Archive for October 2, 2021

Heartbeeps

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on October 2, 2021 by dcairns

Watched Lisa Rovner’s SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS which is very good. A documentary history of women pioneers of electronic music. They’ve got such great archive — even the tape damage, or the cracks on an old polaroid, add atmosphere. Watched a few music docs lately and this one did the best job of integrating the music and giving it the right amount of prominence while keeping a narrative flowing — probably helped that the music doesn’t tend to depend on lyrics so it’s extremely suited to underscoring interviews.

Wendy Carlos turns up, and is the only one to get a negative review from another artist (all the interviews are audio-only, so we can enjoy more archive film and tape) — the suggestion is that recreating Bach etc was a retrograde move, where electronica should be about finding new forms.

But no mention is made of the fact that Wendy Carlos started as Walter Carlos, though in the film clip she has sideburns. This seems strange, almost squeamish. The story is an interesting one, and the fact of Carlos’ inclusion should obviate any suggestion of transphobia: a trans woman is being featured in a doc about women in electronic music. You could get all TERF-y and argue that Carlos enjoyed popular success as a man and so didn’t suffer under the handicap of starting out as a woman in a patriarchal society, but after all she had to battle through life with gender dysmorphia and survive publicly transitioning in a world even more hostile to trans people than to women, and continued her career under a new name. I guess addressing any of this would make the critique of her work as a step backwards seem awkward — but if I had the choice I’d rather pay tribute to Carlos than slam her, and I’d rather acknowledge her particular specialness than ignore it.

Of course I’m always overjoyed to get any Delia Derbyshire content — here I learned new stuff, like about her working-class origins and her studying mathematics at Cambridge. And I heard it in her own weirdly cut-glass voice, now perceptibly an overlay on top of less posh speech patterns. And she talks about being drawn to the air-raid siren and the all-clear signal as heard during her Coventry childhood (a city almost bombed flat in the war) — “that’s a sound that you hear, and you don’t know the source of it… as a young child… it’s an abstract sound… and it’s meaningful.”