Isao Tomita Has Died At The Age Of 84

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Synthesist Isao Tomita – best known for a series of albums featuring synthesizer arrangements of classical works – has died at the age of 84.

Tomita (22 April 1932 – 5 May 2016) died of chronic cardiac failure, with family at his bedside. 

Tomita started his career as a composer for Nippon Columbia Co.,Ltd where he composed numerous works, including music for the first NHK Taiga drama and animation of Osamu Tezuka.

In the 70’s, he was among the first to introduce the analogue synthesizer to Japan and released numerous ambitious albums like Snowflakes Are Dancing and The Planets.

Here’s an example of Tomita’s work, Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1, from the album Snowflakes Are Dancing:

He released more than a dozen studio albums, including Snowflakes Are Dancing, Pictures At An Exhibition, Firebird and The Planets.  He also composed many soundtracks, throughout his career.

He was active into his 80’s. He recently debuted Symphony Ihatov, a work featuring the virtual vocalist Hatsune Miku as soloist. Just before his death, he was preparing the performance of his new work Dr. Coppelius, planned for November of this year.

Private funeral ceremonies for Isao Tomita were held May 7th and 8th.

52 thoughts on “Isao Tomita Has Died At The Age Of 84

  1. Another sad day! You either loved him or hated him, but many of his electronic realizations were incredibly detailed and musically powerful. I for one will miss him.

  2. “The Planets” is responsible for my interest in synthesizers, I first heard it when i was about seven years old and I have never been able to forget it. To call Isao Tomita an inspiration would be an understatement.

  3. So let’s hope his discography will be made available digitally, also on streaming services. I love his Kartinki

  4. The world has lost a legend, a pioneer in synthesis and an amazing musical talent. His albums, especially in the 70s and early 80s, are true sonic works of art that need to be heard to be believed… The Planets, Kosmos and Bermuda Triangle in particular are incredible. Tomita was my idol since a young age and I am so sad to hear this news… may his spirit live on indefinitely through his beautiful music.

    1. Absolutely… Had them both and Firebird. As an aside, my daughter who was just a toddler in the seventies, would run out of the room when the turntable stylus reached the “Mars” track.

  5. Tomita was a true master. A musician with as much care for his performances as for his meticiously created timbres and sonic textures (in lack of better words). He will be missed, but his legacy lives on. A great inspiration to all involved in synthesis of sounds.

  6. Not only a gifted musician, his sound design was second to none. His ability to create sounds which could emulate the human voice was amazing – the Tomita “whistle”, the voices in the planets – genius. A true pioneer and inspiration.

  7. Pictures at an Exhibition was one of my first LPs, along with Oxygene. Its fair to say that PAAE sounded utterly alien to me and was partly responsible for the collection of synths now sitting around me. R.I.P Tomita.

  8. When I picked up “Pictures at an Exhibition” in the 70’s I couldn’t believe what I was listening to…and I was reading Way of the Pilgrim at the same time. You have to remember synthesizers were still relatively new at the time and this guy took them to an entirely new level. Even by today’s standards all his work still stands up.

  9. I know nearly everything in Synthesizers. Tomita was my only real role model. He mastered Sound. I would not say “Synthesizers” (of course he mastered Synthesizers like no other). He mastered Sound and Music in a way like no other.

  10. Jack Horkheimer’s sweet astronomy show was memorable for it’s theme song “Arabesque 1”. Tomita’s arrangement plays in my head whenever I am looking up at the stars.
    <3

  11. sad day. my life was always with tomita and my ringtones are all tomita. i started my musical world with tomita. very, very, very sad day …

  12. The Planets was unavailable in the UK for many years. I remember trying to buy it in the late 70’s and it had disappeared from the shops. The estate of Gustav Holst made sure of that. His heirs didn’t like T’s take on it I think. I’ve still not heard all of it.

    An aside: Holst’s music is consistently brilliant. The Planets is just his most popular work. A very underrated British composer with a not very British name.

