Saturday, December 27, 2014

Isao Tomita – Firebird

   Electronic music was discovered in early postwar years and developed in some laboratories. Since these centers were operating rare and extremely expensive equipment, they were based in public institutions, mainly in university and radio experimental studios. High costs made electronic music a new frontier for avant-garde composers but it was totally out of reach for private studios. Until late sixties when appeared the revolutionary modular synthesizer controlled with the keyboard. Its creator Robert Moog created increasingly advanced versions of his synthesizer from 1964 to 1969, pending his original solutions with series of US patents. This monophonic small instrument was first electronic instrument popular in private use of musicians. One of first famous musicians was Japanese composer Isao Tomita also known just as Tomita.
   Isao Tomita was born April 22, 1932, and spend his childhood in China. In 1955 after graduating history of art in Tokyo Keio University, he began working as composer of soundtracks for television movies and shows. Although composing orchestral music, he was active mainly on the field of music and sound effects production for animated movies. He was also interested in new technologies and became one of founders of TAC Group – famous Shibuya-Tokyo studio of animation and computer graphics. In late 60’s, already recognized in Japan, composer started experimenting with electronic music. Isao Tomita purchased Moog 3 Synthesizer and build his home studio for creating his own visions of electronic renditions of classical masterpieces. This was pivotal moment for new instrument. The same time in March 1968 Wendy Carlos released in USA his first album of Bach’s music renditions on Moog Synthesizer Switched-On Bach. Published by Columbia Masterworks records by Wendy Carlos also played their role in promotion of synthesized electronic sound.

Isao Tomita – Firebird (1975)

   Tomita started publishing his electronic recordings in 1972 with Switched-On Rock (as Electric Samurai) where he played popular rock songs with electronic sounds. This was clear reference to Carlos’ album. This wasn’t his debut, earlier, in 1966 he released recording of symphonic poem Jangaru Taitei based on music to the movie Jungle Emperor. He was still in searching stage, when in 1974 he published his fourth album Snowflakes Are Dancing with impressionistic electronic versions of Claude Debussy’s compositions, and hit the jackpot. He received four nominations to Grammy Award, and started recording electronic renditions of orchestral works. Next albums recorded for RCA Red Seal became Tomita’s best  achievements. After success of Debussy’s music he specialized in late 19th and early 20th century compositions like Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky (1974), Firebird by Stravinsky (1975), The Planets by Holst (1976), Daphnis et Chloé by Ravel (1979).
   He executed The Firebird Suite and all these recordings with Moog synthesizer and multitrack studio tape recorders. Technique was much easier than in earlier studio music. He was recording whole sequences and bring them together on analog tracks, with possibility of panning them in stereo or quadraphonic space. Recording Firebird he used 5 recorders with main 16-track Ampex MM-1100 with tape speed 76 cm/s. This four-episode suite took A-side of LP. On B-side artist of artificial sound placed his renditions of Dubussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bare Mountain.
   Today old analogue synthesizers sound closer to classical profoundity than to any kind of avant-garde or experimental music. It is consequence of massive using of synthesized sounds in various genres of popular and utility music. Although in this early era articulation was in many cases based just on envelopes and sound harmonics were rather poor, so sometimes they sound like organs expanded with new electronic voices, these recordings were sparkling with novelty. This fascinating world of unlimited sound possibilities was open for the future, which very soon have to turn back to tradition. This is the document of historic hope for unrestricted development. Two stars for vision and realization.

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