'Sisters With Transistors', on Enzian Sunday only, unveils the story of the pioneers of electronic music |  Movie reviews and stories |  Orlando

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  • Photo courtesy of Peggy Weil

  • The electronic-psychoacoustic composer Maryanne Amacher studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and then influenced Thurston Moore and Rhys Chatham

Photographs from a New York art gallery from 1974 show Suzanne Ciani setting up three large electronic consoles with extruded connecting wires that are stacked and looped like spaghetti. A well-dressed audience sits on the floor as she turns the buttons to elicit electronic music from the Buchla synthesizer.

The documentary film Sisters With Transistors by director Lisa Rovner is narrated by the experienced performance artist and experimental musician Laurie Anderson. It’s full of exotic sounds and early electronic music, but it’s also about quieter revolutions as women battled sexism and resistance to new ideas of musical creation.

Almost all of the film is about developments from the last century, and Ciani’s performance is decades after women in Britain, France and the US developed their own machines and methods to make electronic music as electronic music than about the little-known story of pioneering women in this area.

The timeline goes back to the 1930s to introduce Clara Rockmore, a classically trained musician who helped develop the theremin. Manipulated without direct contact, the device makes eerie noises because an antenna picks up the musician’s hand movements. She brought electronic music to classical music halls and listeners.

The film finds perfect illustrations for the use of machines to build beats by two forward-looking British women. Daphne Oram was a classically trained musician who co-founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. While some wrote off her work as experiments in surreal art after World War II, she created practical gadgets and techniques. She founded her own studio for electronic music and is known today as a music composer. Oramics, also named and named after her, is based on her invention of converting drawings into sound with electronic reading devices. Delia Derbyshire also pioneered the Radiophonic Workshop, where she spliced ​​magnetic tapes together to build loops that play repetitive sounds and playing several at different frequencies simultaneously to create music. She was fascinated by abstract sounds, although some dismissed her work as mere exercises in mathematics. She later created the original music for Doctor Who.

The use of new technologies for making music also caught on elsewhere. In France, Éliane Radigue fought against distrust of technology to make art. In New York, Bebe Barron and her husband Louis Barron built their own equipment for their avant-garde recording projects. They recorded readings by writers like Anaïs Nin and overloaded circuits to create musical sounds. They created the first fully electronic soundtrack for the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, even though the end credits were only “electronic tonalities”.

While much of the film features antiquated devices – tape reels and modular synthesizers that look like antique phone control panels – it makes the big leap forward to the first Macintosh. Sisters With Transistors introduces many women who have found various entry points into the intersection of music and technology. In one of the more recent clips in the film, Ciani’s music seems to blow David Letterman away in a section of his morning show before late night.

Rovner also examines the contributions of composers Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher, and Laurie Spiegel who developed the early Mac music software Music Mouse. (Smart listeners may recognize Spiegel’s 1972 track “Sediment” from the cornucopia scene in the first Hunger Games film.)

The documentary does not seek to bridge the gap between these avant-garde women and contemporary electronic music (“EDM”) or its explosion in popularity. It’s fascinating to hear women from the 1950s articulating ideas about making electronic music that have been rejected or misunderstood for decades. It seems that a lot of people just didn’t listen, either to the music or to the women.