Sisters With Transistors, film still (image courtesy Peggy Weil)

Electronic music has been around for about a century, and women (however ignored) have been a part of the movement from the beginning. Sisters With Transistors — a film with an excellent title — tells the story of electronic music’s female pioneers, starting with the Lithuanian Clara Rockmore, who performed solo in the 1920s at the New York Philharmonic with a theremin, one of the very first electronic instruments. “I had to win the public over into thinking of the theremin as a real, artistic medium,” Rockmore once said.

These women were well aware that the idea of “a woman composing was in itself controversial,” explains composer Laurie Spiegel, one of the film’s subjects. Throughout most of the 20th century, the music industry was hostile to women artists. Composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros, also profiled in the film, penned a 1970 essay for the New York Times that began with the telling question: “Why have there been no ‘great’ women composers?” (Interestingly, it was published one year before Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists.”)

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Electronic music, however, gave these women a sense of freedom, allowing them to directly broadcast their compositions. Sisters With Transistors, directed by Lisa Rovner and narrated by Laurie Anderson, takes us through this fascinating history, diving into the biographies of other musicians (mostly from the US and Europe), including Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Delia Derbyshire, Maryanne Amacher, Éliane Radigue, and Suzanne Ciani. For those in Southern California, the Newport Beach Film Festival and Orange County Museum of Art are offering you the opportunity to stream the film starting this Thursday, December 24 through Sunday, December 29.

When: Available Thursday, December 24, 12pm (PST)–Sunday, December 29 11:59pm (PST)
Where: Online

More info at the Newport Beach Film Festival

Elisa Wouk Almino is a senior editor at Hyperallergic. She is based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.