New documentary Sisters With Transistors traces the story of the women who shaped electronic music

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New documentary Sisters With Transistors traces the story of the women who shaped electronic music

Words by Will Brewster

The documentary spotlights the achievements of Wendy Carlos, Carla Rockmore, Suzanne Ciani and more.

A feature length film examining the impact of women during electronic music’s formative stages throughout the 20th century is set to receive an international debut this week.

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Dubbed Sisters With Transistors, the documentary will receive a cinematic release in the UK, Ireland and the US on Friday April 23, with other territories expected to receive access to the film thereafter.

Written and directed by French-American filmmaker Lisa Rovner, Sisters With Transistors looks to highlight the life and career achievements of female artists and composers who adopted early electronic instruments and demonstrated their awe-inspiring potential to the world, as well as the social, political and cultural challenges they faced along the way.

Narrated by avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson – renowned for her electronic music experiments with tape loops and MIDI throughout the ’70s and ’80s – Sisters With Transistors begins in 1930s New York with the story of theremin prodigy Clara Rockmore, showcasing previously unseen footage of her theremin performances of classical music.

The film then continues to trace the evolution of electronic music from the post-war period onwards, describing the toils of Bebe Barron as she composed the world’s first all-electronic score for the 1956 film Forbidden Planet before exploring the stories of radio pioneers such as Daphne Oram, Eliana Radigue and Delia Derbyshire, who performed the electronics heard on the iconic theme for Dr. Who.

Later on, Sisters With Transistors celebrates the unparalleled legacy of Wendy Carlos – best known for her era-defining LP Switched-On Bach and composing the soundtracks for Stanley’s Kubrick’s seminal films A Clockwork Orange and The Shining – before exploring the achievements of modular synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani and Laurie Spiegel, a crucial name in the development of musical software in the ’80s.

“We women were especially drawn to electronic music when the possibility of a woman composing was in itself controversial,” Spiegel said of Sisters With Transistors in a statement shared to the film’s website.

“Electronics let us make music that could be heard by others without having to be taken seriously by the male dominated establishment.”

Sisters With Transistors receives a virtual premiere this Friday April 23. Find out more about the documentary via its website here.