Pioneering Synthesist & Producer Malcolm Cecil Dead At 84

Pioneering synthesist, composer and producer Malcolm Cecil has died at the age of 84.

Malcom Cecil (1937 – 2021) was born in London and got his start in the 1950s playing bass in groups like The Jazz Couriers and Blues Incorporated.

But he’s best known for his work after he moved to the United States and paired up with producer and synthesist Robert Margouleff, who had purchased one of the first Moog Series IIIc modular synthesizers. The duo saw the future for synthesis, and decided to create the largest synthesizer in the world. They created a massive modular system, made up of synths and modules from a variety of manufacturers, dubbing it TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra).

The duo called themselves Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, and released their debut album in 1971, Zero Time. The album is instrumental and features six compositions that range in mood from the funky opener, Cybernaut, to the more ambient Aurora.

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While the album was not a hit, it was ahead of its time and demonstrated how synthesizers could be used for more than ‘Switched On’ covers and so-called ‘Moogsploitation’ albums.

It led to what’s arguably Cecil & Margouleff’s most influential work – their pioneering engineering and production of the 1970s. They worked with artists like The Isley Brothers, Richie Havens, Billy Preston, The Doobie Brothers, Steve Hillage, Weather Report and others.

During this time, they partnered with Stevie Wonder on four pioneering albums, which many consider to be his ‘classic period’. Wonder had already had a long career as a child artist at Motown, but wanted to establish himself as an adult artist. With the help of Cecil & Margouleff, he did this brilliantly with a series of widely acclaimed albums: Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale.

Songs like Superstition, You Are the Sunshine of My Life and Boogie On Reggae Woman didn’t just demonstrate Stevie Wonder’s creative genius, they showcased the programming and production work of Cecil and Margouleff and demonstrated he possibilities of synths and electronics in popular music.

Rapid changes in technology led to synthesizers becoming more accessible by the late 70s, and to the rise of digital synthesizers like the Yamaha DX7 in the 80s. But the rise of interest in analog synthesizers in the last decade or so has led to a new appreciation of the work of Cecil & Margouleff, and the recognition of TONTO as an iconic instrument of analog synthesis.

Here’s a 2016 NAMM Oral History interview, in which Cecil discusses getting his start in England, his jazz career, how he got involved with electronic music and synthesizers, working with Stevie Wonder and more:

Here’s a discussion between author Mark Vail and Cecil from Knobcon 4. In the discussion, Cecil talks about creating TONTO and some of it’s unique technical aspects:

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In 2014, TONTO found a new home at Calgary’s National Music Centre (NMC). Now housed at NMC’s Studio Bell, TONTO has been restored and is being used for a new generation of artists.

In this 2020 NMC video, Cecil discusses the ergonomic and electronic challenges that led to TONTO’s unique design. And NMC’s Jason Tawkin gives a tour of the various instruments that make up TONTO:

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via Michelle Moog-Koussa

North Coast Music Festival plots summer return to Chicago with Kaskade, REZZ, John Summit, and more

North Coast Music Festival plots summer return to Chicago with Kaskade, REZZ, John Summit, and more71182173 2891059557575269 6348517788738387968 N

After what felt like a decade of not seeing festival poster reveals, lineup season appears to be back in full swing, with Chicago’s North Coast Musical Festival plotting its return to the Windy City from September 3 – 5 this Labor Day Weekend. 

Migrating for the first time from Huntington Bank Pavilion to Seat Geek Stadium, located just outside city limits, North Coast secured a far-reaching pool of talent that will optimistically soundtrack one of the first festivals to make its return, including Kaskade, REZZ, Louis The Child, Lane 8, two of Dancing Astronaut‘s Artists to Watch in 2021 (John Summit and Lucii), Nora En Pure, and a testpilot set from deadmau5, among other acts.

North Coast shared its safety plan regarding COVID-19 guidelines in an effort to be transparent ahead of the holiday weekend, with mask mandates, health screenings, contactless tickets, and more precautions in place. View North Coast Music Festival’s complete bill below. More information about the festival is available here.

Featured image: Don Idio

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Metronomy celebrate 10 years of ‘The Look’ with MGMT remix

Metronomy celebrate 10 years of ‘The Look’ with MGMT remixMetronomy

As the 10-year anniversary of The English Riviera approaches, Metronomy are properly commemorating the upcoming milestone with an MGMT remix of “The Look.” Metronomy’s most-streamed song to date, with 137,205,725 Spotify streams at the time of this writing, “The Look” was released as The English Riviera‘s second pre-album single on March 11, 2011.

MGMT repower the Metronomy fan favorite, extending its runtime and doubling down on instrumentals to generate a quirky, ruminative companion to the classic. The rework, which preserves the spryness of the English group’s original while adding distinctive MGMT twists to its aura, is the first of several celebratory actions that Metronomy will take to honor an album widely regarded as their most significant.

On April 30, the outfit will reissue The English Riviera via Because Music. The anniversary edition of the LP will feature six previously unreleased songs, bringing the tracklist to a total of 17 inclusions. Turntablists can find the re-release in limited-edition and numbered heavyweight (180g) vinyl formats.

Metronomy have also announced their intent to honor The English Riviera with a 2022 tour spanning the United Kingdom and Ireland. A complete list of tour dates and additional information about the live initiative can be found here.

Featured image: Andrew Wu

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Elton John wants to make music with SG Lewis

Elton John wants to make music with SG LewisSG Lewis

SG Lewis turned heads with times, including Elton John‘s. Shortly after dispersing his debut album on February 19, the Dusk, Dark, Dawn conceptualist stopped by Elton John’s RocketHour on March 27 to talk the making of times and its diverse cast of collaborators, among other things. To date, Lewis’ record of artistic tie-ups touts work with Dua Lipa, Nile Rodgers, Clairo, Robyn, Channel Tres, Ruel, and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. This list—by no means exhaustive—will likely soon include Elton John.

During their airtime, the podcast host told Lewis that he “would desperately like to do something with [him] as far as writing or doing something.” Elton elaborated,

“I’ve just done something with Metallica. During this lockdown period. I’ve been working with Gorillaz and people like that. I haven’t been doing any Elton stuff, but I’ve been doing great stuff with other people. So I’ll get you my email, email me and let’s get together and do something, okay?”

Retorting that it would be not only “an absolute honor” but also “a dream come true,” Lewis gave the greenlight to a compelling co-project that fans of either artist would clamor for. The latest episode of Elton John’s RocketHour can be streamed exclusively on Apple Music. Read Dancing Astronaut‘s interview with SG Lewis here.

Featured image: Burak Cingi/Redferns

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