Reissued and Revisited: Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s Zero Time

Oct 09, 2013 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share

Tonto’s Expanding Head Band were Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, producers and session artists working in New York when this strange electronic album was recorded in the early 1970s. T.O.N.T.O. himself was the duo’s main synthesizer—an acronym for “The Original New Timbral Orchestra”—a room-sized instrument (somewhat resembling the cockpit of a rocketship out of a science fiction film) and among the first of its kind to produce polyphonic sounds.

Zero Time, the first of two albums put out by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, worked as a marketing tool for the duo and their unique machine, and caught the ear of several big-name artists. Most notably, Stevie Wonder was a fan, and went on to hire Cecil and Margouleff as co-producers for his own synth-centric classics Innervisions, Music of My Mind, and Talking Book. T.O.N.T.O. would later be used by Devo, and currently resides in its own studio near Woodstock.

Nowadays, Zero Time is more notable for its place in electronic music history than the music contained therein. Primarily instrumental—and composed totally with the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer—the album was ahead of its time, but sounds like many, many other records to have come out since its release in 1971. The final track, “Tama,” is its best and most beautiful, but the other spacey soundscapes sound unfortunately close to mid-tier Tangerine Dream. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting curio, and Real Gone’s packaging—which includes an oral history of the group written by Richie Unterberger—does an outstanding job of putting this influential record into context.




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Pete Delaney
October 9th 2013

I remember “Zero Time”; in fact I still have the album on vinyl. It’s funny because a few months ago I was thinking about the album and was wondering if it would ever come out on CD.

I asked a few friends and work colleagues but no one could remember Tonto’s Expanding Head Band.

I don’t think you can compare what they were doing with what Tangerine Dream at that time, I think you’ll find they were way ahead of Tangerine Dream. I am a fan of TD and I own a few of their albums so I’m not trying to put them down.

This is great news that TEHB have re-issued their albums; I’ll be thinking about buying them.