TONTO has arrived at NMC!

“Once upon a time, Tonto represented the cutting edge of artificial intelligence in the world of music.” — Mark Mothersbaugh

The National Music Centre (NMC) is proud to announce a major acquisition of a new instrument artifact. In late 2013, NMC acquired The Original New Timbral Orchestra (TONTO) from inventor and owner Malcolm Cecil.

TONTO was the first and the largest, multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer. This means that it was one of the first synthesizers capable of producing many tone colours with different voices simultaneously.

Malcom Cecil,  co-creator of TONTO. Credit: Chad Schroter-Gillespie.

TONTO was created by Malcom Cecil and Robert Margouleff in 1968 and marked the first attempt at creating a universal language for different synthesizers to communicate with each other, which was revolutionary. TONTO remains the largest analog synthesizer in the world.

Under the band name Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Cecil and Margouleff released the highly influential album Zero Time. The album demonstrated the rich, layered sounds of the massive synthesizer and attracted significant attention.

TONTO was used on multiple Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers albums in the 1970s and was featured in the cult classic film Phantom of the Paradise. Diverse artists such as Joan Baez, The Doobie Brothers, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman, Bobby Womack and many others also used TONTO on recordings in 1970s and 1980s.

Award which was presented to Malcolm Cecil for his role in producing and engineering Stevie Wonder’s hit song “Superstition”. Credit: Chad Schroter-Gillespie.

After acquiring Margouleff’s share in 1975, Cecil continued to develop and perfect TONTO. In late 2013 the NMC acquired TONTO and worked closely with Cecil to learn its intricate systems and ensure that it can continue to be used by artists at the future NMC building, opening in 2016.

Mary Kapusta