Canadian musician and scientist Angie Coombes – known professionally as Angie C – has manipulated The Original New Timbral Orchestra (TONTO) synthesizer using her brainwaves alone.
Coombes took part in an experiment conducted at the National Music Center in Calgary, where TONTO is housed. She wore a headset that read her thoughts and converted them to voltages corresponding to different parameters on the synth. The more complex the thought, she said, the more significant its effect on volume and pitch.
“We could actually create a voltage that would go to TONTO and [then] manipulate things like reverb, low frequency oscillators, resonance cut off – and it worked,” Coombes told CBC.
TONTO was built in 1968 by music producers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. It was perhaps most notably utilized by R&B singer, songwriter and producer Stevie Wonder, who used it on several of his albums.
Coombes holds degrees in biology and neuroscience in addition to providing vocals for songs by the likes of Lambert McGaughy and Anthony Jimenez. She will reportedly use recordings from her work with TONTO in an upcoming album.
“When [TONTO] was first created in the late 1960s, it was really quite an enigma,” Coombes told CBC. “But where we’re applying this new modern technology, with the brainwave headset to this old analog synthesizer… It’s a world first.”