Firebird – Tomita
Electronic music is something I very rarely play these days though from time to time I still keep a watchful eye out for some of those electronic artists who I had in my record collection back in the 70’s which is where that genre of music got more of the time of day spinning on my turntable so to speak. Oddly enough the 80’s was a decade I detested for popular chart music which made me more or less turn my back on the radio and TV programs like Top Of The Pops. That was really down to all that retro synth orientated pop music that artists and bands like Gary Numan, Howard Jones, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Pet Shop Boys and many more were churning out.
The 80’s was a strange decade for music and even most of my beloved progrock bands like Yes and Genesis had gone pop and most of the rock bands had gone into more commercial rock music. One of the only things that kept my particular taste buds happy and alive in the 80’s were Tangerine Dream and I felt they had got a lot better in that decade due to the likes of Johannes Schmoelling joining the band and later Paul Haslinger after he had left. In that decade I would say that they were more PROG! than the biggest majority of progrock bands and PROG! was very much on its way out and it was only really Marillion who had tried to revive it in that same decade who was the start of what’s known as Neo-Progrock.
My first introduction to electronic music came from a friend of mine in the mid-seventies around 74/75 and he was a big fan of Tangerine Dream though it was not them at the time who impressed me. It was this odd-looking album cover that looked like it had Mr Spock from Star Trek on the front cover that caught my eye and prompted me to ask him what it was all about and for him to stick it on his turntable.
Snowflakes Are Dancing
To be perfectly honest I was not impressed one bit by the album cover and it was only the fact that to me it looked like one of those CHEAPO! albums that made me take the piss out of it that really made my mate stick it on for me. Having listened to it I thought it was very strange yet soothing in parts and even comical with some of the sounds that were being generated in particular with the voice-like sounds. One of the other things I instantly picked up on about the recording, in particular, was that if like myself you liked the effect a stereo recording could deliver, this recording was a STEREOPHILE’S PARADISE! and one of the best reference stereo albums you could get. Though as fascinating it was hearing it for the first time it did not make me want to go out and buy the album at the time.
By 1976 I had left school and got a job which meant I had more money to spend on albums and that was the year that my oldest brother first brought electronic music into my parent’s house when he purchased Jean Michel Jarre’s debut album Oxygene. That was an album that did impress me to which I later added to my own collection along with many more of his albums. But thinking back to my youth it was also a time when me and my brother tried to impress one another by bringing in a new artist to our record collections. It was like we were bragging to each other that I introduced you to so and so and was all rather childish at the time.
It was in that same year that whilst I was in the record store that I noticed Tomita’s new album release of Firebird. I had only vaguely heard of his music from that time of listening to Snowflakes Are Dancing round my mate’s house and it may have been down to the fact that my brother had brought some electronic music into the household that made me purchase the album to show him sort of thing. However, when I took it home and played it on the turntable we were both quite blown away and this album was not only like progrock but it was also my first real introduction to classical music.
Isao Tomita is very much what I would call an electronic genius and still to this day I regard him as the number one electronic artist and I don’t think anybody could personally touch him. Firebird has always been my personal favourite album of his and the strange thing about this relatively new reissue of the album is that it’s done in the way of a CHEAPO! by another record company. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
Packaging & Artwork…
The disc comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case to keep the cost down though personally, I don’t mind paying that bit extra for a cardboard Digipak or DigiSleeve because it does give a better overall presentation. One of the good things about it is that it not only comes with the usual linear production and credit notes but also all the original informative information that was on the original vinyl album. Over the years I have collected his albums on both vinyl and CD and I have yet to come across any of his CD’s come in anything but a plastic jewel case. This is a shame because this artist does deserve a lot more respect.
This is actually the third time I have brought this album and it’s the first time it’s ever been released on an SACD which is why I purchased it again. For its price point of £11.99 plus £2 postage & packing it’s an absolute bargain for a hybrid SACD that comes with stereo and multichannel mixes. I shall go into more detail about the record company later in my review of the album and how I have nothing but high praise for them.
