Trailblazing synthesizer pioneer Isao Tomita died of heart failure Thursday at Tokyo Metropolitan Hiroo Hospital at the age of 84. According to the Japan Times, a private funeral on Saturday and Sunday was attended by close family members only. His early work inspired Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra and several generations of artists.
Tomita was born in Tokyo in 1932. At the age of three he moved to China with his father, where he lived for five years before returning to Japan. As a student he took private lessons in composition, orchestration and theory while reading art history at Keio University in Tokyo. At the same time, he composed music for local orchestras. Inspired by the work of Bob Moog, Tomita became enamored with synthesizers. He bought a customized Moog III and drew influence from Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach released in 1968. Tomita went on to produce Snowflakes are Dancing in both conventional stereo and in quadraphonic, or four-channel sound. A descendant of quad, Dolby Surround, was utilised in the 1991 re-release of Snowflakes are Dancing and Tomita’s four following albums. In 2014, four of its tracks, “Clair de Lune,” “Gardens in the Rain,” “The Engulfed Cathedral” and “Snowflakes are Dancing,” were used in the film Heaven Knows What. Subsequent albums Firebird sold over 100,000 copies in three months. His album The Bermuda Triangle earned him a Grammy award in 1979.
Tomita remained active until his death. He had recently been working on projects that experimented with virtual diva Hatsune Miku, a singing computer program produced by Crypton Future Media.