Electronic Music Pioneer Isao Tomita Passes Away at 84

The last 12 months have not been kind to music fans. We’ve lost Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, Phife Dawg, Frank Sinatra Jr., Maurice White, Glenn Frey, and Keith Emerson to name a few. (A running tally can be found here.) The most recent musician to leave the mortal realm is Isao Tomita. The Japan Times announced his death on Sunday after a private funeral.

But who is Isao Tomita, often known simply as Tomita?

Born in 1932, Tomita is a Japanese composer regarded as a pioneer of both electronic music and space music. He is also one of the most famous producers of analog synthesizer arrangements. He made extensive and effective use of analogue music sequencers and the Mellotron. His music featured futuristic science fiction themes as well as laid the foundations for synth-pop and trance music.

A.V. Club mentions that Tomita was the son of a doctor and spent a portion of his childhood in Japanese-occupied China “where a family visit to the circular Echo Wall at the Temple Of Heaven in Beijing sparked a lifelong interest in acoustics”.

In the late ‘60s Tomita travelled to the United States for a custom-built Moog synthesizer before building a private studio dedicated to electronic music. His first album, Switched-On Rock (1972), where he covered the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel showed off his prowess with analogue electronic instruments. However, he achieved real success two years later with 1974’s Snowflakes Are Dancing where he reimagined Claude Debussy’s impressionist music. Tomita continued to mix the music of classical composers as well as composing movie music.

Tomita’s music has won awards in Japan, he composed music for the Tokyo DisneySea theme park, and has been recognized for his long career through a Japan Foundation award. He has left a noticeable mark on electronic music.

Have a listen to his version of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune:

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