We first heard about Alison Tavel and her quest to track down the history and mystery behind her late father Don's Resynator synthesizer back in 2017. Two years later, she's at the helm of a successful Kickstarter project to fund a documentary about her journey. I caught-up with her the day her project was fully-funded to talk about what she's learned so far.
How did you first hear about your dad’s Resynator synthesizer?
I remember my family telling me about it when I was growing up. They just told me that he had invented the synthesizer, so I was really confused as a kid because I found out that that was not true, and didn’t know what exactly it was. So I kind of just forgot about it for many many years until I started working for the musician Grace Potter. Sometimes I would find myself talking about it and I never knew how to describe it. I am not a musician myself, and I have no background in synths of any kind, so it was just over my head. I decided that "enough was enough," and I should go get it from my grandmother's attic and finally figure out what this thing was. When I was in the attic. I was looking for a keyboard. I thought that’s what it would look like. When I found this rectangular black box with a bunch of knobs on it I really had no idea what to do with it.
Resynator has been described as “a pitch-tracking, rack-mount, instrument-controlled synthesizer that uses digital processors.” Did you find-out why your dad wanted to create such a device?
My dad was a musician himself, and his real interest was in computer technology for music and art. I think it just made sense for him to combine the two. I remember seeing one of his slogans early on that said, “For musicians by musicians.” He wanted something that could match his expressions.
Peter Gabriel purchased three of them in 1980. What did you learn about the instrument from him?
I found a letter in the attic where I got the Resynator that had an interesting looking logo on it. I started to read it and found that it was a letter from Peter Gabriel‘s synth distribution company SYCO Systems. The letter was to confirm the purchase of three units. After I found this, I started reaching out to everyone I’ve ever met to see who might be able to put me in touch with Peter. I finally got word that he remembered the Resynator and eventually he agreed to meet with me. I brought him a unit in the hopes that it might refresh his memory, and he remembered trying it out back in the early '80s. He helped me get leads on where those units may have ended up, and I’m still trying to confirm them. My main goal with Peter was to try to have him help me figure out what I’m supposed to do now. I have this unit, it’s rare, it’s cool, but what do I do? How do I continue my dad‘s legacy? He’s not around anymore to tell me what he would do, so I thought I should take the advice of somebody like Peter - a musician, a synth enthusiast, and a father. Maybe he could help guide me, and he did! He offered some great advice that I’m currently pursuing.
Did you find-out about any other storied users of the Resynator?
I'm still working on it! I confirmed that Jon Anderson of Yes had one. I believe that might have been one of the units from Peter's stock. However, I haven’t been able to get back in touch with him to confirm if he had used it on anything, if he still has it, or if he did in fact get it from SYCO Systems. I also found a newspaper article that said the Average White Band was the first band to record with the Resynator but I cold-emailed the manager and he said nobody in the band knew what I was talking about. So either the member that used it has since passed or they just can’t remember - or it was a misprint.
Beyond funding your documentary, what do you hope the Kickstarter project will accomplish? Are there talks about an eventual reissue of The Resynator in either hardware or plug-in format?
I’m hoping that this Kickstarter will start spreading the word of the story even further than I’ve been able to do myself. A successful Kickstarter means that I'll have an audience that is now attached to the project and with me while I continue this investigative journey. The more the word spreads, I honestly hope I’ll be able to find any Resynator units out there- if they still exist. My first goal is to get this project finished and be able to finish the documentary and get the story out there. Right now this project is just me, so I have to do things slowly and strategically. But yes the hope is that I can one day get another Resynator on the market - whether it be in the form of a small run of original units, a new hardware version or a soft synth version. I’d like to pursue all the possibilities and as I learn more about the Resynator and the synth distribution business in general, figure out what the best move is.
To view and contribute to Alison's Kickstarter visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/resynator/resynator