Rest in Peace Malcolm Cecil, Pioneering Synth Musician and Stevie Wonder Producer: 1937-2021

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Rock Cellar Magazine

Malcolm Cecil, a massively important figure in the history of synth and renowned music producer with an eye for innovation, has passed away at the age of 84 after a “long illness,” according to a statement shared to social media by the Bob Moog Foundation on Sunday:

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the passing of the legendary creative genius, musician, engineer, producer, & synthesizer pioneer, Malcolm Cecil, show here w his creation TONTO. He passed away today at 1:17am after a long illness.

Among the most notable achievements by Cecil during his career was the designing of the world’s largest synthesizer, the Original New Timbral Orchestra, or TONTO. An intrigued Stevie Wonder approached Cecil regarding collaborating, and sparked a relationship that featured production work on Wonder’s albums Music of My MindTalking BookInnervisions, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale. 

More on Cecil’s incredible reach and hold his visionary expertise had on the industry, per Rolling Stone‘s look back on his life and career:

TONTO’s original home was Electric Lady Studios in New York, but in 1973 it was relocated to the Record Plant in Los Angeles, where the Isley Brothers, the Doobie Brothers and Randy Newman all used it. By the mid-Seventies, however, Wonder’s relationship with Cecil and Margouleff fell apart, both because of a conflict over royalties (no official contract was ever signed between the three) and Wonder’s changing musical interests. After TONTO’s tumultuous — and only — live performance on the TV show Midnight Special in 1975, Cecil and Margouleff parted ways as well, with the former buying out the latter’s share in their creation.

Over the next several decades, TONTO would be used by an array of artists including Minnie Riperton, Joan Baez, Quincy Jones, Bobby Womack, Weather Report, Gil Scott-Heron, Harry Nilsson, James Taylor, Diana Ross and Little Feet. Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh was also a devotee, even housing Tonto in his Mutato Muzika studio for a time, and using it on his famous soundtrack for the classic kids cartoon, Rugrats.

Rest in peace, Malcolm Cecil.


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