Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Isao Tomita- Snowflakes Are Dancing: Electronic Performances of Debussey's Tone Paintings (1974) / Pictures at an Exhibition (1975) / Firebird (1975) MP3 & FLAC

Isao Tomita: "[I]n painting the artist is free to use whatever color or material he may choose. In other words the medium for his expression on the canvas is free and unlimited. There are plenty and abundant mediums, whereas in music we have had to use very limited means: the musical instruments. In painting one could use unlimited variety in color, but in music only certain numbers of timbres were available to express composers' ideas and feelings [....] My doubt was, should music be always like this? Couldn't it get some new source of sound beyond existing musical instruments? That was my doubt and at the same time my dream." After having spent the formative years of his childhood with his father in China during the 1930s, Tomita returned to the place of his birth, Tokyo, eventually studying Art History at Keio University during the early 1950s while also taking private lessons in Music Composition and Orchestral Theory in order to pursue his overriding passion for music. Having already paid his dues by regularly composing for local orchestras in order to fund his education, by the time Tomita graduated, he had amassed an impressive amount of experience and skill, which allowed him to quickly transition into a career scoring films, television and theatre, something he pursued for the next 15 years until hearing Walter Carlos' groundbreaking Classical work on the Moog synthesizer. Tomita: "In 1969 I happened to listen to a record titled Switched on Bach which opened a new world to me and triggered a revolution in my musical life. At the time I saw on the jacket of the record, behind Bach, a synthesizer, which is to say a palette of sound. For the first time I discovered that the synthesizer is not an instrument to compose music by using the sounds of existing instruments, but is a new instrument or a new machine which creates unlimited sound sources."

Walter Carlos tending to his Moog III
Inspired by Carlos' groundbreaking work, Tomita purchased a Moog III synthesizer (identical to the one pictured on the Switched on Bach album cover) and built a recording studio in his home shortly after forming a music collective called Plasma Music with several other Electronic-minded musicians. After a false start in the form of a largely forgettable album of Moog renditions of contemporary rock songs, Tomita turned his attention to the work of French composer Claude Debussy, and, in contrast to Carlos' emphasis on note-for-note transcription as well as the recreation of traditional acoustic sounds using the new Electronic medium, Tomita's work, perhaps due to his extensive experience as a composer, focused on re-conceptualizing the source material using the infinite array of new musical possibilities inherent in the new Electronic medium. The result was Snowflakes Are Dancing: Electronic Performances of Debussy's Tone Paintings, an album that proved to be both a revolutionary step forward in synth-based programming and a considerable commercial success. Tomita on the approach and response to the album: "I never expected that so many albums would be sold, but to tell the truth I was expecting something different and I had, if I may say, some revolutionary intention or theory when making this music [....] Walter Carlos' emphasis when realizing Debussy was on the level of mere description and depicting [....] My emphasis was more on the timbre or color of the music [....] it was kind of an experiment for me. I experimented with my theory to create first the color of the sound which the conventional instruments never could bring out [....] The intention of my playing was that with a synthesizer I could break the limitations of such instruments and go into the unlimited world, and I started with the color of the sound, and the result was this piece. But we are going beyond even the color; we are going to the form of music composition and finding new aesthetic rules and creating a new world of music."

Isao Tomita relaxing in front of his Moog III
The most obvious difference between the work of Tomita and that of earlier attempts to re-interpret Classical pieces within an Electronic context is Tomita's ability to create a polyphonic sound despite the fact that polyphonic synthesizers were not commercially available when he recorded his most innovative work. He did this by painstakingly recording every part separately and meshing these parts together to lend his Electronic arrangements a symphonic depth missing on albums such as Switched on Bach. In addition, Tomita, especially on later albums such as Pictures at an Exhibition, Firebird, and his interpretations of Holst, avoids any conventional sense of reverence in his approach to the source material, as he treats them more as starting points for his exploration of new musical possibilities than monuments to be draped in synthetic raiment. Tomita: "In this kind of situation, music and, for instance, painting are different. There is one painting, one masterpiece, say. If another painter adds color or a line to this original painting, it is destroyed. But it is quite different with music. In music there may be one original score, but there may be thousands of scores of the same composition, and there will be hundreds and thousands of other composers and arrangers who may rearrange the original music; who may add something to the original, who may extract something from it [....] I don't think it's a problem which endangers or destroys the original score [....] If one plays a score, each player will interpret it differently and each conductor performs it differently, and you cannot limit or tell the conductor exactly how the original composer imagined it. The music score itself is loose." For Tomita, music cannot be mathematically reduced to a finite set of relationships between notes and between tones. As such, every composition potentially points the way to what he calls the "unlimited world," which, as with the act of interpretation, is infinite.

Snowflakes Are Dancing: Electronic Performances of Debussy's Tone Paintings
(BMG Japan ~ 2004/1974 ~ Japanese K2 24-Bit Remaster)

 1. Snowflakes Are Dancing (Children's Corner No. 4)  (2:15)
 2. Rêverie  (4:46)
 3. Gardens in the Rain (Estampes, No. 3)  (3:43)
 4. Clair De Lune (Suite Bergamesque, No. 3)  (5:50)
 5. Arabesque No. 1  (4:01)
 6. The Engulfed Cathedral (Preludes, Book I, No. 10)  (6:18)
 7. Passepied (Suite Bergamesque, No. 4)  (3:21)
 8. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (Preludes Book I, No. 8)  (3:21)
 9. Golliwog's Cakewalk (Children's Corner, No. 6)  (2:56)
10. Footprints in the Snow (Preludes, Book I, No. 6)  (4:30)

Pictures at an Exhibition  (Mussorgsky)
(BMG Japan ~ 2004/1975 ~ Japanese K2 24-Bit Remaster)

 1. Promenade: Gnomes  (4:46)
 2. Promenade: The Old Castle  (6:21)
 3. Promenade: Tuileries  (1:28)
 4. Bydlo  (3:17)
 5. Promenade: Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shell  (2:05)
 6. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle  (3:06)
 7. The Market Place at Limoges  (1:13)
 8. Catacombs  (2:38)
 9. Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua  (2:10)
10. The Hut of Baba Yaga  (3:44)
11. The Great Gate at Kiev  (6:21)

Firebird (Stravinsky)
(BMG-Japan ~ 2004/1975 ~ Japanese K2 24-Bit Remaster)

Stravinsky- Suite from Firebird
1. Introduction  (3:28)
2. The Firebird and Its Dance  (0:14)
3. Variation of the Firebird  (1:20)
4. The Round of the Princesses (7:11)
5. Infernal Dance of King Kastchei (4:12)
6. Lullaby (5:47)
7. Finale (3:21)
8. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (10:20)
9. A Night on Bald Mountain (12:49)


  1. What a great example, the difference between a painting and a musical score. Both art, but totally different mediums. It also reminded me of The Beach Boys music and Chuck Berry's songs. lol

  2. scurfie, thanks for commenting. This is really interesting music. I hope people are giving it a try. I will post Walter/Wendy Carlos' stuff at some point

  3. Sweet! I love this stuff. Never heard of this guy

  4. Anon., let me know what you think of it

  5. Pictures was one of my first LP purchases and I have no memory of why I picked it up - especially since album purchases were so dear back then. I don't know what happened to that disc, but I'm excited to hear it again.

  6. Wow, I totally forgot these albuns, listened them twenty years ago, very good stuff, thank you!

  7. a good introduction to the Real Thing: the solo piano works of Debussy & Mussorgsky.

  8. Thanks for your great work and for remember me Isao Tomita's music.

  9. hello! possibility of re-up? writing an article on tomita for convertibletoyokohama.com



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