This section deals with the instrument and recording technology used by Tomita, with attention
being paid to the analogue side of things throughout the 1970's and early 1980's. In addition,
there are some photos of the synthesisers used by Tomita.
Tomita was famed for using truckloads of technology, proudly listed on the back of the
recordings from the start. As one of the few musicians capable of operating (let alone
affording) the large modular synthesisers, manufactured by the American 'Moog' and Japanese
'Roland' companies, his productions represent a mastery of the technology that only a handful
of others can equal. Part of that skill was down to necessity, as electronic music systems in
the early '70's were in general almost entirely open-ended, with no facility for storage of
sound programs, or a universal system of synchronisation. This meant that every setting and
switch on the instruments had to be manually adjusted for each new sound, and the best memory
system for recalling those settings was by using paper and pencil. Original Moog modulars made
no sound at all unless the different modules were connected to one another with patch leads.
This made music making a very time-consuming and tedious process, a situation made worse by
the limited number of tracks able to be recorded on the tape recorders of the day.
This is in contrast to today, where a majority of instruments have a large number of
microprocessor memories for instant recall of a favoured setting (or 'patch'), and a
theoretically unlimited number of parts can be recorded on your desktop computer.
Tomita's first Moog synthesiser was a non-stock instrument, as in 1972 when he acquired his,
some systems were put together according to the customer's particular requirements. However,
Tomita's instrument was based on the Moog 'C' systems, roughly equivalent to the production
IIIP [45k JPEG]. To thicken the plot a bit, the 'C'
stood for 'Cabinet', with the instrument built into nice walnut cases, and the 'P' was for
'Portable', being the same electronics in more road-worthy Tolex covered flight cases. The
"pick 'n' mix" approach could never have been particularly lucrative for the manufacturer, and
later Moog systems were sold as entire systems.
His other main tool at this time was the
Mellotron 400 [24k JPEG],
a keyboard instrument for playing back recordings of real sounds. Each key
was attached to a length of magnetic tape, which was run over a tape
playback head when a key was struck. It was a unique instrument, now
superceded by its digital antecedent, the sampler.
With the success of the first album, 'Snowflakes Are Dancing', in
1974, the quantity and range of equipment began to expand. By the time of
'Firebird', the Moog had been substantially upgraded, and other
instruments had been introduced to augment the Tomita sound arsenal.
This level of growth continued throughout these earlier albums, and by the time of
'The Planets', the first Roland gear was used. This is perhaps
Tomita's most 'broad' album sonically, and the increase in number of tape recording tracks was
clearly the result of the productions becoming more complex.
The first widely-available polyphonic synthesiser in the world was the
Moog Polymoog [51k JPEG],
and it debuted on 1978's 'Kosmos'. Also acquired
at this time was the full, massive
Roland System 700
[82k JPEG], the Japanese take in modular systems (and thought to be better
in some ways to Moogs, filter-wise anyway, although lacking in bottom-end),
and the current Moog modular, the
Moog System 55
Having been used first on 'Kosmos', the
Roland MicroComposer MC-8
[78k JPEG] was a major player in 'The
Bermuda Triangle', and another first of its kind for Roland. A
precursor to the hardware sequencer boom of the '80's, it enabled eight
parts to be played simultaneously, through digital control. Tomita himself
explains it all in the sleeve notes from the album.
Tomita reached the peak of analogue overkill on
'Daphnis et Chloé', with a
clutch of new gear, including the Yamaha CS-80 polyphonic and the
Roland Vocoder VP-330
[32k JPEG]. Around this time, those well-used analogue tape machines were
about to witness the dawn of digital multitrack recorders, with the 3M and
'Grand Canyon' was the first
Tomita album for two years, and also the advent of the first digital system,
namely the Synclavier II
[40k JPEG]. Hugely expensive, half of its power came from its ability to
record and playback samples of real instruments, but was somewhat let down
by the fact that it had only one mono output on the back (in its basic
configuration, anyway)! Digital instruments were easier to control and use
with the benefit of MIDI*. Also present was the
Emu Emulator [28k JPEG],
another large modular, the
Roland System 100M
[68k JPEG], one of the most popular polyphonics, the Sequential Circuits
Prophet-5, and the future hip-hop workhorse, the
Roland TR-808 drum
machine [62k JPEG].
* MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Previous to its
introduction in 1983, electronic musicians had to contend with a number of arcane methods
of synchronisation when trying to get two instruments from two different manufactures to
communicate with one another. Synchronisation was required in order to produce more than
one sound at once, or to be able to automatically and remotely control electronic
MIDI is a protocol, or set of rules which determines how this communication
occurs. All manufacturers have adopted this system, and virtually all modern instruments
can be directly connected via a common set of interface sockets. To not implement MIDI
these days on an instrument would in general make it un'sync'able, and therefore seriously
damage its sales potential to a large number of musicians.
For pre-MIDI instruments, special interface units are available, which can translate
control voltages and trigger signals into MIDI signals, and vice-versa. Hence, these
instruments have been given an unexpected and indefinite new working life. There has been
a commensurate worldwide boom in the market for these old analogue devices.
After he listed the instruments used for
'Dawn Chorus' as being derived from the
explosions of stars, Tomita abandoned the practise of spelling out what gear
he used. But in 1984, he acquired the Casio Cosmo Music Computer, built as
a one-off to his specifications, and this appears to have been used on each
subsequent recording. He has also used the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical
Instrument), and CMI series 3. This was similar in concept to the
Synclavier II. The newest
recording, 'Bach Fantasy' uses samples of
the analogue modular systems of old to create the music.
Tomita in 1992, with the Casio Cosmo numeric keyboard on his lap,
a Fairlight CMI series 1 screen to the right, and a rare
Korg MS-50 [68k JPEG] on top of a
Synclavier II screen behind him.