The artwork was done by the art director and graphic designer J.J. Stelmach who done the artwork for the biggest majority of Tomita’s albums and many other major artists over the years. He’s also won Grammy Awards for his artwork and the phoenix bird of fire is very apt to the album’s title.
Tomita In Brief History…
Isao Tomita more commonly known as Tomita is a Japanese composer and is regarded as one of the pioneers in electronic and space music. Though predominantly he is best known for his electronic arrangements of some of the classical GREATS! rather than his own compositions. Although in his earlier and later years he did put more into his own compositions. For example, after he graduated from university studying art history in 1955 he became a full-time composer for television, film and theatre. It was also during those earlier days at university that he took private lessons in orchestration and composition and in 1966 he wrote a tone poem based on Kimba the White Lion.
Throughout his career, he worked in both electronic music and wrote scores for orchestration even later on with the releases of albums such as Grand Canyon and Storm From The East in 1982 and 1992 respectively. The odd one or two of his own compositions would also find their way onto some of his electronic albums but on albums such as Firebird all the music was originally composed by classical composers such as Stravinsky, Debussy and Mussorgsky. That was generally the norm with the 4 electronic albums he released between 1974 – 1976.
Tomita’s influence and inspiration for electronic music came from two things. The first having heard the Wendy Carlos seminal album Switched-On Bach in 1968 and the second was the Moog synthesiser to which he took delivery of his first modular Moog synthesiser, along with a sequencer, in 1971. Although by then he had already composed much music and even released an album of cover songs of the likes of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel entitled Switched on Rock in 1972 under the name of Electric Samurai. The release of Snowflakes Are Dancing in 1974 was his first worldwide solo release and is noted as his debut album.
By the 80’s technology had moved on with the birth of midi and this also provided him with the use of technology to create his own Plasma Symphony Orchestra which was a computer synthesizer process using the waveforms of electromagnetic emanations from various stars and constellations for the sonic textures. This was first used on his 1982 album Grand Canyon and it meant that his analogue synths had taken a back seat with the introduction of digital instruments. He virtually abandoned analogue with the acquisition of his custom-built, one-of-a-kind Casio Cosmo system around 1984. Though he did return to analogue in the 90’s with the release of his 1996 album Bach Fantasy which was released in Japan only.
It was also with the aid of new technology in the 80’s that he was able to play live performances and put on big shows such as the concert in Linz, Austria in 1984 which drew 80,000 people. In 1986, a gigantic concert called “Back to the Earth” was held in New York in commemoration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. He performed a number of outdoor “Sound Cloud” concerts, with speakers surrounding the audience in a “cloud of sound” with the use of helicopters suspending the speakers in the air. His last Sound Cloud event was in Nagoya, Japan in 1997, featuring guest performances by The Manhattan Transfer, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, and Rick Wakeman.
In the 2000’s he went back into music for films and collaborated with The Walt Disney Company in 2001 and followed it up with a synthesizer score featuring acoustic soloists for the 2002 film The Twilight Samurai. He also performed a version of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” for the soundtrack of Ocean’s 13 in 2007. In 2012 he performed “Symphony Ihatov” in Tokyo, directing the Japan Philarmonic, an accompanying choir, and featuring cyber-celebrity/diva, Hatsune Miku, a digital avatar created by the Japanese company Crypton Future Media. He suffered from a heart condition for many years and sadly passed away of heart failure in Tokyo on the 5th of May 2016.
Most artists and bands think they have made it when they get to play in Japan hence the expression BIG In JAPAN! Tomita was not big in Japan he was MASSIVE! and his music stretched to other shores as well and he was, without doubt, an innovated creative genius in the world of electronic music.
The Album In Review…
Tomita’s third studio album Firebird was originally released sometime in 1976. The original Vinyl release contained 3 tracks and depending on which CD re-issue of the album you have it will either contain 9 tracks as in the 1984 UK & Europe edition or 6 tracks as in the 1991 remastered UK & Europe edition. Whatever edition you have the album comes with an overall playing time of around 48 minutes, 30 seconds. This particular SACD edition contains 6 tracks and was released on the 31st of May 2019. It’s the first time a Quadrophonic mix has surfaced in any other country apart from Japan and the US since the time of its original release back in 1976.
