I Dream of Wires, the documentary about the modular synth, premiered last month in Berlin and is now available both as a DVD/Blue Ray disc and in digital form through various channels (for a complete list check idreamofwires.org). We took the occasion to interview the director Robert Fantinatto and have a look behind the scenes of its making.
Horizontalpitch: When and how did you realise that the world needed a film about the modular synth?
Robert Fantinatto: I began working on the film for a about a year before Jason [Jason Amm, aka Solvent, coauthor of IDOW Ed.] came on board, it all happened one day when my son shared a picture on facebook of Deadmau5’s Buchla 200e, I was amazed that modular synthesizers were still being made and I discovered a whole community of people interested in, what at the time I thought was a crazy obsession, and any time I see people doing something that seems irrational, I feel there’s a story there. Of course, by the time we finished the film, I became a modular synthesizer owner!
HP: What were your references when shooting IDOW? Did other music-related documentaries (I’m thinking about films like Wender’s Buena Vista Social Club) influence your directing choices?
RF: I actually looked at previous electronic music documentaries from the 90’s and felt they were more focussed on a scene rather than on the technology, I wanted the modular synth itself to be the character. As for influences, I’m a big Kubrick fan and carefully composed shots of technology in 2001 A Space Odyssey has always been an inspiration.
HP: Some time ago you released a first 4-hours-long “hardcore edition” for people who had backed the project during the crowdfunding campaigns, the final, 96-minute-long edition has now also been released, what are the differences between the two versions?
RF: When editing a documentary, especially one in which you had no idea what the story was going to be ahead of time, one creates a rough edit that has all the interesting bits put together in some sort of narrative order, then you trim it all back to make the story flow. The “hardcore” edition is really a collection of all the coolest things, all the crazy tangents that people who are obsessed with this stuff would have no problem sitting for hours watching. The new 93 minute cut trims away all of the excess fat, it removes anything that does not serve to move the narrative forward and I personally feel it is the right version for the majority of people.
HP: In the “hardcore edition” the film’s plot revolved strongly around Solvent’s personal voyage into the wonderful world of modular synths, where did this decision originate from?
RF: The new version does away with any personal voyages and instead focuses on the voyage of the modular synth itself. Early on, when we were trying to figure out how to tell the story, we thought the personal journey of 3 different people would really help the viewer relate better to the story, so it was not just Solvent’s journey, but that of two other people that made up the narrative of the second half of the hardcore version. What we found surprising was that test screenings we held to help cut the long version down found that people responded more to the history of the modular more so than these personal stories, so we cut them out.
HP: Documentaries about experimental music are sometimes very experimental in themselves, and lot of modular-made music also falls into this category, why did you choose to go with a more traditional form for the film, instead?
RF: We felt that this story could be appealing to a wide audience, so we chose to be straight forward rather than poetic, telling the story in a pretty easy to understand narrative that moves along chronologically. We also didn’t want to make the film genre-specific in terms of the music, so that it could have some lasting power. Many films from the early 90’s about electronic music were so focussed on Rave music and culture that they seem quite dated today.
HP: The film focuses a lot on the Moog vs. Buchla theme, do you think this dichotomy is still as relevant today? What about the other non-USA-based systems that made the history of modular synths like for instance EMS and Roland?
RF: Our focus on Moog and Buchla had a lot to do with the limits of our budget, but it worked out well as a story element, the East vs. West coast theme made it easy to understand the two very different approaches they took. Most of the other synth manufacturers went the way of the East Coast, Moog style of subtractive synthesis. Curiously today, many of the Eurorack modules have a distinctive “West Coast” feel to them, which is very exciting!
HP: What’s your favourite scene/moment from the film?
RF: There’s a great bit where a series of people talk about collector’s frenzy, it was a lot of fun editing that bit together. But all the stuff we did with Morton Subotnick was really the highlight of the film, it was such an honour for us to have him in the film.
HP: It’s been a while since you started to shoot IDOW, you went through a couple of crowdfunding campaigns and finally got the film distributed more or less world-wide. How is it been shooting this film? Any anecdotes you want to share with us?
RF: The process of shooting the film was the most fun I’ve ever had, getting to meet our personal heroes and playing with all that amazing synth gear was just great. But when we eventually realised that we had to stop and edit this thing, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. And now to actually see it get out there to the wider world is really the icing on the cake, the film has gotten so much bigger than I’d ever expected, a journey of almost 5 years to reach this point!
HP: If somebody handed you the keys to an alien time portal and you could make this film again, from scratch, what would you keep and what would you do differently?
RF: We never set out to do a history of the modular, that happened by accident. If I could do things over again, with the idea of doing a proper historical overview, I would have included many of the women that played such a huge role in the modular’s development that we, unfortunately, did not include… people like Suzanne Ciani, Laurie Spiegel, Pauline Oliveros and Eliane Radigue. If we failed in anyway with this film, it would be this oversight which was completely unintentional.