Music of My Mind: Synthesizing Expression

Stevie Wonder is an enduring beacon of boundless creativity. From a young age, he demonstrated an innate mastery of musical expression, signing with Motown at eleven years old in 1961 and becoming the youngest artist ever to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the tender age of thirteen. During his first ten years with Motown, he released thirteen albums,which spawned sunny classics like “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “For Once in My Life”, and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”.

But while these early recordings emanated joy and showed off Wonder’s natural skill for songwriting and delivery, they followed a particular formula that left little room for experimentation. He had unexpressed music simmering inside him, and rather than having to translate these sonic percolations through a conversation with an arranger, passed down to musicians, who would then render their performance, Wonder wanted to take control and manifest them himself.

"...I wanted to just express various many things that I felt—the political point of view that I have, the social point of view that I have, the passions, emotion and love that I felt, compassion, the fun of love that I felt, the whole thing in the beginning with a joyful love and then the pain of love." - Stevie Wonder

In 1971, Wonder discovered the album Zero Time by TONTO’s Expanding Head Band. Electronic artists Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff made up the Expanding Head Band, and TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) was the name of the massive frankensteined modular synthesizer the pair used in their music. Built by Cecil on a foundation of Moog Synthesizer III units, it eventually came to comprise modules from multiple systems and made a massive mark on the popular music landscape.

Wonder was captivated by Zero Time’s otherworldly sonic mutations and immediately saw the limitless possibilities of electronic sound as a tool for self-expression and experimentation. He showed up at Cecil’s workplace with the Zero Time record under one arm and a mutual friend on the other. That impromptu meeting melted into a weekend recording whirlwind between Wonder, Cecil, and Margouleff and birthed a partnership that would become the stuff of legend, starting with an album called Music of My Mind.

Rounded out with richly textured aural layers and thematically diverse lyrical explorations, the album marked a turning point in Wonder’s career: no longer a purveyor of pre-styled rose-tinted pop hits, Wonder was coming into his own as a dynamic and complex artist. In contrast to the spring-loaded and upbeat early singles, “Seems So Long” is soulful, vaguely jazzy, and full of space, flirting with mournfulness before resolving to unhurried optimism; a rumbling Moog bass line supports prog-style synth melodies in “Evil,” which finds Wonder wrestling with the idea of evil itself; and “Girl Blue” is a rhythmically ambitious mellow-funk ode to emotional freedom.

“The synthesizer allowed me to do a lot of things I wanted to do for a long time but which were just not possible until it came along. It adds a whole new dimension to music.“ - Stevie Wonder


Wonder worked with Cecil and Margouleff on three more albums (Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale) before taking over as sole producer on his 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.

Wonder was aware of what he wanted to express, took the initiative to make it happen, and in so doing found the tools he needed to bring his vision to life. With twenty-five Grammy Awards, more than thirty US top ten hits, and innumerable musicians influenced and inspired in his wake, Wonder has consistently demonstrated the liberating power of musical self-expression.

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