Turning 80 this year hasn’t interrupted Isao Tomita in his search for new musical possibilities. Known to many as the father of Japanese electronic music, the artist is about to turn his latest dream into a (virtual) reality, by collaborating with computer-generated diva Hatsune Miku. This weekend, Tomita will welcome her on stage to sing with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra when they perform his “Symphony Ihatov.”
Being the first Japanese musician to incorporate a synthesizer into a composition, Tomita has always been a pioneer for which he has been recognized both here and abroad. Highlights from his career include composing the music for two animated series based on works by Osamu Tezuka: “Jungle Emperor Leo” and “The Ribbon Knight” (also known as “The Princess Knight”). This connection to the country’s most influential manga writer helped boost his success.
The composition for “Jungle Emperor Leo” resulted in Tomita receiving the 1966 Art Encouragement Prize at the National Arts Festival. His use of synthesizers evolved in the 1970s, his masterpiece “Snowflakes are Dancing” made it to the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s classical charts in 1974. From that point, Tomita saw his star rise abroad and he followed up with many synthesizer-centric albums.
Tomita continues to make music, though often it’s his former works that are being re-released. This time, though, the artist is embarking on nothing like what he has done before.
More than 300 musicians will gather to perform “Ihatov,” a composition that expresses Tomita’s impression of the colorful and “psychedelic” world that exists in the literature of renowned author Kenji Miyazawa. Tomita says he has been fascinated by Miyazawa’s work since he was in the fifth grade.
What will be different about this performance of the “Symphony Ihatov” is the collaboration with Miku. Developed by Crypton Future Media, she is the persona that fronts Yamaha Corp.’s Vocaloid vocal synthesizer program. She is programmable, much like the synthesizers Tomita works with, and she is very popular. This concert will be her first attempt to sing along with a symphony orchestra, and so far the mechanics of how this whole experiment is going to work is being kept a surprise.
The performance will be broadcast live via the Tower Recordommune Shibuya (TRDS) website, a collaboration between Tower Records and live-streaming website Dommune, as part of its launch on Nov. 23 (the streaming begins at 3 p.m.). There will also be a talk session broadcast at 9 p.m. via TRDS that will feature Tomita, Crypton President Hiroyuki Itoh and other participants from the “Symphony Ihatov” event.
Isao Tomita’s “Symphony Ihatov” featuring Hatsune Miku will be performed at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall on Nov. 23 (doors open at 2:30 p.m.). Ticket prices vary from ¥6,500-¥8,500. For more information, visit www.operacity.jp or www.columbia.jp/ihatov. For live streaming, visit www.towerrecordommune.jp.