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Tonto's Expanding Head Band

Progressive Electronic

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Tonto's Expanding Head Band Zero Time album cover
3.22 | 21 ratings | 5 reviews | 5% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1971

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Cybernaut (4:30)
2. Jetsex (4:14)
3. Timewhys (4:57)
4. Aurora (6:48)
5. Riversong (8:00)
6. Tama (5:23)

Total Time 33:52

Line-up / Musicians

- Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff / all instruments (electronic origin performed on an expanded Series III Moog synthesizer, or "Tonto"), programmers, composers, producers

Releases information

Atlantic K40251 1971.
Embryo Records SD 732

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TONTO'S EXPANDING HEAD BAND Zero Time ratings distribution

(21 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(5%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(38%)
Good, but non-essential (43%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Modrigue
3 stars One of the must innovative electronic music of its time ! Among the first bands to possess a Moog synthetizer, Tonto's Expanding Head Band offers with Zero Time smooth and relaxing experimental songs, surprisingly melodic by moments. The album alternates very good and weaker passages and venture into a variety of sounscapes.

The record opens with the little cosmic epic Cybernaut. Its efficient slow pulsing rythm and powerful keyboards solos announce future works by Synergy. A mindblowing overture ! In opposite, Jetsex is the most experimental track of the disc, containing mostly strange effects without a true melody. There comes the highlight, Timewhys, displaying a grooving and enchanting space ambiance, very in the vein of Gong's You and Tim Blake's albums, a couple of years before ! The next song, Aurora, is the most peaceful of the album, as if you were in a spaceship drifting slowly into a lost galaxy... to then arrive a myserious place put in music with the improbable and ethereal Riversong, which sounds very mystical and oriental. The disc ends with Tama, a small melancholic but nonetheless enjoyable song.

With their first album, Tonto's Expanding Head Band proves that they are one of the most inventive band ahead of their time. The record predates many electronic gimmicks that will be employed later in the 70s'. Experimentaly composed but quite accessible, Zero Time will make the happiness of ambient and electronic music explorers ! 3,5 stars !

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Built by boffins

"Zero time" is more important for its place in prog, and indeed music, history than for the music it actually contains. T.O.N.T.O. stands for The Original New Timbral Orchestra. This is not in fact an orchestra, but the first polyphonic synthesiser. Up until its invention, synthesisers were monophonic, giving the type of sound first heard on tracks such as ELP's "Lucky man". The developers of T.O.N.T.O. were Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, the performers on this album. Hence you can see why I say the music is of secondary importance, it was written by a couple of boffins and without wishing to be unfair, at times it sounds like it!

The album consists of just six tracks spread unevenly over the two sides. The three on side one ("Outside") run to around 13 minutes, while side two ("Inside") is over 20 minutes. No other instruments are used other than the synthesiser, which provides the rhythms and the main themes. While the sound effects and unique synthesised atmospheres will these days sound somewhat tame and prosaic, at the time (1971) they were baffling and exciting.

This album really is all about the sounds though. Apart from some processed vocals on "Riversong", it is entirely instrumental, with spacey sounds and slow atmospheric washes dominating throughout.

The album served as an effective marketing tool for the T.O.N.T.O, with many commercial artists using it to distinguish their music soon after. "Zero time" has taken on a legendary status due to the album's rarity in the intervening years. The reality is though that it is an interesting rather than enjoyable album. It will now return to my LP collection to lie undisturbed for another 20 years.

Review by Dobermensch
3 stars Full of great big fat Moog electronic keyboards from the late 60's, sounding pretty beefy and splodgy.

The last track 'Riversong', sounds astonishingly like parts of Robert Rich's 'Bestiary' album from 2003. In fact much of this album sounds incredibly like 'Aphex Twin' or a softer 'Autechre' - give or take a few bloops and bleeps.

Two minutes into 'Aurora' and I thought I was listening to the electronic parts of ' Apocalypse Now'. Obviously a highly influential album. If not, musicians were ripping this off, left right and centre.

The tunes are pretty straight forward, but are immediately catchy and completely electronic. It was recorded by two fluffy grey haired guys named Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil whom I've never heard of before... and probably never will again...

Suffice to say that this is one very unusual album for it's time, complete with early Moog experimentation and is of historical importance to anyone inclined to electronic music.

Review by Progfan97402
4 stars I had actually found a copy of this LP at my nearby Eugene, Oregon record store, and I couldn't believe I found a copy! It was the American pressing on Herbie Mann's Embryo label, which would naturally be the version you'd find here in America. Enough has been said of this British/American duo (Malcolm Cecil is British, Robert Margouleff is American) and their involvement with Steve Wonder on albums like Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness First Finale, which were groundbreaking albums, the kind of albums you have to show great respect for even if Stevie Wonder isn't your kind of music. Previously the duo was in a group called Caldera who released one album in 1970 on Kama Sutra called Stabat Mater: A Moog Mass. Caldera broke up, and Cecil and Margouleff continued on as TONTO's Expanding Head Band, TONTO being the custom-made mega-synthesizer known as The Original New Timbral Orchestra, which consisted of modules and parts from Moog, Buchla, ARP and EMS synths. To many listeners, this is though of as groundbreaking at the time, now a dated relic.

"Cybernaut" is a great opening piece, a really catchy piece that I find impossible not to enjoy. "Jetsex" really goes off the deep-end, it's basically a rather experimental piece. "Timewhys" has this nice spacy thing going on, it's a melodic uptempo number. The rest of the album tends to be rather slow and it's this slow paced nature that scares many off. "Aurora", for example, features some really big synth sounds and juicy noise filters, I can't believe how big the synth sounds are here, despite the slow tempo. Try getting that off a Yamaha DX-7. You absolutely cannot (the DX-7 works better with metallic sounds common to the mid 1980s). Even these analog modeling synths like the MicroKorg (which I love, makes great sounds, but nothing like what TONTO could do). "Riversong" sounds like a Moog raga to me, with what sounds like a distant ancestor of AutoTune speaking poetry written by Tama Starr. Actually I believe it was just a voice modified through the synthesizer and could be thought as a prototype vocoder. For some strange reason the next song is called "Tama", it's a slow, spacy song, sounding a bit like something Tomita would do (had this been a classical piece like what Tomita would do, it would pass for something he'd do).

I can understand this album won't be to everyone's liking, but I enjoy it.

Review by 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.

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