Isao Tomita was not only a composer but also a recording and mixing engineer who set up his own studio in 1973 which was known as Plasma Music, Inc. Sound played a vital role in the development of his music and he was obviously a wealthy man to be able to set up his own studio with the mass of equipment he used to make his music. I am fairly sure that he did Quad mixes for most of his albums back in the 70’s. Although back then you would have had to be quite wealthy yourself to be able to afford a Quadrophonic setup which is why the format soon died simply because the biggest majority of people including myself could not afford it.
These days setting up your own recording studio and even getting a multichannel AV Surround setup is not going to cost you an arm and a leg and such luxuries can even be a pittance in relation to what it would have cost back then. Take it from me Quadrophonic did not die out because the format was inferior, that was far from the case. In my opinion, it’s more superior to stereo and can project far more detail of what goes into a recording down to its better separation of having 4 channels instead of 2.
The sound did play vital importance to his recordings and to be honest even in stereo they can produce a sound very similar to surround sound with how the music projects from the speakers. Like I mentioned earlier his recordings are very much a STEREOPHILE’S PARADISE! and to some that might be enough and they might even think of how a Quadrophonic mix can in any way improve upon it.
Well, thanks to the record company Dutton Vocalion I now have the chance to make my own comparison and I can honestly say that although this might sound like a CHEAPO! This record company in particular with its lower price point they are selling these recordings are in fact one of the best record companies I have recently stumbled upon and are giving you genuine value for the buck. I actually stumbled across them as a third party seller on Amazon UK and was impressed by their service and their website. So let’s sidetrack a bit to tell you more about them.
Dutton Laboratories was established and set up by British recording and re-mastering engineer Michael J. Dutton originally back in 1993. This first section of the company specialised in historic classical music performances that originally appeared on 78-rpm shellac discs. The Vocalion series was set up in 1997 and various other sections were set up a bit later on and basically, this is a record label or company that specialises in putting music that was made between the 1920’s to the 1970’s onto modern-day digital recordings. The company is bringing out new releases every month and mostly sells SACD and CD’s.
To be honest there is not much for me that they do sell because it does mainly cater for the classical side of things. I was even surprised to find Tomita on there and I am pretty sure he’s the only electronic artist they do have on there. But there are a few albums on there of interest by artists such as Art Garfunkel, Mott The Hoople and Argent that I noticed and some you get 2 albums on one CD sort of thing. I actually picked up Deodato’s debut album Prelude and his second album Deodato 2 on a single Hybrid SACD both come with Quadrophonic mixes for £11.99. I will review later and the other Tomita album I picked up.
In 1991 the first 5 of his albums were remastered and released on CD in the US & Canada they are also said to be in multichannel Dolby Surround. I remember my mate who introduced me to Tomita buying them all and paid around £10 more for each disc due to them being imports. He was more into electronic music than myself and I remember spending an afternoon around his house making comparisons with the original recordings. Each disc came with a modified album cover as seen below.
I was not impressed at all by these releases and the whole multichannel thing was a farce simply because there was no way you could put a multichannel recording on a standard CD and would need an SACD or DVD to do such a thing in the first place. Like I mentioned earlier his albums were already capable of producing a sound very similar to surround sound and even though some of these 1991 editions sounded good, there were some that sounded worse. There was not enough in the difference between the original recordings to merit spending the extra money on them. The only real difference would have been down to the remastering and nothing else.
In 2003 the company that make AV & HiFi components Denon released a 5.1 mix of Tomita’s 4th album The Planets on DVD Audio. They also went on to release Ultimate Editions of some of his albums in Quadrophonic on SACD though they were only released in Japan and were quite expensive to get hold of. Some of them were given different titles and did not contain all the tracks from the original album and were mixed with other tracks from his other albums such as the Clair De Lune Ultimate Edition which is supposed to be his debut album Snowflakes Are Dancing. Yet it only contains 3 out of the 10 tracks that were on the original album.
