But while pursuing an academic career, his avid interest in music and electronics led him to engage private teachers. One of his first compositions, "Wind Mills", was selected by the Japan Federation of Choral Organizations as the song to be used by all contestants for the best choral group award. This achievement led to a commission for theme music to be used by the Japanese Olympic Team.
Since then, Tomita has composed a number of works for film and television. One such TV project was aired in the US by NBC, under the title "White Lion". This background music was later incorporated into a tone poem which was recorded by the Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra and received a special Medal of Merit from the Japanese Government at the 1967 Japan Art Festival.
For the 1970 Expo, Tomita provided the music for the Toshiba Hall. He has since been commissioned by the Japanese Government to compose the music for the Japanese Government Hall at the 1975 Okinawa Marine Expo. In 1973 he established "Plasma Music", which is dedicated to the creation of a new type of music using synthesizers. In order to be a member of this group, one must be adept at composition, arranging and programming, performing, recording and mixing synthesizer music.
Tomita's first recording distributed in the US, "Snowflakes are Dancing", synthesizes the
music of Claude Debussy. It was released in April 1974 as a quadra disc on RCA's Red Seal
label. It quickly crossed over to become a pop best seller, reaching the top 50's of the
pop charts. Its success led Tomita to an exclusive recording contract with RCA. The album
was selected by NARM (National Association of Record Merchandisers) as best selling classical
album of the year, and was a finalist for three Grammys, including best classical album of
David Ernst, The Evolution of Electronic Music, Schirmer Books, New York, 1977
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Isao Tomita, a Japanese composer who specialises in music for television and film, followed in Carlos' footsteps. His album, Snowflakes are Dancing (1974), contains arrangements of Debussy's most popular compositions performed on the Moog synthesizer. Pieces from the "Children's Corner Suite", "Suite Bergamesque", "Estampes", and the first book of "Preludes", are included in this album. Tomita's technical mastery of the equipment has enabled him to produce beautiful arrangements of Debussy's music.
Robert Henschen, "Electronics in Rock: The New Superstars Play Multi-Keyboards", Music Journal, vol. 37, p. 17, March/April, 1979
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Tomita considers himself a sound animator by building layers of sound through programming his Roland MC-8 micro-computer to achieve his successful albums like "The Bermuda Triangle".No discussion of popular electronic music in the Seventies would be complete without some mention of the Japanese engineering wizard, Isao Tomita. His many-layered keyboard concoctions are comprised almost exclusively of familiar Western classical scores by Debussy, Mussorgsky, Strauss, Holst, and others. Ironically, Tomita's incredible catalog on prestigious RCA Red Seal is better known to rock 'n' rollers than straight classical patrons.
Tomita's startling new palette of sound first reached American ears in 1974 with Snowflakes are Dancing, an album's worth of multi-tracked over-dubbed, revolutionary interpretations of Claude Debussy's "tone paintings". So refreshing and immaculately recorded were these synthesized sounds that Clair de Lune and Passepied took young listeners by total surprise. Snowflakes was often played as incidental music prior to 1974 concerts by the likes of Genesis and Electric Light Orchestra.
Since then, the Tokyo-born 45-year old has turned out a steady stream of electronic classical records that appeal to a broad spectrum of the listening populace: Pictures at an Exhibition, Stravinsky's Firebird, and The Planets by Holst. Last year's Kosmos was an obvious attempt to cash in on the Star Wars hoopla, and his most recent LP, The Bermuda Triangle, seems to play upon another theme that should intrigue the typical sensation seeker. But behind the trendy packaging, Triangle is perhaps the most compelling collection of nouveau classical experiments Tomita has conducted yet.
In this case, The Bermuda Triangle performs its devilish deeds to the tunes of Prokofiev and Sibelius with a hint of John William's Close Encounters theme thrown in as well. Each selection corresponds to an episode in Tomita's extraterrestial plot. For instance, the first movement of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6 is renamed The Dazzling Cylinder That Crashed in Tunguska, Siberia. Grounding his production in six variations of Moog synthesizer, Roland synthesizer, seven tape recorders, several more electric keyboards, and a roomful of sequencers, graphic equalizers, and mixers, Tomita plays more powerfully than ever before.
Tomita uses a Roland MC-8 microcomputer that "...produces a sequence of signals that control the sound production of a synthesizer. I build layers of sound by programming the computer. These are recorded one by one on separate tracks on a tape machine and finally mixed together for the end result. I consider myself a sound animator, much the same as an animator of film cartoons...".
Each musical sound or image on The Bermuda Triangle has been coded by number in the
computer's memory. Audiophiles should note that the album master was recorded on an
unconventional five tracks that Tomita suggest should be heard on a system with five speakers:
four in the usual rectangle formation and a fifth suspended above the center in a "sonic
pyramid". And if that's not enough, Tomita has hidden a coded message amongst the sound
effects on each side of the record. If you happen to have a micro-computer programmed to
the TARBEL System in your den, you'll be one of the lucky ones to learn this obscure and
coveted secret. The rest of us will just have to settle for Isao Tomita's most incredible
electronic conceptualization since Snowflakes are Dancing.
Andy Mackay, Electronic Music, Control Data Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 1981
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Isao Tomita, creator of Snowflakes are Dancing. The Arabesque is one of the most attractive tracks of these synthesizer versions of Debussy's piano music.Japanese electronic composer and performer. In 1974, with the release of the album Snowflakes are Dancing, the reputation of a new virtuoso of the synthesizer became assured. The Japanese wizard's electronic versions of pieces by Debussy delighted pop and classical fans by their intriguing and witty sonorities.
