‘Sisters With Transistors’ Documents The Pioneering Women Of Electronic Music : NPR

Maryanne Amacher, artist and composer, is one of the women featured in the new documentary Sisters with Transistors. Peggy Weil / Image caption with the kind permission of the artist

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Peggy Weil / Courtesy of the artist

Maryanne Amacher, artist and composer, is one of the women featured in the new documentary Sisters with Transistors.

Peggy Weil / Courtesy of the artist

In the 1920s, Russian physicist Leon Theremin introduced an electronic instrument that could be played without physical contact. The players stood in front of a box and waved their hands over antennas. conjure up otherworldly sounds apparently from the air. The theremin might have been considered a passing novelty, if not for the late one Clara Rockmore, a virtuoso who refined the design of the instrument and delighted the audience in the concert hall with her performances.

yaoikan1981 via YouTube

Rockmore is just one character in a long line of women who have changed the shape and sound of modern music – often invisible, says filmmaker Lisa Rovner. “I think when most people think of electronic music, for the most part, they imagine men pushing the buttons, buttons and borders.”

Rovner’s new documentary, Sisters with transistorscorrects the data set. Narrated by Laurie AndersonThe film celebrates the successes of early pioneers like Daphne Oram, who was hired by the BBC as a studio engineer in the 1940s. After hours, Oram began to record and manipulate sounds on magnetic tape. These experiments led to the creation of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. Another pioneer, Delia Derbyshire, made sound for nearly 200 BBC programs, including this iconic themed music for the science fiction series Doctor Who, which debuted in 1963.

Modular synthesizers soon followed, and the development of the first commercially available models was led by women. Wendy Carlos advised Robert Moog on the design of the first keyboard-based model and introduced it to the public on their 1968 album Switched-On Bach, which sold more than a million times. Suzanne Ciani realized that creative potential a contemporary system designed by Don Buchla that allowed artists to put components together to control tonal characteristics such as pitch and timbre.

Ambient Church via YouTube

Composer trained by Juilliard Laurie mirror describes these technologies as revolutionary. “The way it was composed before was that you wrote on a piece of paper with a pencil, instructions for someone else to make music,” she recalls. Spiegel was free to pursue her own creative vision, programming computerized music generation systems while working as a researcher at Bell Labs in the 1970s. She could design completely new sounds as well as variations within the soundand share their music directly with the audience.

In 1977 Spiegel’s work caught the attention of NASA. your Musical interpretation by Johannes Kepler’s “Harmonices Mundi” was included in the Voyager Golden Records, which were brought into space to represent all of humanity. However, it is quick to point out that too often it is viewed as an anomaly. Spiegel recalled being part of an active community of women affiliated with college and nonprofit electronic music studios in and around New York City. Some of these studios, such as Harvestworksare still there today.

In a sense, all music is now “electronic” as digital technology is a ubiquitous part of the making and consuming of tracks and albums. But the composer Yvette Janine Jackson, their work deals with historical events and current social issues, says there’s still a lot of room for innovation and legacy building.

“My creative journey with electronic music has centered on trying to find a voice,” says Jackson, “an African American voice, a strange voice, a female voice, the intersection of those voices.” She hopes that tomorrow’s creators will have expanded access to tools and receive more recognition for their work.

Sisters with Transistors premiered at SXSW in 2020 and has shown at prestigious US and international festivals such as Sundance and AFI. It is slated for national release on virtual cinema platforms early this spring.

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