Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘Sisters With Transistors’ hits all the right notes.


Filmmaker Lisa Rovner follows the story of electronic music’s female pioneers, composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies to transform how we produce and listen to music today.

Sisters With Transistors beautifully brings to life a niche history that you didn’t know you were missing but will surely recognize. The film seamlessly weaves together the personal stories of innovative composers like Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, and Suzanne Ciani through live performances, archival footage, and visual interpretations of their music. Some pieces are moody and atmospheric; others are challenging and experimental. Yet, all of them reverberate with unique genius, creativity, and passion. The overall effect is a captivating documentary on an unsung history that is endlessly engaging to watch.

The documentary excels in exploring each composer’s source of inspiration and the theory behind her music. Delia Derbyshire, for example, was trained as a mathematician and drew inspiration from air sirens after surviving the London blitz. Using equipment borrowed from other departments while working at the BBC, she worked after hours shaping, molding, altering the speed, and adding new layers of sound to sirens, ultimately creating unique, futuristic scores. Iconically, Derbyshire is most well known for creating the original electronic music theme for Dr. Who. 

 While every featured composer drew from different points of inspiration, they all continually pushed the boundaries of what can be called “music” and who gets to create it. A mesmerizing opus into electronic music theory and the underappreciated role of women within it, Sisters With Transistors hits all the right notes.