Making Headlines since 1967
‘An Endless Love and Respect for His Genius’
Cecil, who died last month, helped Wonder experiment with new sounds and textures across four landmark albums between 1972 and 1974.
Stevie Wonder wanted to meet TONTO. He had just turned 21, was flush with cash and had all these songs and sounds in his head that he couldn’t get onto tape. A friend had loaned him a copy of an album called Zero Time that had been recorded using the world’s largest, most advanced music synthesizer: TONTO, an acronym for “The Original New Timbral Orchestra.”
“Freedom of Choice” is where the gods smiled on Devo. Everything came together for that record. Our experience at the Record Plant with Bob Margouleff was great, and he brought just the right kind of tone and energy to the fact that we were using mini-Moogs. I was playing synthesized bass rather than real bass and it all just started sounding right. It was an election year (1980) and the feeling in America was just lining up with Devo. There we were in silver suits, with red energy domes on an album cover of a record called “Freedom of Choice” where we looked like conformist mannequins — and that was the joke! I have nothing but fond memories of recording and touring behind the record. We were innovative and we found something in “Freedom of Choice” with those songs that also was commercial.
Starting with 1972's Music of My Mind, the run of albums that would also include Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness' First Finale is still lauded as one of the era's greatest artistic statements. However, the most undersold part of Stevie's legacy may be the collaboration with two producers, Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, and the pair's massive synthesizer, TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra).
While researching his use of synthesizers, and specifically a device called “Tonto,” I came across two names I hadn’t heard before, Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil. Intrigued, I spoke to the incredible archivist Amy Schewell about Stevie and the Tonto, and she found some footage of him performing against it -- a gigantic, science-fiction like device, with two wild haired, mad professor types, Malcolm and Bob, nodding their heads in the background. We knew right away this was the story, and sought out Bob and later Malcolm to tell their story of spending almost 5 years working alongside Stevie.
Perhaps his name is not as familiar as the stars and superstars he has produced and worked with; however his legend is in the music. The details that may go unnoticed to the untrained ear, are never cast aside. Robert Margouleff has been recognized as a pioneer in the field of electronica. He was an early adapter of the genre of music and worked with Robert Moog and was one of the earliest users of the ubiquitous Moog synthesizer. His revolutionary sound with Tonto included the high tech (at the time) collection of modules of electronic music merged into 1st analog Eurorack of 6 synthesizers.