Sisters of Transistors: a contemporary take on 1930s occult parlor music
September 19, 2014 7:52 AM   Subscribe

What do you do with a vintage synth keyboard collection but not enough ways to make use of them all? Well, if you're Graham Massey, and you stumbled across the forgotten history of Women's Organ Quartets who might have overwhelmed the senses of audiences with their weird electronic music, you put together a four-woman keyboard band, and you take up the drums. Read on, for the story of the Sisters of Transistors, "a tale which wanders between truth, history and myth, and involves panic in America, army issue organs, a Derbyshire pub and a member of 808 State!"

The story, as told by Graham Massey, goes that 808 State were setting up for a rave at the abandoned Burtonwood Air Force Base and stumbled across a room with radio equipment, boxes of valves, roles of cable, test oscillators, lots of dust and plaster, plus four keyboards (huge Hammond model D organs) set up almost in the same configuration as our band, and and sheet music stamped with information for Dawson's Music Warrington. Graham picked up some of the sheet music, which he kept for years.

Massey later looked online, and found information about a quartet of ladies, lead by one Lillian Meyers, who first performed on the then brand new Novachord "electronic organs" at the 1939 World's Fair at the Bell Telephone Pavilion, but much of the audiences left feeling nauseous after ten minutes, though those who lasted into the thirty-minute area of the music reported a great feeling of lightness and euphoria. The story of organ madness jumps the pond to Burton Wood, where there are not one but a series of two quartets of women who played the electronic organs at RAF Burtonwood, then in the 1960s, with a local group called the La La La's who played Farifsa organs for a while and picked up Italian songs.

Except it's hard to track down any reference to those four ladies from Sarah Lawrence College and their overwhelming performance, the Burtonwood quartets, or the La La La's. There were indeed Novachords at the 1939 World's Fair, but the internet only remembers the group who played at the Ford Stage, as seen in this photo and this video clip. The other groups are just as hard to find, outside of any write-ups on the Sisters of Transistors, who, as the tales tell, picked up the old organ music and have revived it for the 21st century.

Real or not, Massey put together a great back story to further sell what is catchy, weird synth keyboard/organ driven music. So let's hear it already! The Sisters of Transistors single album, At the Ferranti Institute, is on Soundcloud in a handy set, though it's missing Solar Disco, but it is on Soundcloud. You can also hear a few remixes on Soundcloud: Solar Disco (Untold Remix), Solar Disco (Eldoko Remix), and The Don (Acid Girls remix).

There are also some videos. The one official video is for the wicked track, "The Don." Massey has also posted some tracks with "moving pictures" - "Berdu Mig Út Ad Sjó," "Dies Irae," and "Solar Disco (Don Mancusso 's 84 Fairlight Dub)." The group also performed a few songs for Last FM Presents: "Pendulum," "Neo Goth" (which is actually "Berdu Mig Út Ad Sjó"), and "Beat Girl."
Graham Massey also did a video interview with Last FM, where he tells a little more simple story of a man with a keyboard addiction who wanted to put the old instruments to some fun use.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I just fired up At the Ferranti Institute, and I can already tell based on the first song ("Tiger Ghee", Soundcloud link) that this is exactly the sort of thing that I need to hear right now. Thanks, flt!
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:19 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're quite welcome! I came across some of this when writing up the 808 State biography/discography post, but I didn't want to make it into a huge tangent there. Since looking into all this, I think Graham made up the whole back story about the RAF Burtonwood discovery and the exciting era of the Women's Organ Quartets as a reason to make an album with local musicians and his old eBay purchases, with a lot of weird styles all mixed up together.

But if it is all a fake history, where did this image come from? He put it under the header of "The Lillian Meyers Organ Quartet at the 1939 World’s Fair," but those aren't Novachords, and it's not a quartet.

I didn't bother tracking that tangent down until now, but it seems that it's an Ondes Martenot octet and two pianos, conducted by Ginette Martenot (1937).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:42 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

So far it's already better than his alto-sax noodling or whatever the fuck he was on about with that autechre tour back in ... 2008?
posted by symbioid at 10:59 AM on September 19, 2014

holy shit this is so awesome and somehow i missed the original 808 state post and i am so overwhelmed right now i'm doing that thing my cat does when i throw a toy at her and she wobbles her head really fast because she is so excited
posted by ghostbikes at 1:08 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

At an obscure little country fair many years ago I saw a really swell five-piece little-old-lady keyboard band. Their keyboards were slim casios and yamahas all set to organ and harmonica voices. One of them also sang and played harmonica. They did an old-timey music repertoire. Their sound was ethereal.
posted by ovvl at 6:38 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man I like this a bunch, thanks.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:54 PM on September 19, 2014

Thanks for posting this. Ladytron crossed with Rasputina is perfectly pitched to get my attention.
posted by qbject at 8:43 PM on September 19, 2014

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