My mate purchased some of these multichannel mixes but I was not impressed with what they were doing to them and compilation albums were never my thing and I certainly would not spend over the odds on such a thing either. However, the Ultimate Edition of The Planets that was released on SACD in 2011 did contain all the tracks from the album and a bonus track.
It’s generally priced over £30 and recently I did come across an online store selling it for £28 and I sent for it. But have heard nothing from them and luckily for me, they have not taken the money out of my account either. What you will also find with most of these Japanese imports is that all the linear credit notes are in Japanese and there is no English on them. I cannot say I like what they have done with the artwork either and that is nothing like the original artwork.
There is a reason why some of Tomita’s albums were released in the US first and some were only ever released in the US and Japan. His connection with the US market, in particular, was really down to his own country rejecting his debut album Snowflakes Are Dancing because it was not pop, or even classical and they could not find a convenient category to market it. So he decided to go to New York and over there he met Peter Manders at RCA Records and luckily for him he was a fan of the Wendy Carlos album Switched-On Bach. Having heard the tapes Manders was well impressed and on the same day he decided to release it and it became quite a big success in America. Some ten months later having returned back to Japan his Japanese record company finally released the album over there.
Firebird did very well on its release back in 1976 and sold over 100,000 copies in the first three months getting to the top of both pop and classical charts and it even appeared in some jazz charts. His fourth album The Planets was also released in the same year and it always amazed me how he was able to churn out 4 albums over a few years with how time-consuming it was to create the sounds. A lot of equipment is used to create and generate the sounds so let’s now take a look at what it took to make it.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Plasma Music, Inc. Music Composed by Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy and Modest Mussorgsky. Electronically Created & Arranged by Isao Tomita. Recorded at Plasma Music Inc studios Japan 1975. Remastered from the Original Master Tapes by Michael J. Dutton. Cover Design by J.J. Stelmach. Reissue Graphics by Paul Evans.
|Component Equipment Used by Tomita for This Album|
|914 Extended Range Fixed Filter Bank
125Hz – 5KHz, 12-Band Highpass/Lowpass Filter
|904-A Voltage-Controlled Lowpass Filter
24dB per Octave Classic Moog Lowpass Filter
|904-B Voltage-Controlled Highpass Filter
24dB per Octave Highpass Filter
|904-C Filter Coupler||1|
|901 Voltage-Controlled Oscillator
Used as a VCO or an LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) as on the Minimoog
|921 Voltage-Controlled Oscillator
0.01Hz – 40kHz Frequency Range
|901-A Oscillator Controller
1 Volt per Octave
|921-A Oscillator Driver
1 Volt per Octave
The Basis of the Moog Sound
Newer and More Stable than 901-B
|903-A Random Signal Generator
White/Pink Noise Generator for Wind/Rain/Sea Effects
|911 Envelope Generator
2ms – 10s Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release Configuration
|911-A Dual Trigger Delay
2ms – 10s 2 Channel Delay Unit
|902 Voltage-Controlled Amplifier
Linear/Exponential Amplifier with 2 Inputs, 2 Outputs, 3 Control Voltages
|912 Envelope Follower||2|
|984 Four-Channel Mixer||1|
|960 Sequential Controller
8 Steps by 3 Rows Sequencer with Fully Variable Voltages
CV/Trigger to Moog S-Trig Convertor for 960 Sequencer
|962 Sequential Switch
Configures 960 Sequencer
|950 Keyboard Controller
49-Note Monophonic Keyboard
|950-B Scale Programmer||1|
|956 Ribbon Controller
Alternative to the Keyboard
|6401 Bode Ring Modulator
Combines 2 Inputs, and Outputs the Sum and Difference,
Classically Used for Metallic Sounds, Such as Bells,
Designed by Harald Bode
|1630 Bode Frequency Shifter||1|
|959 X-Y Controller
Joystick Controller for Mixing 2 Signals
|905 Reverberation Unit
|Quad/Eight Compumix (24 Ch.)||1|
|Sony MX-710 (8 Ch.)||2|
|Sony MX-16 (8 Ch.)||3|
|Sony MX-12 (6 Ch.)||2|
|AKG BX20E Echo Unit||1|
|Binson Echorec “2”||2|
|Roland Space Echo RE-201||1|
|Eventide Clockworks “Instant Phaser”||1|
|Maestro Phase Shifter||1|
|Roland Phase Shifter||2|
|Fender “Dimention IV”||1|
|Maestro Sound System for Woodwinds||1|
|Maestro Rhythm ‘n’ Sound for Guitar||1|
|Fender Electronic Piano
