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Resynator Review: The Man behind the synthesizer

Alison Tavel uses the synthesizer in the film Resynator

Resynator features high-quality storytelling and unique filmmaking choices. It tells the fascinating story of the synthesizer and Don Tavel’s life and career.

Most people today have probably not heard of Don Tavel, but his contribution to the music industry in the midst of a budding technological landscape is invaluable. While the history books credit Robert Moog with the creation of the synthesizer, Tavel constructed his own specialized synthesizer: the Resynator.

Alison Tavel, Don’s daughter, made Resynator to tell a history of music through her father’s invention. As she uncovers the accolades of her father’s short-lived career, she also forges a deep connection with him through his lasting imprint on the music world. Resynator is that perfect balance between strong storytelling and personal realization. It features home footage, pictures and documents, and interviews with Don’s family and friends to produce an emotional family history worth watching.

Resynator starts with synthesizer history, then dives deep into the Tavel family history. Alison grew up thinking her dad was a hero, but through the making of this documentary learned much about the darker side of her father. He was a genius, but also struggled with insecurity and depression, which resulted in marital struggles and abuse. Alison shows great courage in digging deeper into Don’s life in order to present the world with an intimate picture of the man who invented the Resynator.

Her voiceover in the documentary is closer to an open letter to Don than mere narration. “Not knowing anything about the synthesizer,” she says, “made me realize I didn’t know anything about you.” Viewers are invited to follow Alison through highs and lows, shocking stories and revelations, coming out on the other side with a more profound appreciation of music and storytelling.

Alison Tavel sits on the floor with synthesizers in front of her in the film Resynator
Resynator (Resynator, LLC, SXSW 2024)

One creative element that makes Resynator stand out among other documentaries is Alison’s use of technology and art in the film’s production. Throughout the film, there are animated segments that depict Alison’s or Don’s experiences. This brings a unique dynamic to the film, and further celebrates creativity and art at large. Alison made the end credits song using A.I., stating that “it seems very fitting to use technology he would have been in favor of.” Every small or grand decision in Resynator is made with the intention of telling Don’s story thoroughly: the beautiful, ugly, praiseworthy, and painful parts are told with passion and a longing for people to know the true Don Tavel.

The score is, of course, wonderful; each song features the Resynator in support of the documentary’s purpose. One impactful facet of the documentary is how Alison learns to repair and use the same Resynator her father built. The film documents Don’s accomplishments, and Alison gets to use her father’s prized invention for the first time in decades.

Overall, Resynator is a fascinating story about the evolution of music and technology. It is surprisingly deep and quite mysterious as Alison learns about her father’s imperfect past, resulting in an honest and moving experience. It features high-quality storytelling and filmmaking with unique artistic choices to bring Don Tavel and the Resynator back to life.

Resynator was screened at SXSW on March 10-16, 2024. Read our SXSW reviews and our list of films to watch at SXSW 2024!

Resynator First Clip: “History of Synth” (Resynator)
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