Pioneering Synth Designer and Stevie Wonder Producer, Malcolm Cecil, Dead at 84

Cecil created the world’s largest polyphonic analog synthesizer and co-produced a string of classic Stevie Wonder albums in the 1970s.

Innovative synth designer, engineer, and producer, Malcolm Cecil, has died. He was 84-years-old.

Cecil’s passing was announced earlier today on Twitter by the Bob Moog Foundation, who cited only “a long illness” as the cause of death. Together with fellow engineer and synth obsessive, Robert Margouleff, he co-built T.O.N.T.O. (or The Original New Timbral Orchestra,) the world’s first (and still largest) polyphonic analog synthesizer, of which he took full ownership in 1975 and maintained until his death. Following the creation of T.O.N.T.O, Cecil and Margouleff became highly sought-after synth engineers and producers, particularly amongst soul, funk and r&b icons.

In 1972, the duo produced and programmed synthesizers on Stevie Wonder’s Music of Mind. The chemistry with Wonder lasted for three more albums, collaborating on Talking Book later that year, as well as Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale (arguably the most celebrated string of releases in Wonder’s catalog.) From there, Cecil and Margouleff assisted with albums from Bobby Womack, Minnie Riperton, The Isley Brothers, Gil Scott-Heron, and others. The engineering team also formed their own group, releasing two influential electronic albums as  TONTO’s Expanding Head Band (sampled by J Dilla on Busta Rhymes‘ “Turn Me Up Some.”)

Salutes and commemorations of Cecil have already begun to pour in from fans and producers. See them below along with a video tour of Cecil’s colossal T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer below.


Zo is a staff writer at Okayplayer where he covers music.

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