    1. I remember reading that “The Planets” had been pulled from sale in the UK on the bus on the way to college. My friend Chris and I pooled our cash and dashed into town to buy the last vinyl copy in the record shop before they realized. Then we tossed a coin – he got the LP and I got the cassette copy we made! Was delighted when it appeared on iTunes – that cassette was well-worn.

  13. I will always miss Tomita and may his soul rest in peace. I listened to him a lot while in High School and his music will always have a very special place in my heart!

  14. His (often complex) analogue works in the 70s were best. Apart from his musical ability he had an amazing talent for picking the right synth sound for a particular melody. RIP

  15. I actually teared up at this news. Tomita-san is the main reason I am into music at all. His arrangements are so full of life and “color” that they inspired me to reach out into otherwise unknown pieces to me at the time. Now they are some of my most favorite and loved pieces of music (classical or otherwise). The world truly is a little less bright today because of our loss of Tomita-san, but what a legacy of masterpieces and pioneering sound achievements he leaves us with. RIP, Tomita-san; blessings to your family and those dear to you.

  16. As many have said before me here, Isao Tomita is solely responsible (with Debussy) for my passion of 30+ years playing & collecting synths.

    Heavenly music. RIP.

  17. Absolutely true synth pioneer. Without you I would not be such synth obsessive. RIP
    Light a candle and play his version of Clare DeLune

  18. The sheer beauty of Tomita’s ‘electronic sound paintings’ introduced me to the sheer beauty of Debussy. I can’t think of a higher accolade than that. RIP Isao. You were a genius.

  19. We have lost another pioneer in music. And while so many of us who were exploring electronic sound constructions with intellectuel and conceptual aesthetics built on Post-war European influences of Varese, Stockhausen and the American schools of thought, Post War Japan sought some sort of solice and beauty. Tomita is that flore who emerged from the ashes. He carried a powerful message that it is the composer at peace with Self that brings true enlightenment.

  20. Une autre grande perte dans le domaine de la musique électronique.
    Tant qu’à moi, Isao Tomita est un des plus grand. Probablement, plus important que Jarre et Tangerine Dream.

  21. Un Gran Maestro ha partido. Dejo huellas profundas en la musica y el diseño sonoro. Inspiracion y ejemplo para muchos que seguimos sus pasos. Que El Gran Arquitecto del Universo guie sus pasos hacia el Gran Oriente. OM A HUNG.

  22. A sonic genius who will not be forgotten and was never given as much credit as he deserves to the evolution of synth music. He was my first synth hero as a kid, and I loved his interpretations of classical pieces which were light years ahead of Carlos, mostly due to his mastery of sound design which amazes me to this day. He took the simple melodies and made them masterpieces in their own right. It wasnt until I got my first synth that I could appreciate the time and effort that went into creating those sounds that people of today take for granted when they punch a button to bring up a preset. RIP Master.

  23. What a crying shame.

    Just listening to a few of his tracks shows how much he’s left an impact on the history of the synthesizer as we know it.

    That “whistle” sound iconic in Arabesque clearly inspired the patch used in the intro for the X-Files TV show, and I can hear immediately that his immense pads and immaculately flowing strings inspired many like them in the presets of products decades ahead of when he made them. And his use of textures, especially when fed through his trusty tape echo, always sounded a sort of “cutting edge” compared to how one dimensional many other patches of the time presented themselves.

    A visionary in his own right, and a true master of the immense soundscape he creates in every track. Sparking wonder and inspiration in the minds of many as to how such otherworldly sounds could manifest.

    RIP Isao Tomita

  24. Tomita was one of my early synth heroes.

    While I absolutely loved his incredible musicality with the Moog, I appreciated even more his indelible sense of humor when realizing the various pieces of music he tackled over the years.
    He made the Moog chirp like tiny chicks, made it sing nonsensical and hilarious “Boo-Baas”, created aliens laughing together over a shared joke, made mules clip-clop and gallop on the trail, and made it beautifully whistle with as much emotion as any professional human whistler ever could.