Probably a Rhodes Suitcase Model
|Hohner Clavinet C||1|
|Sitar (Made in India) with Barcus-Berry|
Not Listed in Equipment Used
|Tape Recorder||Tape Speed|
|Ampex MM-1100 16 Tracks||76 cm/s|
|Ampex AG-440 4 Tracks (1/2″)||38 cm/s|
|Sony TC-9040 4 Tracks (1/4″)||38 cm/s|
|TEAC A-3340S 4 Tracks (1/4″)||38 cm/s|
|TEAC 7030GSL 2 Tracks||38 cm/s|
The Album Tracks In Review…
Even though Tomita crossed over from analogue to digital in his later years in many of his interviews he always praised analogue even though it was time-consuming creating all the sounds. But the thing he noted it for was that it allowed you to develop your own unique sound which is important for every artist to have. Tomita very much has his own unique sound that distinguishes him from every other electronic artist and there is no mistaking it for anything else. He very much has his own unique way of arranging classical music. Though in general the music will follow the path of the original score and it is only the sounds he uses that make the biggest difference in relation to how the music is put across.
Just like classical music, there is a certain amount of progression and transitional changes that are commonly associated with that particular music and progressive rock. Tomita’s approach to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is really not much different to prog-rock and parts of it even remind me of Yes even though this is electronic music done with synthesizers and twiddling knobs. I guess in a way his music could be seen as electronic progressive rock. So, let’s now go through the individual tracks on the album.
Tracks 1-4. Firebird Suite: (a) Introduction And Dance Of The Firebird. (b) Round Of The Princesses (Khorovod). (c) Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei. (d) Berceuse And Finale.
Most people will be familiar with Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” and the prog-rock giants Yes often used its “Finale” as an introduction to open up their live shows. The suite here is split into four sections or parts though a couple of them are two parts in one so I guess it could even be six parts. On the original vinyl album, this particular suite took up the whole of the first side of the album just like a good few albums that Yes produced back then. Like I mentioned there are some similarities with Yes and they go beyond the structure of how an album was put together with 3 tracks.
The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky wrote the Firebird Suite in 1910 and it was composed for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company. The scenario set for the ballet was based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. The music can be very dramatic and captivating, articulating not only the sense of danger and fear but also a certain amount of joy and beauty that was thrown into the plot behind the story it’s portraying.
The original suite Stravinsky wrote was twice as long as the version we have here, however for live performances it was stripped back to around half of its length like we do have here. They also re-arranged how the story was put across in some of the variations too and the version of the suite Tomita has chosen to follow was created in Switzerland for conductor Ernest Anserme in 1919.
Tomita very much broadened his pallet of sounds on this album and his vision to put across the story of the Firebird is nothing short of a master-stroke genius with how he manipulates and articulates his way along with the suite. I honestly do not believe there is a better version than this that exists. The first two-part section of the suite “Introduction And Dance Of The Firebird” goes through quite a few transitional changes and captivates the danger and fear with its introduction and its movement in the dance. He’s very much expressed it in a Cinematic way with his approach and the music not only puts you in the picture but it’s like it was made for a film and this how precise he’s portrayed it with the use of manipulating the sounds he’s created.
The second part “Round Of The Princesses (Khorovod)” expresses beauty even though according to the fairytale thirteen princesses are caught under the spell of an evil demon named Kashchei. Here Tomita uses coral voices and a Mantovani of strings mostly to express the mystical story and these days you would think nothing of how they can emulate the sounds of an orchestra with all the samples that have been put into softsynth software you can get. But back then this was quite an achievement. It even sounds like he’s got Steve Howe’s Coral Sitar in here too 😁😁😁.
