Isao Tomita (冨田 勲, Tomita Isao, born April 22, 1932), often known simply as Tomita, is a Japanese music composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analog synthesizer arrangements. In addition to creating note-by-note realizations, Tomita made extensive use of the sound design capabilities of his instrument, using synthesizers to create new sounds to accompany and enhance his electronic realizations of acoustic instruments. He also made effective use of analog music sequencers and featured futuristic science fiction themes, while laying the foundations for synth-pop music and trance-like rhythms. He also received four Grammy Award nominations for his album Snowflakes are Dancing in 1974.
Tomita was born in Tokyo and spent his early childhood with his father in China. After returning to Japan, he took private lessons in orchestration and composition while an art history student at Keio University, Tokyo. He graduated in 1955 and became a full-time composer for television, film and theatre. He composed the theme music for the Japanese Olympic gymnastics team for the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
In 1965, he composed the theme song and incidental music for Osamu Tezuka's television animated series Jangaru Taitei (Jungle Emperor), released in the United States as Kimba the White Lion (with a different theme by Bernie Baum, Bill Giant and Florence Kaye). In 1966 he wrote a tone poem based on this music with an original video animation synchronized to the tone poem released in 1991. Isao Tomita and Kunio Miyauchi also created the music for the tokusatsu science fiction/espionage/action television series Mighty Jack, which aired in 1968. The same year, he co-founded Group TAC.
By the late 1960s, Isao turned to electronic music with the impetus of Wendy Carlos and Robert Moog's work with synthesizers. Isao acquired a Moog III synthesizer and began building his home studio. He eventually realized that synthesizers could be used to create entirely new sounds in addition to mimicking real instruments. His experiments with electronic music would eventually spark a "revolution in synthesizer programming." His first electronic album was Electric Samurai: Switched on Rock, released in Japan in 1972 and in the United States in 1974. The album featured electronic renditions of contemporary rock and pop songs, while utilizing speech synthesis in place of a human voice. He then started arranging Claude Debussy's classical pieces for synthesizer and, in 1974, the album Snowflakes are Dancing was released; it became a worldwide success and was responsible for taking synthesizer programming to new heights. The album's contributions to electronic music included an ambience resembling a symphony orchestra, the use of reverberation, the use of phasing and flanging to create a spatial audio effect with stereo speakers, electronic surround sound using four speakers, realistic string simulations, portamento whistles, and abstract bell-like sounds created using ring modulation. A particularly significant achievement was its polyphonic sound, which was created without the use of any polyphonic synthesizers, which were not yet commercially released. Tomita created the album's polyphonic sound by recording selections one part at a time, taking 14 months to produce the album. In his early albums, he also made effective use of analog music sequencers, which he used for repeated pitch, filter or effects changes. Tomita's modular human whistle sounds would also be copied in the presets of later electronic instruments. His version of "Arabesque No. 1" was later used as the theme to the astronomy television series Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer (originally titled Star Hustler) seen on most PBS stations; in Japan, parts of his version of "Rêverie" were used for the opening and closing of Fuji TV's transmissions.
He continued to release albums, of which the best known are his arrangements of classics, such as Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and Gustav Holst's The Planets. Tomita's albums Pictures at an Exhibition (1975), The Firebird Suite (1975) and Holst: The Planets (1976) introduced a new direction that infused classical synthesizer music with dynamic futuristic music, while abandoning the note-by-note approach previously used in synthesized classical music in favour of polyphonic sounds. Holst: The Planets in particular introduced a science fiction space theme, a connection that had rarely been explored since the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. This album sparked controversy on its release, as Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav Holst, refused permission for her father's work to be interpreted in this way. The album was withdrawn, and is, consequently, rare in its original vinyl form.
While working on his classical synthesizer albums, Tomita continued composing numerous scores for Japanese television and films, including the Zatoichi television series, two Zatoichi feature films, the Oshi Samurai (Mute Samurai) television series and the Toho science fiction disaster film, Catastrophe 1999, The Prophesies of Nostradamus (U.S. title: Last Days of Planet Earth) in 1974. The latter blends synthesizer performances with pop-rock and orchestral instruments. It and a few other partial and complete scores of the period have been released on LP and later CD over the years in Japan. While not bootlegs, at least some of these releases were issued by film and television production companies without Tomita's artistic approval.
In 1984, Tomita released Canon of the Three Stars, which featured classical pieces renamed for astronomical objects. For example, the title piece is his version of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major. He credits himself with "The Plasma Symphony Orchestra", which was a computer synthesizer process using the wave forms of electromagnetic emanations from various stars and constellations for the sonic textures of this album.
Tomita has performed a number of outdoor "Sound Cloud" concerts, with speakers surrounding the audience in a "cloud of sound". He gave a big concert in 1984 at the annual contemporary music Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria called "Mind of the Universe", mixing tracks live in a glass pyramid suspended over an audience of 80,000 people. He performed another concert in New York two years later to celebrate the Statue of Liberty centennial ("Back to the Earth") as well as one in Sydney in 1988 for Australia's bicentennial. The Australian performance was part of a A$7 million gift from Japan to New South Wales, which included the largest ever fireworks display at that time, six fixed sound and lighting systems -- one of those on a moored barge in the centre of a bay, the other flown in by Chinook helicopter -- for the relevant parts of the show. A fleet of barges with Japanese cultural performances, including kabuki fire drumming, passed by at various times. His most recent Sound Cloud event was in Nagoya, Japan in 1997 featuring guest performances by The Manhattan Transfer, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, and Rick Wakeman.
In the late 1990s, he composed a hybrid orchestra plus synthesizer symphonic fantasy titled The Tale of Genji inspired by the eponymous old Japanese story. It was performed in concert by symphony orchestras in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London. A live concert CD version was released in 1999 followed by a studio version in 2000.
In 2001, Tomita collaborated with Walt Disney Company to compose the background atmosphere music for the AquaSphere entrance at the Tokyo DisneySea theme park outside Tokyo.
His synthesizer score featuring acoustic soloists for the 2002 film The Twilight Samurai (たそがれ清兵衛, Tasogare Seibei) won the 2003 Japanese Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
The advent of the DVD-Audio format has allowed Tomita to further pursue his interests in multichannel audio with reworked releases of The Tale of Genji Symphonic Fantasy and The Tomita Planets 2003.
In 2008, his Snowflakes are Dancing played in the background at the Disney World Resort, Epcot, World Showcase, Japan, Bijutzu-kan Gallery.