    On the back of one of the early albums (which I eagerly devoured as they became available) he talked about how the synthesizer was such a new instrument that it would take time for any virtuosos to become familiar enough with it to make themselves known.
    Even back then, I felt that he was already one of those virtuosos, and he just continued to expand the boundaries of musical expression as time went by. In Tomita’s hands the Moog went from being a collection of interesting circuits to a soulful, expressive and beautifully amazing instrument.
    His efforts made the world a more magical place for me and many, many others.

    Thank you sincerely for all of the wonderful music Mr. Tomita.
    Safe Journey.

  25. Very sad new 🙁

    I was impressed when I listened Arabesque No. 1, I just was a kid and that song made me dream about synthesizers. I still have that vinyl. RIP.

  26. Isao Tomita: A synth pioneer who adapted analog synths for symphonic works. His meticulous approach to timbre highlighted the power of synths long before the preset age. At a time when synthesizers were considered “artificial” as opposed to “natural”, Tomita noted that the roll of thunder which is one of the oldest sounds known to man, is indeed caused by an electric phenomenon involving voltages (somewhat like the sounds emitted from synthesizers). Such wise words remain engraved in my memory.

    R.I.P. Tomita-san

  27. I bought Snowflakes Are Dancing when it came out. I was in high school. It totally blew me away…..it still does.

    May his memory be a blessing.

  28. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of this great artist Mr. Isao Tomita.
    When I first heard “the Planets” it made such an impression. Ironically, I worked in the American Space Program on some of the deep space probes that were sent to the other planets in our solar system. All the time Mr. Tomita’s many works with the synthesizer were always on my mind.
    Thank you sir, for all you have done for music. Your works will live on forever as long as the stars shine.

  29. Fond memories of sitting on my friend’s basement bedroom floor smoking pot and listening to Tomita albums, when his mom banged on the door and startled us shouting, “HEY! When do I get my hit?!” HAHAHAHA!

    Then we started listening to HER tangerine dream records!

    Always think of Jack Horkheimer’s Star Hustler’s TV show when I hear his Arabesque #1. Classic! Also like his Mars from Planets.

  30. The first album I’ve heard was “Cosmos” and it knocked me out! I was thrilled and excited on this album. The second album I bought was “Bermuda Triangle” Those were very scarce in Europe and especially in Netherlands. Both albums were Japanese import albums and costed way more than any other album. Sometimes twice or more, but every sound on those albums were fabulous. Now my collection of this sound-creator expands about 15 albums. All Japanese cd’s remastered, with a clear sound. The man sadly died, but his legacy remains. R.I.P. and thanks for the beautiful music you’ve made.

  31. One of ?the outstanding sonic creators in ?the history of electronic music. He brought passion and emotion to electronic form unlike Wendy Carlos (great too), which is hard to do in that medium. Not as abstract as the former (example). Both styles are literate but Tomita humanized electronic sound. Strikes a nerve. He was a Romantic like ?the composers were between 1820 and 1900. His selections were from that era with some exceptions. Won’t be anyone to replace him.

  32. I’ve got three Tomita records. Snowflakes are Dancing, The Planets (I think its a quad version!), and Live at Linz 1984 (which features the Close Encounters theme, partly performed by a helicopter with a loudspeaker over the audience. That record is framed and hanging on my wall. I approve of Tomita’s left-of-center interpretations of great classical works, and believe more people should take such liberties.

  33. I am another Tomita fan, it all started back in the mid 70’s when my mum bought the LP Snowflakes are dancing, I was mesmerised at these incredible sounds, I wanted a synth so bad, but in those days, well, food and a roof over our heads came first , they were just so expensive. Anyway, thanks to the PC I can at last experiment with these wonderful sounds.

    I hope the people here don’t mind but I have made a special tribute to Tomita by way of saying a thank you for the massive inspiration.

    Here goes:

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