Tonto's Expanding Head Band
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2010)|
|Tonto's Expanding Head Band|
Cover to their 1971 album Zero Time
|Associated acts||Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers|
Tonto's Expanding Head Band was a British electronic music duo consisting of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Despite releasing only two albums in the early 1970s, the duo were (and still remain) influential because of their session work for other musicians (most notably Stevie Wonder), extensive commercial advertising work and the unique warmth and personality of their work.
The TONTO synthesizer
TONTO is an acronym for "The Original New Timbral Orchestra," the first, and still the largest, multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world, designed and constructed over several years by Malcolm Cecil. TONTO started as a Moog modular synthesizer Series III owned by record producer Robert Margouleff. Later a second Moog III was added, then four Oberheim SEMs, two ARP 2600s, modules from Serge with Moog-like panels, EMS, Roland, Yamaha, etc. plus several custom modules designed by Serge Tcherepnin and Cecil himself - who has an electrical engineering background. Later, digital sound-generation circuitry and a collection of sequencers were added, along with MIDI control. All of this is housed in an instantly-recognizable semi-circle of huge curving wooden cabinets, twenty feet in diameter and six feet tall.
- "I wanted to create an instrument that would be the first multitimbral polyphonic synthesizer. Multitimbral polyphony is different than the type of polyphony provided by most of today's synthesizers, on which you turn to a string patch and everything under your fingers is strings. In my book 'multitimbral' means each note you play has a different tone quality, as if the notes come from separate instruments. I wanted to be able to play live multitimbral polyphonic music using as many fingers and feet as I had."
TONTO was featured (as the "electronic room") in the 1974 Brian de Palma film Phantom of the Paradise. It was also used in the album 1980 by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson and was pictured on both the front and back covers of this album.
TONTO has been owned by Malcolm Cecil since he acquired Robert Margouleff's share in 1975. In the mid-1990s TONTO was moved to Mutato Muzika studios, the headquarters of Mark Mothersbaugh and Devo, leading to widespread rumors that Mothersbaugh had purchased TONTO but this was not true. In late 2013 TONTO was purchased by the National Music Centre in Calgary, AB.
Tonto's Expanding Head Band's first album, Zero Time, was released in 1971 on the U.S. Embryo label (distributed by Atlantic Records) and attracted a lot of attention. Stevie Wonder in particular was impressed enough to subsequently feature TONTO in his albums starting with Music of My Mind and continuing through Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Jungle Fever; all projects which listed Margouleff and Cecil as associate producers, engineers and programmers (and winning them an engineering Grammy for Talking Book). Writing in Keyboard Magazine in 1984, John Diliberto asserted that:
- "... this collaboration changed the perspectives of black pop music as much as The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper altered the concept of white rock".
The remainder of the 1970s and '80s saw TONTO featured on albums from Quincy Jones, Bobby Womack, The Isley Brothers, Gil Scott-Heron, Steve Hillage, Billy Preston, and Weather Report, as well as releases from Stephen Stills, The Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason, Little Feat, Joan Baez, and others. The TONTO synthesizer was also used in Brian De Palma's 1974 movie "Phantom of the Paradise" as well as appearing on-screen.
A second TONTO album, It's About Time was released in 1972.
In 1996 a CD "TONTO Rides Again" was released, which features all of Zero Time plus all of the tracks from It's About Time (mysteriously re-titled, apparently for legal reasons). In the liner notes to the re-release, Mark Mothersbaugh wrote:
- "Once upon a time, TONTO represented the cutting edge of artificial intelligence in the world of music - Robert and Malcolm are the mad chefs of aural cuisine with beefy tones and cheesy timbres, making brain chili for those brave enough and hungry enough. Consequently, back in the cultural wasteland of the Midwest, the release of Tonto's Expanding Head Band was an inspirational indicator for starving Spudboys who had grown tired of the soup du jour. It was official - noise was now Muzak, and Muzak was now noise. So with TONTO "riding again" and the orb-of-sound resurrected, expect a healing. The masses are asses who need TONTO's glasses. Lookout, here comes TONTO!"
Also, Stevie Wonder said:
- "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. 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."
Virtual TONTO Live
Malcolm Cecil and his son, DJ Moonpup, brought Tonto's Expanding Head Band to the live arena performing at the Big Chill Festival on August 5, 2006. The festival was a 3 day affair held at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, about 2½ hrs drive northwest of London. TONTO was not actually there - it's far too big and expensive to ship for a one hour performance - Malcolm Cecil created a "Virtual TONTO" and played live over pre-recorded backing tracks with a specially prepared visual show with hundreds of pictures of TONTO and Poli Cecil's art pieces. The performance was enthusiastically received by an audience of over 3,000 fans.
- Zero Time (Embryo Records SD 732, US 1971)
- It's About Time (Polydor, 2383 308, UK 1974)
- Tonto's Expanding Head Band (Atlantic Records SD 18123, US 1975) [reissue of Zero Time with different cover]
- Tonto Rides Again (Viceroy VIN6036-2, 1996) (CD compiling Zero Time and retitled tracks from It's About Time)
- Tonto's Expanding Head Band (Malcolm Cecil, limited edition CD, 2006) (remastered CD Tonto Rides Again, with a bonus track)
Margouleff & Cecil engineering, production and programming credits
- Music of My Mind (1972)
- Talking Book (1972)
- Innervisions (1973)
- Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974)
- Jungle Fever (1991, Cecil only, additional engineering)
- Conversation Peace (1995, Margouleff only, mixing)
The Isley Bros
Other acts 
- Caldara - A Moog Mass (1970)
- Richie Havens - The Great Blind Degree (1971, Synthesizer [Moog], Engineer, Remix)
- Doobie Brothers, The - The Captain And Me (1973, Programmed By [Arp Synthesizer])
- Gene Parsons - Kindling (1973)
- Randy Newman - Good Old Boys (1974, Synthesizer [Moog And Arp Programming])
- Wilson Pickett - Join Me And Let's Be Free (1975, Programmed By [Electronic Music Synthesizer])
- Billy Preston - It's My Pleasure (1975)
- Shankar Family ૐ Friends* - Shankar Family ૐ Friends (1974, Synthesizer [Moog])
- "Stevie Wonder & TONTO, the funk synthesizer". Videosift.com. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- "TONTO & Stevie Wonder". YouTube. 2006-08-02. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- "T.O.N.T.O". Synthmuseum.com. 2006-11-14. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- John Papieski. "TONTO". Serge-fans.com. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- [dead link]
- "Devo | Mark Mothersbaugh". Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- [dead link]