In the 1920s, the Russian physicist Leon Theremin debuted an electronic instrument that could be played without any physical contact. Players stood in front of a box and waved their hands over antennas, summoning otherworldly sounds seemingly from thin air. The theremin might have been regarded as a passing novelty if not for the late Clara Rockmore, a virtuoso who helped to refine the instrument’s design, and wowed concert hall audiences with her performances.
Rockmore is but a single figure in a long line of women who have changed the shape and sound of modern music—often invisibly, says filmmaker Lisa Rovner. “I think when most people think of electronic music, in most cases they’ll picture men pushing the buttons, the knobs, and the boundaries.”