Malcolm Cecil, Synthesizer Pioneer, Is Dead at 84

Malcolm Cecil, Synthesizer Pioneer, Is Dead at 84


Malcolm Cecil, a British-born bassist with the soul of an engineer who revolutionized digital music by serving to to create an enormous analog synthesizer that gave Stevie Marvel’s albums a brand new sound, died on Sunday at a hospital in Valhalla, N.Y. He was 84.

His son, Milton, stated the trigger had not but been decided.

Mr. Cecil, a loquacious man with a head filled with curls, had performed the upright bass in jazz bands in England and was the night time upkeep engineer at Mediasound Studios in Manhattan in 1968 when he met Robert Margouleff, a movie and document producer who owned and operated a Moog synthesizer there.

“He stated, ‘Robert, when you present me the right way to play the synthesizer, I’ll train you the right way to develop into a first-class recording engineer,’” Mr. Margouleff stated in a cellphone interview. “We had a deal.”

They started designing and constructing what would develop into The Authentic New Timbral Orchestra, or TONTO. Beginning with the Moog and including different synthesizers and a group of modules, a few of them designed by Mr. Cecil, they created a large semicircular piece of apparatus that took up a small room and weighed a ton. It might be programmed to create an unlimited array of authentic sounds and to switch and course of the sounds of standard musical devices.

As they continued to develop it, Mr. Cecil and Mr. Margouleff recorded an album, “Zero Time” (1971), underneath the identify TONTO’s Increasing Head Band.

Reviewing “Zero Time” in Rolling Stone, Timothy Crouse wrote: “Like taking acid and discovering that your thoughts has the ability to cease your coronary heart, the belief that this instrument can do all types of issues to you, now that it has you, is unsettling.”

The album attracted the eye of Mr. Marvel, who had simply turned 21 when he confirmed up at Mediasound on Memorial Day weekend in 1971. Mr. Cecil lived in an condo above the studio in order that he can be accessible to repair something which may go improper, day or night time.

“I get a hoop on the bell,” Mr. Cecil told Red Bull Music Academy in 2014. “I look out; there’s my good friend Ronnie and a man who seems to be Stevie Marvel in a inexperienced pistachio jumpsuit and what seems to be like my album underneath his arm. Ronnie says, ‘Hey, Malcolm, received any individual right here who desires to see TONTO.’”

What began as an indication of TONTO for Mr. Marvel turned out to be a weekend-long recording experiment. Seventeen songs had been recorded, and a collaboration was born.

Over the subsequent three years, TONTO turned a major sonic ingredient of Mr. Marvel’s music on the albums “Music of My Thoughts” and “Speaking Guide,” each launched in 1972, and their follow-ups, “Innervisions” (1973) and “Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974).

In an interview in 2019 with the music website Okayplayer, Mr. Cecil described a part of the artistic course of behind the recording of “Evil,” the final observe on “Music of My Thoughts.”

“For those who take heed to ‘Evil,’ it has a incredible opening, which is all TONTO, and the sound of it was classical,” he stated. “There was an oboe sound. There was a horn sound and a foreboding bass.” He added, “When Stevie needed one thing, he would clarify what he heard in his head, and we might try to create it as carefully as doable.”

The expertise of working with Mr. Marvel was, Mr. Margouleff stated, “very a lot within the second; nothing was preplanned. It was all intuitive and great.”

Mr. Cecil and Mr. Margouleff received the Grammy Award for his or her engineering of “Innervisions,” which included the hit songs “Dwelling within the Metropolis” and “Increased Floor.” Mr. Marvel received Grammys that yr for album of the yr and for greatest rhythm and blues music, for “Superstition,” which blended Mr. Marvel’s enjoying on drums and clavinet with a cool bass sound supplied by TONTO.

Mr. Cecil and Mr. Margouleff’s partnership with Mr. Marvel ended after 4 albums.

“We by no means received the enterprise a part of our relationship with Stevie collectively,” Mr. Margouleff stated. “Enterprise points made our relationship untenable.”

