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Isao Tomita, an Early Major Japanese Electronic Composer, Is Dead

Tomita was a major influence on Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Photo via the artist's website

Reports are coming in that Japanese electronic composer Isao Tomita has died. He was 84.

As a young composer, Tomita developed an ambient sound with acoustic instruments that he called "tone poems." This technique was used to score to the Japanese science fiction show, Mighty Jack. After acquiring a Moog III modular synthesizer in the early 1970s, he turned his attention to composing with electronic instruments. HIs 1974 album Snowflakes Are Dancing reworked Debussy's "tone paintings" compositions using his Moog synthesizer. It was an international success—Snowflakes Are Dancing was nominated for four Grammy Awards in 1975, including best classical album of the year.

Tomita's pupil Hideki Matsutake became Yellow Magic Orchestra's sound programmer from 1978-1982. In an interview with Resident Advisor, Matsutake professed how much of an influence Tomita had on the band's music, in particular, it's leader Ryuichi Sakamoto: "In the studio YMO used to spend time analyzing how Tomita created the sounds. Sakamoto had all of Tomita's records, and he would bring a record to the studio and say, 'Today, let's listen to this and study.' YMO's sound is definitely rooted in Tomita's music."

In the 80s and 90s Tomita developed a series of concerts known as the Sound Cloud concerts which enveloped listeners in sound coming from multiple sources and from different locations. In one waterfront concert held in Sydney, as Tomita performed on a stage, a boat full of kabuki drummers would perform from the water, and a helicopter with a speaker attached to it would fly around the crowd.

At the time of Tomita's passing, the composer was working on a holographic music that would have starred VR celebrity Hatsune Miku. Titled Dr. Coppelius, the project was dedicated to Tomita's friend Hideo Itokawa, the father of Japanese rocketry. "I'd like to finish 'Dr. Coppelius' as much as possible," he told the Japan Times in December, "so that, even if something happens to me, others could finish it."