22 April 1932
5 May 2016 (aged 84)
Isao Tomita (冨田 勲; Tomita Isao, born 22 April 1932), is a renowned electronic music composer.
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 Australia.
In 1965, he composed the theme song and incidental music for Osamu Tezuka's animated TV series Jangaru Taitei (Jungle Emperor), released in the USA as Kimba the White Lion. Years later, he would write a tone poem based on this music.
In the late 1960s, he turned his attention to electronic music after hearing albums by Wendy Carlos in which Wendy performed classical music with the Moog synthesizer. Isao acquired a Moog III synthesizer and began building his home studio. He started arranging Claude Debussy's pieces for synthesizer and in 1974 the album Snowflakes are Dancing was released; it became a worldwide success. His version of Arabesque #1 is used as the theme to the astronomy TV series Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer (originally titled Star Hustler) seen on most PBS stations. Also in 1974, Tomita composed music for the Japanese film Last Days of Planet Earth. He often employs Klangfarbenmelodie, using synthesizer voices.
He continued to release albums, of which the best known are his interesting arrangements of classics, such as Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and Gustav Holst's The Planets.
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", playing instruments 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 $A7 Million gift from Japan to New South Wales, which included the largest ever fireworks display at that time, 6 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 was in Nagoya, Japan in 1997 featuring guest performances by Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick and Rick Wakeman.
In the late 90s he composed hybrid orchestra + synthesizer Symphonic Fantasy entitled "The Tale of Genji" inspired by the same named 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.
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.
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