Formed in Toronto in the late ’60s, Syrinx consisted of John Mills-Cockell on keyboards, Doug Pringle on saxophone, and percussionist Alan Wells. Mills-Cockell was classically trained in composition, studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto, and won a BMI Award in 1967 given to student composers, for his specialization in orchestral and electroacoustic music.
That same year, he co-founded Intersystems, an avant-garde new age electronica group that utilized spoken word with Blake Parker, Dik Zander, and Michael Hayden. They released three albums before the end of the decade. During the latter part of the 1960s, he also helped found the Mind Excursion Centre in Montreal, a sort of free-form art space, then worked with Kensington Market, recording the AARDVARK album with producer (and Mountain-bassist) Felix Pappalardi, before moving to Vancouver and joining Hydro-Electric Streetcar. There he connected with percussionist Wells, and with support from Pappalardi, they recorded the first tracks for a new album. Moving back to Toronto, the two reconnected with Pringle, who had earlier partnered with Mills-Cockell for art performances, and Syrinx was born.
One of the first Canadian musicians to employ Moog synthesizers in live performances, Mills-Cockell formed the group with the idea of blending what he had learned in classical music with world music influences and the acid pop rock that was running rampant at the time. Pringle meanwhile had also already gained a fair bit of notoriety, first performing at Toronto’s Perceptions ’67 festival.
They were playing the Toronto coffee house circuit when Bernie Finklestein, who’d just started up True North Records, caught them live and signed them to a deal in 1970.
Their self-titled debut was released that summer, running rampant with synthesized pop that blended eclectic sequencer rhythms and world beats, more often than not courtesy of conga drums. All instrumental and trippy before its time, the record featured several extended tracks, like “Appalosa-Pegasus and “Chant For Your Dragon King,” both running over 10 minutes each, as well as the eerie “Melina’s Torch” and “Father of Light”, that made it one of the most experimental records of the ’70s anywhere.
The group toured intensively during the early ’70s, playing on bills with Miles Davis on the Bitches Brew tour, and Ravi Shankar in Montreal, and took on ambitious projects writing music for the National Ballet of Canada and the Toronto Dance Theatre. The band’s bigger than life, if not somewhat operatic approach to rock, got the attention of CTV television executives who were looking for someone to write a theme song for a new series, “Here Come The Seventies.” Syrinx was hired, and wrote “Tillicum” for the occasion.
The exposure led to their sophomore album, LONG LOST RELATIVES in ’72, a record that almost didn’t happen. While laying down tracks at Magic Track Recording Studios, an accidental fire destroyed much of the studio and all the equipment inside. Undeterred, the band carried on when a group of loyal fans and fellow musicians decided to hold a benefit show for them, cramming over 2,000 people into a the St Lawrence Market hall.
They rented time at Eastern Sound, Thunder Sound, and Pathe-Humphries studios to finish the album. Produced by Eugene Martynec (Kensington Market, later Rough Trade, Queen City Kids, among others), the record was again full of operatic forays into the pop realm, often producing opuses over eight minutes long. “Tillicum” was released as a single, and entered Canada’s RPM chart in the top 100, eventually peaking at #38. Other tracks included “December Angel,” originally conceived for Peter Randazzo’s solo dance with the Toronto Dance Theatre. That song, along with “Syren,” “Ibistix,” and “Field Hymn” made up the composition called “Stringspace.”
They got some additional exposure performing on CBC TV’s program “Music to See,” and added Malcolm Tomlinson on drums and vocals for the upcoming tour that saw them play throughout Ontario and selected dates throughout Canada, and shared the stage with the likes of Deep Purple and a roster of international acts at the Strawberry Fields pop festival.
The band quietly folded in ’73 and everyone went on to do outside projects. Mills-Cockell meanwhile moved to England for a period. Upon returning to Toronto, he cut three albums, HEARTBEAT and THE THIRD TESTAMENT (the music for which was used for the 1973 CBC/Time-Life series of the same name) On True North, and GATEWAY: A NEW MUSIC ADVENTURE on Anubis Records. Pringle began scoring feature films, including “The Far Shore”, based on the Canadian painter Tom Thomson. Other film credits include “The Clown Murders,” “Deadly Harvest,” “Terror Train,” and “Humongous.”
He would eventually team up with future wife Michaele Jordana in Toronto new wave/punk act The Poles, who scored locally in 1977 with their ode to the city’s famous landmark, “CN Tower”, produced by Keith Elshaw at Nimbus 9 Studios, then moved to New York to record with the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, and back to Toronto where Doug and Jim Frank produced Michaele Jordana‘s Juno-nominated album ROMANCE AT THE ROXY.
Following that band’s tenure, he joined Global TV’s production team, working on such projects as wife Michaele Jordana’s creative involvement with developmentally disabled teenagers entitled “Face To Face.” He then became a highly sought-after creative producer for various music, video, multimedia, and digital media projects, including those for Casino Niagara and Parks Canada, as well as numerous live performances.
He was also the driving force behind “The Dolphin’s Smile,” a CBC radio documentary about the advanced acoustical language of whales. This in turn led to being hired by A Space Gallery in Toronto to write and perform his electronic pop opera “Brine.” A similar project grew to fruition when he wrote the music for “The Rites of Nuliajuk,” a theatrical performance based on his time in the High Arctic and his friendship with Inuit people while initially working on another whales project. In addition and as a result, Pringle has collaborated with countless artists, musicians and architects, taught at Fanshawe College and the Centre for Creative Communications, and has conducted workshops in interactive media at the Banff Centre. He is a member of the Institute for International Affairs and the Media Advisory Committee for the Harmony Movement.
Several tracks from both albums were given a new life in the new millennium, when club DJs began sampling them. Wells passed away in 2010.