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By Michael Talbot-Haynes | March 13, 2024

SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! Get ready to come face to face with the ghost in the machine in the poignant rock doc Resynator, written and directed by Alison Tavel. While growing up, Tavel was told that her father, Don Tavel, who had died in a car accident when she was ten weeks old, had invented the synthesizer. However, when she looked up the information for school assignments, she would find no mention of him.

In 2014 she was 25 years old and working as a roadie on tour with musician Grace Potter. It is here she begins her journey to find out about her dad’s invention, the Resynator. She finds one of only a handful produced in her family attic, a black metal deck with dials stuck in a cardboard box. The machine allowed you to plug a guitar into it and have electronic music come out of the speaker when played. It was essentially an earlier incarnation of what would become MIDI, but it worked differently in its own system.

Tavel finds out that the Resynator is something of a lost ark of synthesizers. At the time it was marketed at the dawn of the 80s, Peter Gabriel reportedly couldn’t wait to get his hands on one. Tavel seeks out the people who worked with her father on the project back then, eager to find out more and to try to get the Resynator she has up and working. That is when she starts finding out some darker things about the father she never met…

“…she begins her journey to find out about her dad’s invention, the Resynator.”

The history of rock music keeps expanding like the universe, with new chapters of rock lore discovered every year. Now we have Tavel, who expands the entire notion of what a music documentary can be. By drawing from an array of documentary disciplines, Resynator takes the rock doc format into the realms of self-discovery with even a touch of true crime. We have the dual importance of the world discovering Don Tavel’s invention and Tavel discovering a father she never knew at all. It’s an incredible journey that takes her all across the planet.

So, on the sugar-coated side of the documentary, we have the Resynator itself getting babied by an array of engineers and famous musicians. Seeing so many pioneers of modern music getting a chance to dance with this missing link is delightful, as they all seem thrilled with it. Music fans will find a lot of good gravy to sop up here, as this is a brand-new lesson from a very old school. The beauty of this machine and the unique for the time combination of analog and digital elements it had are more than worth the trip taken.

However, on the sugar free side of the documentary, we have a complex story of finding out about a father who the director never knew. The already complicated situation gets more and more complicated. If the name Resynator sounds like the moniker of a supervillain, there are times when that doesn’t seem too far off. But nothing is cut and dry here, just like in real life. And that is where Tavel scores a big win.

While a rock doc on the surface, Resynator showcases all the conflicting nuances of reality with higher clarity than previous documentaries. Here we see the real life we live in, where everything is both so cool and completely sucks at the same time. We also get to explore how a person’s conception of an absent parent affects the architecture of their self-identity. It is fascinating to see how, as different mysteries are solved, it affects Tavel. As amazed as Peter Gabriel seems to be over finally getting to play a Resynator, it is obvious he recognizes the magnitude of the film’s director finding a father he never knew. It puts everything in perspective, something Tavel’s documentary excels in. Resynator resonates far beyond the shores of entertainment and far beyond the mountains of history. It is finding your way home.

Resynator screened at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival.

Resynator (2024)

Directed and Written: Alison Tavel

Starring: Alison Tavel, Don Tavel, Peter Gabriel, Jon Anderson, Fred Armisen, Christian Castagno, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

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"…expands the entire notion of what a music documentary can be."

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