Isao Tomita
Isao Tomita

Unforgotten : Isao Tomita ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’

This Isao Tomita article was written by Jack Dodd, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells

If you mention the name Isao Tomita to the average music listener it is most likely that you will receive a look of bewilderment. His music is of a sort that will never be blared out in clubs or on mainstream radio.

However his influence on electronic music and the sheer ingenuity of his craft is something that cannot be ignored. With his early use of the Moog synthesiser and his interpretations of classical music, he can rightly be seen as the godfather of a genre that would eventually include New Order, Suicide, Depeche Mode and Daft Punk.

Starting out as a composer whilst he was at college, Tomita would go on to create a variety of Japanese TV and film themes, and even put together the music for the 1956 Japanese Olympics squad. If you listen to the music on a lot of 90’s television shows and cartoons you can clearly hear his influence.

Yet his masterpiece is undoubtedly his 1974 album ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’ – which would go on to earn four Grammy awards.

If you think back to this time, electronic music and the idea of using synthesisers to recreate normal instruments was virtually unheard of. The rare Moog synthesiser was a piece of musical equipment that Tomita was desperate to use and this led to him paying the equivalent of $125,000 to bring one over to Japan to use on ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’.

The album itself is his interpretations of Claude Debussy’s Tone Paintings. The entire record is performed on the Moog synthesiser. This at the time would have been an incredible feat as Tomita had no idea how to use the instrument when first purchased. Yet he somehow managed to not only recreate Tone Paintings but gave it a wholly original sonic quality.

There are parts that sound like human voices, trumpets, violins, piano and it is all layered in a way that gives each individual track a defining crescendo.

It raises a variety of emotions ranging from euphoria to anguish to sorrow and seems to transport the listener through a spectrum of vibrant musical colours.

Songs such as ‘Clair De Lune’ sound like something from another planet whilst ‘Gardens in the Rain’ is like being inside the mind of someone on an acid trip.

The title track is astonishingly beautiful and the sheer experimentation of Tomita’s work can be heard here when compared to Debussy’s original.

Make no mistake, this album is not one you’d put on before a night out or one that can be timidly played away in the background. It is a record that takes concentration and time – and preferably an excellent set of headphones.

The rewards though are deep and something new is often discovered with repeated listens. So next time you’re listening to Random Access Memories or Blue Monday, spare a thought for Tomita and this often unknown classic.

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