TONTO – The Original New Timbral Orchestra

TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) is one of the most famous and influential modular synthesizers in the world.

TONTO’s Expanding Head Band, made up of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, was an influential electronic music duo from the 1970’s. They only released a few albums, but these recordings, along with their collaborations with musicians such as Stevie Wonder, helped make synths a standard element of modern popular music.

TONTO was a huge multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer, designed and constructed by Malcolm Cecil. It featured Moog modules, but also modules from other manufacturers and some of Cecil’s own design.

Tonto's Expanding Head Band

Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s Zero Time was released in 1971 and, though its sales were relatively small, it was an influential album, foreshadowing the later work of Tangerine Dream and other artists.

Zero Time brough Cecil & Margouleff to the attention of Stevie Wonder, who ended up working with Tonto on Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Jungle Fever. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of these collaborations, because they introduced synths to rhythm and blues music, where they have been an important part of the urban sound ever since.

TONTO featured prominently on albums from Quincy Jones, Bobby Womack, The Isley Brothers, Gil Scott-Heron and Weather Report, as well as releases from Steve Stills, The Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason, Little Feat and Joan Baez.

Amazingly, TONTO and the Expanding Head Band are still active. The band has a web site and even a MySpace page. And the group’s influential 70’s recordings have garnered growing respect.

“How great it is at a time when technology and the science of music is at its highest point of evolution, to have the reintroduction of two of the most prominent forefathers in this music be heard again,” said Stevie Wonder. “It can be said of this work that it parallels with good wine. As it ages it only gets better with time. A toast to greatness… a toast to Zero Time… forever”
Tonto Image via MM

2 thoughts on “TONTO – The Original New Timbral Orchestra

  1. I cannot forgotten the great apparition of Tonto's synthesizers on the famous Brian de Palma "s film " PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" … The only regret was to not use the real sounds of this instrument for the film … another regret : 2 records are only known from Malcom Cecil and Robert Margouleff , I'm very happy to keep the two original LP in a good quality …
    Wendy CARLOS, Isao TOMITA, KINGSLEY , PERREY , Mort GARSON, and TONTO's are for me the veritable pionners of the modular synths. thank you for these best years of the 20th century !

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  2. That's a panorama photo that I took in 1999, showed to a few people for an opinion but soon left unfinished when I found it turning up all over the net left and right uncredited. Note the uncorrected perspective. Well maybe it's a good thing thing it's uncredited since in a low-ish res rough state it doesn't really show off my skills as a photographer.

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