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SXSW-Bound Doc ‘Resynator,’ Featuring Peter Gabriel, Explores the Technology Behind the Synthesizer in First Clip (EXCLUSIVE)

In the documentary “Resynator,” director Alison Tavel resurrects a synthesizer prototype that her late father, Don, invented.

Tavel, who lost her father when she was just 10 weeks old, initially wanted to make a short film doc about the synthesizer, which her father called the Resynator. The late-1970s invention generated a lot of buzz but never reached mass production. Tavel’s curiosity about the instrument ultimately led the director on a journey that helped her not only understand the Resynator and how it worked, but also who her father really was.

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Tavel’s short doc eventually turned into a 96-minute film that includes interviews with estranged family, friends, inventors and celebrated musicians including Peter Gabriel, Fred Armisen and Jon Anderson.

Variety spoke to Tavel ahead of the doc’s SXSW world premiere on March 10.

What inspired you to make this documentary?

I had been on tour with [musician] Grace Potter for a couple of years and would meet bands and crews who were interested in synthesizers, so I would bring up the fact that my dad had invented one. I grew up hearing stories about his “genius invention,” but I didn’t have any idea what it really was. So when we had some time off tour, I decided I would dig it out of the attic and film the resurrection process. It wasn’t until a bit later that I realized my initial goal had shifted, and I was now on a journey not only to learn about a synthesizer, but also to use the synthesizer as a way to connect with my late father.

How did you get Peter Gabriel and Fred Armisen to participate in the doc?

Although I’ve worked in the music industry for over a decade, I’m not a musician myself, so I needed help understanding what the Resynator was capable of. I was looking for a variety of musicians who all played different instruments and who I thought would have an appreciation for my dad’s technology. I reached out to people like Fred Armisen, Gotye, Money Mark and more directly, explaining the project and proposing a connection to demo the Resynator. I’m so grateful that so many musicians were interested and down to experiment. Everyone’s experiences were unique and helped me gain insight into the Resynator’s capabilities. My ask for Peter Gabriel was a little different. After discovering a decades-old letter from his team ordering three Resynators for his synth distribution company, I knew I had to try to make contact, and it worked. He remembered the Resynator from the ’80s and was gracious enough to meet with me about it all.

What are you hoping audiences think about or talk about after watching this doc?

My dad worked very hard on the Resynator, but ultimately it never became a commercial reality, and I learned in making the film that all of that was very difficult for him to process. I would love for people to think about their own definitions of success and failure. Is it a failure if you tried and didn’t finish? Or didn’t win? or it didn’t result in a sale? Or is it a success because you tried and were brave enough to do what you could? I think my dad felt that he had failed because he didn’t get the result he had worked so hard for, but I don’t see it that way. I see his effort as a huge success — and I think the difference in perspective might be the standards and expectations that parents put on their children growing up. This idea also ties into the other theme I would love for audiences to take away from the film: unconditional love. The idea that even if you “fail,” your people will still love you. I also hope people might be inspired to go look in their own attics, or ask their parents things they might have otherwise held in.

Can you tell me a bit about the clip from the film that you are sharing with Variety?

Being that this isn’t a documentary about the history of synthesizers, I don’t get into the nitty gritty of technical explanations. But I did think it was important to give the audience a little context. Brian Kehew is a synth historian who really helped me understand the concepts of the Resynator before we even got it fully working. I remember sitting in that chair being very overwhelmed with what Brian was saying; all the technical details were foreign to me. I thought animating his explanations for the film might help audiences digest the information a little easier.

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