Malcolm Cecil, influential producer and designer of the world’s largest analog synthesizer, has passed away, according to the Bob Moog Foundation. The organization wrote on Twitter that he passed away on Sunday morning (March 28) after a long illness.
Cecil was co-designer of the Original New Timbral Orchestra (TONTO), a massive analog synthesizer that brought new sounds to popular music. He started the project with Robert Margouleff, took ownership of TONTO in 1975 and held it for nearly four more decades. The success of Cecil and Margouleff’s collaboration with TONTO opened up opportunities for synthesizers in the pop world and beyond.
Cecil grew up in England, studied science and engineering at school while becoming a skilled bass player. As a young man he took up his work with the BBC Orchestra. He became interested in electronics at a young age and learned circuits during his time with the Royal Air Force. After his release, a stay in South Africa and a time on the west coast of the United States, Cecil later moved to New York.
During his time as chief technical engineer at the famous Mediasound Studios, he first met Margouleff and Moog synthesizers. In a 2017 interview, he recalled, “I had never seen a Moog before. I looked at it for a couple of nights, saw an oscillator voltage control, and thought about it. “I know what that is.” Voltage regulation filter. . . I know that too. Envelope generator. . . this thing sends mail? “The two men started working on material together and released their first album Zero Time in 1971 as TONTO’s Expanding Head Band.
Not long after the album was released, a 21-year-old Stevie Wonder showed up at Cecil’s apartment with a copy of Zero Time and an interest in collaborating. From there, Cecil and Margouleff helped Wonder develop his range of revered records in the 1970s: Music of My Mind, Audio Book, Innervisions, and The First Finale of Fulfillment. Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson used TONTO (and Cecil’s production) for their 1980 album together, which appeared on the album’s cover with the machine.
Cecil and TONTO designed a number of projects in the 1970s and 1980s that were released on publications by the Isley Brothers, Billy Preston, Quincy Jones, Minnie Riperton, Randy Newman, the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor and others. He returned to work with Stevie Wonder on the 1991 Jungle Fever. The National Music Center in Calgary, Canada, took over TONTO from Cecil in 2013 and fully restored it in 2018.