Synth pioneer Malcolm Cecil has passed away aged 84. Cecil was predominantly known for his collaborations on some of Stevie Wonder’s most loved work.
Cecil’s death on March 28 was announced via The Bob Moog Foundation’s Twitter account, which shared that Cecil had suffered from a “long illness”.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the passing of the legendary creative genius, musician, engineer, producer, and synthesizer pioneer, Malcolm Cecil,” a post from the organisation read.
Cecil, who pushed the instrument to new lengths, co-designed the Original New Timbral Orchestra (TONTO). This analogue synthesizer was a groundbreaking move forward for music as it introduced a world of new sounds. The project was made alongside Robert Margouleff, taking over ownership of TONTO in 1975, and the two men worked to make this one of the most famous synths on the planet.
Cecil grew up in England, and his skills on the bass as a youngster even saw him work with the BBC Orchestra. Electronics were always a source of inspiration for Cecil from an early age, with him learning circuitry while in the Royal Air Force. After leaving the services, Cecil moved around before settling in New York.
While working as the chief technical engineer at the famed Mediasound Studios, he first encountered Margouleff and Moog synthesizers. In a 2017 interview, he recalled: “I had never seen a Moog before. I looked at it for a few nights, saw an oscillator voltage control, and thought. ‘I know what that is.’ Voltage control filter…I know that too. Envelope generator…this thing sends mail?”.
They started working together and released their first album Zero Time as TONTO’s Expanding Head Band in 1971. Following the record’s release, a 21-year-old Stevie Wonder showed up at Cecil’s apartment with a copy of the album and stated his intentions to work together. The duo then helped Wonder record Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale.
Cecil and TONTO helped create the definitive ’70s sound with their synthesiser. Other artists they worked with include the Isley Brothers, Billy Preston, Quincy Jones, Minnie Riperton, Randy Newman, the Doobie Brothers and James Taylor.
In 2013, The National Music Centre in Calgary, Canada, acquired TONTO from Cecil and restored it in 2018.