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Entry updated 19 December 2017. Tagged: Music.

Working name of Isao Tomita (1932-2016), Japanese electronic musician. A pioneer in the popularization of synthesizer composition, Tomita cut his teeth recording electronic versions of famous works from the classical canon – some of these still sound very fresh, not least, his inventively varied rendering of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1975) and his brisk version of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (1975). But, perhaps because the electronic synthesizer tended to be coded "futuristic" for early listeners, his move into sf seemed to follow naturally, via a splendid, full-throated reworking of Gustav Holst's The Planets (1976). Kosmos (1978) included an instrumental version of Stanisław Lem's most famous novel, "The Sea Called Solaris" (based on Bach's "Three-Part Invention in C Minor") as well as a whimsically whistling version of the Star Wars theme. Perhaps his best genre work is Bermuda Triangle (1979), an instrumental concept album that advances the theory not only that UFOs are responsible for the mysterious disappearances in that once-notorious portion of the Caribbean the Bermuda Triangle (the opening track is called "Round Space Ship Landing On The Earth While Emitting Silvery Lights"), but also that Atlantis is located under those waters, which submarine city is in turn a gateway to a Hollow Earth inhabited by Venusians. The ingenuousness with which Tomita embraces this nonsensical farrago is rather winning (the last three tracks are called: "Dazzling Bright Cylindrical Object Which Had Crashed into Tunguska, Siberia". "Harp being Played by The Ancient People And The Venus And Her Space Children Singing The Song" and, finally, "Visionary Flight To The 1448 Nebular Group of the Bootes") and the music is very pretty. Further non-sf electronic versions of classical music (Ravel, Bach) followed, although the titles of Tomita's 1984 compilation album Space Walk – Impressions of an Astronaut, and his next live album Mind of the Universe – Live at Linz (1985) make clear the basis of his popular appeal. Kodo: Nasca Fantasy (1995), an album greatly reliant, as its title suggests, on traditional Japanese drumming, spins another awkward UFO fantasia, this time about alien craft visiting the Nazca plains of Peru. More recently Tomita has recorded some more specifically Japan-oriented albums, including an intriguing adaptation of the Tale of Genji (live album, 1999; studio version 2000). Tomita's trademark style is precise, indeed sometimes brittle and chilly, but always complex, inventive and refreshing; it captures one sort of sf very well indeed. [AR]

Isao Tomita

born Tokyo: 22 April 1932

died Tokyo: 5 May 2016


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