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Sisters With Transistors: inside the fascinating film about electronic music’s forgotten pioneers

They turned drawings into symphonies and made black boxes sing. Why were they never given their due? The maker of a new film, full of revealing archive footage, aims to put this right

Wearing a black cocktail dress and a foil-bright silver headscarf, a woman stands in the corner of a drawing room performing The Swan by Saint-Saëns, while a group of men look on. Although the scene has a sedate Edwardian air to it, this is actually 1976. The woman whirls her red nails around a mysterious black box, making it sigh and lament, whisper and sing. This is Clara Rockmore, the first virtuoso of the theremin, and her audience – all there to learn – includes Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesiser.

A year later, aged 66, Rockmore would release her first album, recorded by Moog, 35 years after she made her concert debut on the instrument at New York’s City Hall, where she arranged spirituals for a black male sextet with composer Hall Johnson. Rockmore also toured widely with the bass baritone Paul Robeson in the 1940s, and turned down a request to perform on the spooky soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller Spellbound, as she wanted her instrument to be valued, not treated like a novelty.

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