We found this nice short biography in the Isao Tomita fans facebook group, created by Mustafa Ertan.
Born : 22 April 1932 Tokyo, Japan
Died : 5 May 2016 (aged 84) Tokyo, Japan
Isao Tomita (冨田勲, Tomita Isao, (April 22, 1932 – May 5, 2016), often known simply as Tomita, was a Japanese music composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analog synthesizer arrangements. In addition to creating note-by-note realizations, Tomita made extensive use of the sound design capabilities of his instrument, using synthesizers to create new artificial sounds to accompany and enhance his electronic realizations of acoustic instruments. He also made effective use of analog music sequencers and featured futuristic science fiction themes, while laying the foundations for synth-pop music and trance-like rhythms. He also received four Grammy Award nominations for his album Snowflakes are Dancing in 1974.
Tomita bridged the gap between note-by-note classical/electronic LPs like Switched-On Bach and the more futuristic, user-friendly interfaces developed in the 1970s. After creating one of the first personal recording studios with an array of top synthesizer gear in the early ’70s, Tomita applied his visions for space-age synthesizer music to his favorite modern composers – Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel – though his recordings steered a course beyond the academicism of Wendy Carlos and other synthesists. Born in Tokyo in 1932, Tomita grew up in China as well as Japan, studying composition and music theory as well as art history at Keio University. After graduation in 1955, Tomita began composing film, television and theater music. He was awarded frequently during the 1950s and ’60s, and became perhaps the most well-known contemporary Japanese composer.
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. In 1966 he wrote a tone poem based on this music with an original video animation synchronized to the tone poem released in 1991. Isao Tomita and Kunio Miyauchi also created the music for the tokusatsu SF/espionage/action TV series Mighty Jack, which aired in 1968.
By the early ’70s, Isao Tomita was introduced to the seminal work of synthesizer gurus Wendy Carlos and Robert Moog, sparking his own interest in synthesized music. In 1973, he formed the electronic collective Plasma Music with musicians Kinji Kitashoji and Mitsuo Miyamoto, and spent more than a year stocking his home studio with electronics gear (including the Moog III used for Carlos’ Switched-On Bach). Tomita’s first album, 1974’s Snowflakes Are Dancing, electrified the Japanese public and even translated to an American classical audience, where it was nominated for four Grammy awards. Successive albums Pictures at an Exhibition, The Firebird Suite and his masterpiece Holst: The Planets infused the classical-synthesizer fusion craze of the 1970s with genuinely exciting, futuristic music instead of the bland, note-by-note translations favored by less visionary musicians. The Planets re-invoked the connection between synthesizer music and science fiction first broached in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet.
Tomita began incorporating digital synth and early MIDI setups with 1982’s Grand Canyon, and completely gutted his studio during the next two years during the transition from analogue to digital with his Casio Cosmo system. Though he recorded more sparingly than in the 1970s, Tomita made frequent appearances at enormous concerts, including his 1984 Austrian show Mind of the Universe before 80,000 people and at the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration two years later. Tomita was also awarded the honorary presidency of the Japan Synthesizer Programmers Association.
Tomita died on May 5, 2016 of cardiac failure at 2:51 p.m. at Tokyo Metropolitan Hiroo Hospital.
Nicholas D. Kent added the following information:
Nothing is seriously inaccurate but I see some missing pieces that help better understand his career.
He did not use analog music sequencers the way say the Berlin artists did, certainly non-electronic composers of the era like Riley, Reich or Glass made far more trance-like music without sequencers. I come to think he was not doing much in any sort of “user-friendly interfaces developed in the 1970s.” other than when professional polyphonic instruments were retailed he got some.
Tomita grew up in Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo though returned to Japan to experience further hardships of war. He took music theory classes at the charitable YMCA post war and took some private lessons in composition and orchestration. It seems to me he made the choice to study Art History at Keio because graduating at a top school was considered a top step to success and there weren’t much or any music composition degrees being offered. Interestingly Ifukube was teaching composition at roughly this time, though at maybe a less prestigious music school than a top university.
