This film was previously reviewed in June 2020 as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Lisa Rovner explores women’s work in electronic music in her feature documentary debut Sisters With Transistors. The film is told through a combination of edited archival footage and voiceover, featuring very little narration, allowing the archive images and captivating sound to carry the weight of the storytelling. Its minimal style allows the featured composers space to speak and to play, sometimes from surprisingly far back in time.

The story begins with Clara Rockmore, a Lithuanian musician born in 1911, who helped design and popularise the Theremin, one of the first electronic instruments. From the 1920s to the present day, the film travels between musical pioneers, delving dreamily into a sonic portrait of each woman, while voiceover soundbites from a variety of interviewees provide narrative context and anecdotal accounts. The women’s musical oeuvres provide a constant audio backdrop, making it a deeply immersive watch.

At the heart of this journey through musical history is the need to amplify the work of women creators. An 85-minute runtime is necessarily limiting, but Sisters feels expansive due to its international scope and the numerous subjects it features. Not all things are possible in an hour and a half, but it is important to note that the nine women the film labels as pioneers are white (and five are American). This lack of intersectionality is frustrating, and the importance of Sisters as a music documentary may prove to be how it inspires future projects and conversations that elevate forgotten or overlooked musicians, especially trans women and women of colour.

Sisters With Transistors is an audio-visual tasting platter, offering a poetic and engaging selection of thoughts and sounds from the last century, and inspiring its viewers to delve deeper into the history of electronic music.



CAST: Laurie Anderson (Narrator)

DIRECTOR: Lisa Rovner

WRITER: Lisa Rovner

SYNOPSIS: Sisters With Transistors is the untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers, composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies to utterly transform how we produce and listen to music today.