new doc­u­men­tary Sis­ters with Tran­sis­tors, a look at the women who have pio­neered elec­tron­ic music since its begin­nings and been inte­gral to invent­ing new sounds and ways of mak­ing them. “Women were nat­u­ral­ly drawn to elec­tron­ic music. You didn’t have to be accept­ed by any of the male-dom­i­nat­ed resources. You could make some­thing with elec­tron­ics, and you could present music direct­ly to an audi­ence.”

Tech­nol­o­gy as lib­er­a­tor may sound utopi­an to our jad­ed 21st cen­tu­ry ears, accus­tomed as we are to focus­ing on tech’s mis­us­es and abus­es. But machines have very often been a means of social progress, just as when “bicy­cles promised free­dom to women long accus­tomed to rely­ing on men for trans­porta­tion.” The cre­ation and inno­va­tion of record­ing and broad­cast­ing equip­ment deserves its own place in women’s his­to­ry.

Radio in par­tic­u­lar gave women the oppor­tu­ni­ty to exper­i­ment with sound and reach mil­lions who might not oth­er­wise give them a hear­ing. The influ­ence of BBC radio com­posers like Delia Der­byshire and Daphne Oram, for exam­ple, remains per­va­sive, and the elec­tron­ic sound­scapes they cre­at­ed for radio and tele­vi­sion helped define the son­ic world we now inhab­it. It is a world, direc­tor Lisa Rovn­er tells AFI’s Malin Kan below, per­me­at­ed by elec­tron­ic music.

“I can’t actu­al­ly remem­ber,” says Rovn­er, “a time when I wasn’t aware of elec­tron­ic music. Elec­tron­ic music pen­e­trates pret­ty much every sin­gle aspect of my life since I was a kid, whether that’s stuff that’s on tele­vi­sion or the video games that I played with my broth­er.” Her inter­est in the music’s “tran­scen­dent” qual­i­ties was first piqued, she says, at a rave. The film project hap­pened to “check all the box­es” for her, with its focus not only on the elec­tron­ic music women have made for over a cen­tu­ry, but also on “the wider social, polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­text of the 20th cen­tu­ry,” as the film’s site notes.

Sis­ters with Tran­sis­tors cov­ers a range of com­posers, sev­er­al of whom we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured on Open Cul­ture, includ­ing Der­byshire, Oram, Clara Rock­more, Bebe Bar­ron, Maryanne Amach­er, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, Lau­rie Spiegel, and Pauline Oliv­eros. “The his­to­ry of women has been a his­to­ry of silence,” Rovn­er writes. “Music is no excep­tion.” Or as Oliv­eros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women com­posers? The ques­tion is often asked. The answer is no mys­tery. In the past, tal­ent, edu­ca­tion, abil­i­ty, inter­ests, moti­va­tion were irrel­e­vant because being female was a unique qual­i­fi­ca­tion for domes­tic work and for con­tin­u­al obe­di­ence to and depen­dence upon men.

As Sis­ters with Tran­sis­tors shows, new tech­nolo­gies broke that depen­dence for many women, includ­ing Oliv­eros, who pro­vid­ed us with a dif­fer­ent answer to ques­tions about the pauci­ty of women com­posers. Why are there no “great” women in elec­tron­ic music? Because you haven’t heard them yet. Learn their names and sto­ries in the new doc­u­men­tary.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet Clara Rock­more, the Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Musi­cian Who First Rocked the Theremin in the Ear­ly 1920s

The Deeply Med­i­ta­tive Elec­tron­ic Music of Avant-Garde Com­pos­er Eliane Radigue

Two Doc­u­men­taries Intro­duce Delia Der­byshire, the Pio­neer in Elec­tron­ic Music

Daphne Oram Cre­at­ed the BBC’s First-Ever Piece of Elec­tron­ic Music (1957)

Hear Sev­en Hours of Women Mak­ing Elec­tron­ic Music (1938–2014)

Meet Four Women Who Pio­neered Elec­tron­ic Music: Daphne Oram, Lau­rie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue & Pauline Oliv­eros

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.