Tomita was one of a number of Japanese soundtrack composers with unfortunately less exposure outside Japan. It’s interesting to parallel 3 years younger conductor Seiji Ozawa who was also was born in Manchukuo and I heard something that he had a lot of troble getting back to Japan. He was studying at music school to become a concert pianist when he broke fingers in a sporting accident and switched career to conductor. The thing is he achieved success in contemporary music conducting outside of Japan.
Certainly Toru Takemitsu holds the honor of most famous Japanese composer of classical music and a body of art film scores contaning many classics. His work was frequently introduced by Ozawa on the concert stage and received high praise from Stravinsky. He was two years older than Tomita, also wound up with some of his childhood in occupied China and then was forced to be a young teenage soldier in Japan. He had a long period of sickness which he took advantage of by learning classical music on his own.
Akira Ifukube has quite a body of classical work, but not the prestige outside of Japan. He was 18 years older and was born in Hokkaido. He was recognized internationally as a promising young composer and interestingly received master classes from Alexander Tcherapnin, who’s son Serge became a synth designing pioneer in the early 1970s and is still active. Ifukube of course did more Godzilla scores than anyone else including the first one.
Jungle Taitei. This was the first TV anime to feature an orchestra score and soundtrack LP. Also the first color TV anime, which was an expensive requirement to be on USA TV at that time. While Tomita was not Osama “The God of Manga” Tezuka’s only composer he was one of his main composers in the 60s. Tomita did a custom arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition for the animated film festival circuit in the 60s. Tomita did some kind of laser disc/vhs of it in the 90s synced to music but the tone poem as an LP was 1960s releases. He re-recorded it in 2009 for Denon as a story book sort of thing. He did 2 full scores for Tezuka Productions features after Tezuka’s death.
Mighty Jack was live action series made by Tsuburaya, Godzilla’s special effects director whose contract did not stop him from producing TV series on his own. Tsuburaya did Ultraman, whose franchise is still going after 50 years. Tomita did not score Ultraman, but he did score Captain Ultra which is a very strange concept of a companion show on the TV network meant to complement Ultraman but made by a different company. Captain Ultra is still remembered but had nothing like the pop culture game changing power of Ultraman. But Tsuburaya (Ultraman) did hand Tomita some scoring work like Mighty Jack.
Tomita’s studio begun in 1971 was not his private studio. It was a company led by Tomita and founded to create TV commercial music with his newly bought Moog. Tomita first heard Switched on Bach in 1969 (about a year after USA release) and it took him a while to get the loans and get the Moog and the multitrack tape equipment.
I don’t consider Carlos an academic, the work was more controversial as it was a new thing and I do think that Tomita’s deep experience with popular soundtracks certainly differentiated him.
In 1973 he already had the gear from his TV commercial work. The arrangement was he could use the studio off of working hours for his personal projects. He did keep adding equipment as he was successful.
Snowflakes are Dancing was said to be unreleasable in Japan. He and his English speaking lawyer (whom I’ve met) obtained a record contract in NYC from RCA USA who were impressed. That then got RCA Japan on track to release the albums. Tomita explained had he been studying business in college he would have learned English, but he didn’t.
I think Tomita brought new life to classical synthesier recordings. There were numerous okay to awful ones from the late 60s and early 70s. So the idea was not at all novel by Tomita’s albums. There were probably way too many. Thing was Tomita’s were impressive and surely extended the idea do more of something like that with less success after his. I’d think by the 80s though the idea was again less interesting. But Tomita geared up for his Sound Cloud large scale concerts which continued for well over a decade. Only the Linz and NYC ones had albums. Others were Nagara, Sydney, Yokohama, Nagoya. He also parted with RCA USA. I’ve heard his supporters had departed RCA so he had less support from people he had no relationship with.
Technically Grand Canyon had digital synths but not MIDI. His studio wasn’t exactly gutted. He was a consultant on the Casio project and the sponsored some of his Sound Cloud events. Casio had wanted to make a high end digital synthesizer and sampler but by the time they had it near ready for sales the industry was radically different. They did debut some instruments that sold well though to Casio’s disappointment did not make them an industry leader
His last work was the ballet Dr. Coppelius. The one comforting thing surrounding his death was he was working hours before