TONTO

The Original New Timbral Orchestra

By National Music Centre

By National Music Centre

TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) synthesizer (1968) by Malcolm Cecil and Robert MargouleffNational Music Centre

TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) synthesizer (1968) by Malcolm Cecil and Robert MargouleffNational Music Centre

TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) synthesizer (1968) by Malcolm Cecil and Robert MargouleffNational Music Centre

One of the world’s largest synthesizers, TONTO is credited with creating the iconic bassline on Stevie Wonder's "Superstition."

The Original New Timbral Orchestra (TONTO) is the first and largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer, capable of producing many tone colours with different voices simultaneously.

Beginning with a single Moog Series III Modular in 1968, creators Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff continued to expand TONTO with modules from different manufacturers, along with custom additions designed by Cecil. It marked the first attempt at creating a universal language for different synthesizers to communicate with each other, which was revolutionary.

Under the 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 synth, attracting significant attention and major collaborations.

It’s heard on many Stevie Wonder classics, including “Superstition," “Living for the City” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” as well as hits by the Isley Brothers, Minnie Riperton, Joan Baez, the Doobie Brothers, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman and others.

It was also featured in the cult classic 1974 Brian de Palma film Phantom of the Paradise.

After acquiring Margouleff’s share in 1975, Cecil continued to develop and perfect TONTO.

Cecil chose to sell TONTO to the National Music Centre (NMC) because of NMC’s Living Collection mandate, by which 20% of its musical instrument collection is maintained in functioning order to be used for the creation of new music. TONTO joined NMC's collection in 2013.

After several years of restoration by NMC’s technical staff, TONTO was celebrated with its own TONTO Week symposium in 2018. In addition to talks and master demonstrations with Cecil himself, the symposium saw A Tribe Called Red - Canadian Indigenous electronic duo and NMC artists-in-residence - become the first musicians to use the newly restored TONTO.

Shortly after TONTO Week, TONTO was moved over to NMC’s recording studios and has been used by artists ever since.

Recently, musician Angie Coombes used a brain activity-reading headset for hands-free control of TONTO.

Visitors to NMC can see and hear a demonstration of TONTO every weekend as part of NMC's Backstage Pass tour.

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