Canada’s Nation Music Centre Acquires the World’s Largest Synthesizer

The National Music Centre, a massive project currently under construction in downtown Calgary, has been collecting rare and interesting instruments for years.  Their original location has a floor full of stuff ranging from a piano once owned by Elton John to early Theremins to the actual keyboard used to generate the famous five notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Their latest find is TONTO–The Original New Timbral Orchetra–which was the largest synthesizer ever built.  They got it direct from inventor Malcolm Cecil.  Look at this goddam thing.  It looks like Mother, the computer in Alien.

It can be described thusly:

TONTO was the first, and remains the largest, multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer. This means that it was one of the first synthesizers capable of producing many tone colours with different voices simultaneously.TONTO was created by Malcom Cecil and Robert Margouleff in 1968 and marked the first attempt at creating a universal language for different synthesizers to communicate with each other, which was revolutionary.

Under the band name Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Cecil and Margouleff released the highly influential album Zero Time. The album demonstrated the rich, layered sounds of the massive synthesizer and attracted significant attention.

TONTO was used on multiple Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers albums in the 1970s and was featured in the cult classic film Phantom of the Paradise. Diverse artists such as Joan Baez, The Doobie Brothers, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman, Bobby Womack and many others also used TONTO on recordings in 1970s and 1980s.

The new National Music Centre should be ready for its first visitors in about a year.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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