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Tonto's Expanding Head Band - Zero Time CD (album) cover


Tonto's Expanding Head Band


Progressive Electronic

3.21 | 17 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars The Moog synthesizer was one of the most innovative developments for electronic music in the 1960s once the instrument gained a much wider audience after it was demonstrated at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 followed by the commercial success of the Wendy Carlos' series of 'Switched-On Bach' the following year. After the floodgates were opened everyone was getting in on the act. The Doors, The Byrds and even The Monkees teased the new synthesized sounds into the new transistor based sequences that took their music into fertile new ground and helped conjure up new levels of experimentation but the progressive electronic scene would take a few more years to gestate.

As the pop and rock world were adding new layers of atmospheric gusto to their musical output, the British jazz bassist Malcolm Cecil was busy nerding out by developing what would become the TONTO synthesizer which is an acronym for 'The Original New Timbral Orchestra,' the very first and to this very day largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer. Cecil collaborated with record producer Robert Margouleff to create some of the first experimental progressive electronic music as TONTO'S EXPANDING HEAD BAND. This project only produced two albums under this moniker but would continue work behind the scenes with many artists most famously Stevie Wonder as well as The Isley Brothers, Doobie Bros, Randy Newman, Steve Hillage, Billy Preston and many others.

The first album was titled ZERO TIME and showcased the magic powers of the TONTO's full capabilities. It was released in 1971 and although was an obscurity even during the time of its release became a classic for audiophiles who wanted to show off their speakers systems but it also had a hand in influencing the progressive rock and Krautrock scenes that would dominate the 70s. This album was recorded exclusively with six instrumental tracks and entirely electronic that mixed psychedelia, experimental and progressive elements and has been called some of the trippiest instrumental Muzak ever created. The sole track that includes vocals is 'Riversong' which finds strangely processed utterances sounding like some alien mating songs from a science fiction movie.

The album zigzags through more accessible tracks with highly unstructured avant-garde sonic experiments. The opening 'Cybernaut' starts things off with a more accessible bass groove and accompanying counterpoints kinda played more like a traditional organ with some swirls and squigglies fluttering around. The following 'Jetsex' is highly experimental and sounds like the soundtrack to jellyfish propulsion beneath the ocean's surface with a heartbeat providing a percussive drive. It also includes random sounds creeping out of the abyss and is quite dark and freaky. 'Timewhys' features some glide tones and off-kilter time signatures with some sort of strange octave intervals which displayed the TONTO's ability to simultaneously create a multi-octave range of myriad dynamics .

'Aurora' is like a space journey which showcases sever layers of monophonic styles. What was originally a 27 minute experiment was edited down to the less than 7 minute track here. The bass is provided by a thumping reverberation while three glide tones swirl all over the place. This is another revolutionary track in the world of electronic music that sounds so common place by today's standards. 'Riversong' is more ethereal and less frightening and one of the highlights of the entire album and sounds like it could very well have been a major inspiration point in the development of world new age music as a subdued swami chants through the electronic pitches that rise to the heavens above. The Indo-raga percussive drive and droning gives this one more of human touch than the alienating textures presented elsewhere. The final 'Tama' is the least interesting as it repeats the sounds of ocean waves crashing against the shore with a rather cheesy synth run. A longer 'Aurora' might have been a better choice.

As a cornerstone in the progressive electronic scene in 1971 as well as a most brilliant listening experience even by modern day standards, ZERO TIME cranked out a rather diverse palette of tracks that made the ultimate statement: TONTO was here to stay! This album perfectly fits in with the timeline of the psychedelic 60s ceding to the more sci-fi Star Wars dominated 70s and created a wealth of new hitherto unheard sounds in the form of recorded music. The album has a grandiose presentation with strong melodies where they exist and heavy doses of complete experimental escapism from the Earth's gravitational pull. The stylistic shifts are well balanced and the album is captivating as well as historically significant. Cecil and Margouleff would release one more album, 'It's About Time' in 1974 but with the shortened moniker TONTO before being swept into the world of Stevie Wonder where they appeared on all his albums from the 1972 'Music of My Mind' to 1974's 'Fulfillingness' First Finale.' While not quite a classic masterpiece, this is a very interesting prerequisite for all those strange progressive electronic albums that followed.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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