Tomita had had wide experience at home before becoming an international bestseller. He had written for films and television, amateur choral societies, and even won a commission to provide a theme for the Japanese Olympic team. But his real love was electronic, and in 1973 he founded Plasma Music, a group devoted to all aspects of synthesized music. The unit has toured internationally as well as recorded.
Albums following Snowflakes are Dancing, imaginative interpretations of Stravinsky and
Mussorgsky, have confirmed Tomita's staying power.
Delton T. Horn, The Beginner's Book of Electronic Music, Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, 1982
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Tomita's transcriptions generally capture the spirit, if not the letter of the originals. Voices range from sensuous to mildly humourous. Tomita is especially well known for his excellent choral effects.
Kuni Masami, "The Musical World of Tomita Isao", Japan Quarterly, Tokyo, Japan, January/March 1983
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Some years ago I joined in on a discussion on modern music. One of the participants, a professor of electronic music at the University of California at Los Angeles, had unstinting praise for the compositions of Tomita Isao, who though largely unknown in Japan had already made a name for himself abroad. Neither the professor nor I knew at the time that Tomita was Japanese. The professor pronounced his name Tuh-ME-duh; I thought he must be a Russian.
Tomita's musical training was somewhat unorthodox. Instead of attending a music academy he took private lessons and training in harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, etc., while studying aesthetics and the history of art at Keio University. He supported himself at school by composing for orchestras. After graduation in 1955 he composed full time for movies, television and the theater. Always, however, he felt restricted; he wanted to work with something more than the sounds made by conventional instruments.
A new world opened for Tomita in 1969, when he happened to hear an album of synthesizer music called "Switched-On Bach". In the synthesizer he discovered an unlimited source of sound.
People often ask Tomita why until recently he arranged conventional scores for the synthesizer instead of composing his own scores. An example is "Snowflakes are Dancing", the song that launched his career in electronic music, which is an arrangement of Debussy. He shared with me his thinking on composition and electronic music when I visited his studio in Tokyo. It went something like this.
His synthesizer music, he believed, should evolve naturally from an established base rather than defy all the rules and aesthetics of musical composition; before flying off into uncharted realms, he wanted to acquire a firm grounding in the timbre and organization of conventional music. He defends the liberty he takes with scores by arguing that a musical score is but a rough guide to the sound its composer had in mind; no two conductors or musicians perform the same score the same way.
Although the synthesizer is theoretically capable of creating any sort of sound, Tomita believes it is best to imitate the sounds of conventional instruments, then take those sounds a step further. He asks the listener to compare the sound, say of a violin with his synthesizer-produced violin. Conventional instruments are beautiful, he insists - why attempt to deny them?
In recent years, Tomita has begun to compose his own synthesizer music. He is now working on compositions based on Japanese stories and fairy tales. One concerns a ghost story, "Miminashi Hoichi", which can be found in Lafcadio Hearn's short story collection Kwaidan. Hoichi, a blind biwa (lute) player, performs The Tale of the Heike before ghosts of the vanquished Taira clan and in the end his ears are torn from his head. Tomita is not sure if he will finish the piece, but if he does it promises to be fascinating.
There are many other progressive artists in the field of electronic music these days, but
their progressivism is in discovering new possibilities in the synthesizer itself, not in
composition. That is what distinguishes Tomita from the rest: he is a progressive composer.
Peter Manning, Electronic and Computer Music, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985
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The Japanese composer Isao Tomita has achieved particular success with his electronic arrangements. starting with his album Snowflakes are Dancing (1974), based on the piano works of Debussy. These realizations are concerned less with the overt sensationalism of Carlos and more with a considered exploration of the subtleties of texture obtainable from electronic orchestrations.
"High-Tech Composer", Faces of Japan II, 27 Minute Video, TeleJapan USA/WNET, New York, 1988
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Composer Isao Tomita has become a world-wide sensation with his music, a combination of lasers, synthesizers, western and Japanese instruments. This is the twelfth episode in the second season of the highly-acclaimed series on life and people in contemporary Japan. This series introduces the viewer to thirteen different individuals and their lives.
Patti Jean Birosik, The New Age Music Guide, Collier Books, New York, 1989
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Tomita's commercial breakthrough album, Snowflakes are Dancing, brought computerized music into the average American's consciousness long before the rise of New Age Electronic music or the various experimental offerings of the late seventies. Using state-of-the-art technology, he has created fresh, exciting arrangements of masterworks by Bach, Stravinsky, Holst, Debussy and others. Back to the Earth was recorded live in New York during the spectacular bicentennial celebration; as dazzling laser displayes and fireworks lit up the night, synthesist Tomita united musicians from the Soviet Union, China, Japan, and the United States to perform ultramodern interpretations of classics such as Holst's The Planets and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Tomita's two greatest hits collections offer an insightful overview of one of the best-known electronic composers of our time.
Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Kodansha, New York, 1993
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Tomita Isao, a composer and synthesizer player who has made contributions to the establishment of electronic music as a performance medium.Composer and synthesizer player. Born in Tokyo. A graduate of Keio University, he begain composing while still a student. One of the first to recognise the potential of the synthesizer, he began to write electronic arrangements of well-known classical music. His album Tsuki no Hikari (1974, released in the US as Snowflakes are Dancing), which included a version of Debussy's Clair de Lune, was nominated for a Grammy Award. Tomita has done similar arrangements of works such as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Stravinsky's The Firebird, and Holst's The Planets, contributing greatly to the acceptance of the synthesizer and of electronic music as a performance medium.
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