A yr later — following technical difficulties throughout Billy Preston’s dwell TONTO efficiency on the NBC music present “Midnight Particular” — Mr. Margouleff and Mr. Cecil broke up.

Malcolm Ian Cecil was born on Jan 9, 1937, in London. His mom, Edna (Aarons) Cecil, was an accordionist who performed in bands, together with one, composed fully of girls, that entertained troops throughout World Struggle II. His father, David, was a live performance promoter who additionally labored as knowledgeable clown underneath the identify Windy Blow. They divorced when Malcolm was very younger.

Malcolm began enjoying piano when he was 3 and took up drums just a little later. He started to play the upright bass as an adolescent and was quickly enjoying in jazz golf equipment. He studied physics for a yr at London Polytechnic earlier than coming into the Royal Air Power in 1958. His three years as a radar operator ready him for future studio work.

After his discharge, he was the home bassist on the saxophonist Ronnie Scott’s nightclub in London, the place he performed with visiting American musicians like Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson; a member of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, a band whose evolving forged at varied instances included Charlie Watts and Jack Bruce; and the principal bassist of the BBC Radio Orchestra. He additionally had a enterprise constructing public tackle programs and different tools for musicians.

Affected by collapsed lungs, Mr. Cecil determined he wanted a hotter local weather and moved to South Africa, the place he continued enjoying bass. However he disliked residing amid apartheid.

He sailed to San Francisco in 1967 after which headed to Los Angeles, the place he spent a yr because the chief engineer at Pat Boone’s recording studio. He later moved to New York Metropolis, the place he labored on the Document Plant for six weeks earlier than being employed as the upkeep engineer at Mediasound.

He admired the Moog synthesizer IIIc at Mediasound however didn’t meet Mr. Margouleff till his fifth night time there. They shortly started recording experimental psychedelic music collectively, and 6 months later the jazz flutist Herbie Mann signed them to his Embryo label.

The primary observe they recorded for what can be their album “Zero Time” was “Aurora,” which was initially 23 minutes lengthy. “I stated, ‘Malcolm, I’m not even positive it’s music,’” Mr. Margouleff recalled. They reduce its size by two-thirds.

Mr. Cecil and Mr. Margouleff turned TONTO into essentially the most superior synthesizer in music. It was used, largely in its Nineteen Seventies heyday, on recordings by Richie Havens, the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Quincy Jones, Joan Baez, Little Feat and others.

Within the Nineteen Eighties and ’90s, Mr. Cecil produced a number of of Gil Scott-Heron’s albums and produced or engineered albums by the Isley Brothers, Ginger Baker, Dave Mason and different artists. He additionally performed bass on Mr. Scott-Heron’s 1994 album, “Spirits.” Mr. Margouleff went on to supply the rock band Devo.

TONTO’s Increasing Head Band launched yet one more album, “It’s About Time,” in 1974. “Tonto Rides Once more,” a digitally remastered compilation of the 2 earlier albums, was launched in 1996.

“Margouleff and Cecil had been about 30 years forward of their time after they began this mission,” Jim Brenholts wrote in a review of “Tonto Rides Once more” on AllMusic.

Along with his son, Milton, Mr. Cecil is survived by his spouse, Poli (Franks) Cecil.

TONTO had a number of properties in New York Metropolis, together with Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios; it additionally frolicked in Los Angeles and in a transformed barn owned by Mr. Cecil within the Hudson River city of Saugerties, N.Y.

In 2013, TONTO was acquired by the Nationwide Music Middle in Calgary, Alberta, the place it was restored and its affect celebrated in a five-day occasion in 2018. A Tribe Known as Pink, a Canadian electronic-music duo that admires TONTO and considers it an affect, carried out there, and Mr. Cecil gave an indication.

A member of the band, Ehren Thomas, compared TONTO to the mix spaceship and time machine on a long-running British TV sequence.

“It’s just like the Tardis in ‘Physician Who,’” he informed the CBC, “as a result of you may’t program it to do one thing particularly. You possibly can arrange the parameters and ask TONTO to do what you need, however what comes out is past your management.”



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