The third part “Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei” is my favourite section and it’s very much a battle and portrays the part of the story where the prince wanders into Kashchei’s garden to free the princesses. This section and the battle here puts me in mind of the battle in the middle section of the “Gates Of Delirium” by Yes with how menacing it is. This is very much prog-rock in my opinion and sounds purely FANTASTIC! and Tomita has really gone to town here by utilising all that he’s learnt about his craft of manipulating sounds and its pure DYNAMICS!
The advantage Tomita has over most musicians is that he not only studied melody and composition but he also studied how to create sound and besides doing scores for movies he also worked in creating some of the sounds that go into them and even worked on cartoons. He’s even created pots and pans and the sound of a Woodpecker for this section and it’s purely SYNTHTASTIC! I’ve always been fascinated by the sounds that go into a movie more so than the actual music that was made for the score. There really is a fine art to designing and creating sounds and to do them electronically the way he does them it does take a lot of manipulating with frequencies to get them as precise as he does.
The final two-part section “Berceuse And Finale” is once again masterfully created by Tomita. The first part is very much a lullaby and is quite haunting, the second part is perhaps the most familiar part of the suite that projects power to put an ending to the story. The whole of Stravinsky’s suite is a really GREAT! piece of work and the way Tomita has presented it is quite breathtaking and the whole suite is my personal favourite track on the album.
Track 5. Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun.
One of Claude Debussy’s popular pieces has been skilfully and masterfully given the electronic treatment by Tomita and this is another haunting bit of beauty with how it’s expressed with the sounds he has created for it. I think like many classical pieces they are more famous for their short melodic motifs or major theme rather than the whole piece in general. I guess that would be down to TV adverts and movies that only use short extracts to which nine times out of ten it is only the short motif or common theme they use.
This is another piece written for ballet and it was inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem “L’après-midi d’un Faune” and is very much one of his symphonic poem’s. I guess that even classical musicians had the same inspiration as many prog-rock musicians who base their lyrics around Greek Mythology and his poem was about intoxicating dreams of passion, lust, nymphs and naiads.
To be perfectly honest I would not give twopence for this piece of Debussy’s and it is only Tomita that makes it more interesting in my book. Personally, I think it fails to capture the structure and beauty in comparison to “Clair De Lune” which is one of his more refined and renowned popular pieces.
Track 6. A Night On Bare Mountain.
No matter whether it’s a night on “Bare” or “Bald” mountain the way Tomita has electronically handled Modest Mussorgsky‘s masterpiece is nothing short of SPECTACULAR! He did the same impressive job with Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition a year earlier. The piece was originally titled “St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain” and the music was set to a story about St. John seeing witches throwing a wild party on the bald mountain near Kiev in the old Russian Empire, to which they all vanish when the church bell strikes at 6am. Mussorgsky wrote a number of different versions of the piece, none of them got finished and was put aside because his teacher told him they were not good enough.
Most of Mussorgsky’s works were unfinished and left to others to finish off and it was his friend and fellow composer Rimsky Korsakov who re-arranged the music for orchestra and this is the piece we know today. Sadly his music became more popular after his death and it was the inclusion of this piece in the Walt Disney film Fantasia in 1940 that boosted its popularity.
This is another of my personal all-time favourites with what Tomita has done with it and I will often use this particular piece as a reference to show this GREAT! man’s ability in the field of electronic music. He really brings this piece MAJESTICALLY! to life with all he’s put into it and it’s another purely SYNTHTASTIC! track on the album and equally merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! along with the Firebird Suite. It also winds up the album superbly.
Summary & Conclusion…
Tomita’s third studio album the Firebird is a skilful and masterful presentation of bringing classical music into a new age or another light and I would even go as far as to say that it really brings out the PROG! and more defines it than what you will ever find in classical music itself. There is only one Isao Tomita and he was, without doubt, an electronic genius who had a magical vision of breathing a fresher approach into classical music and made it much more interesting for those like myself who are not into classical music. He was my first real introduction to classical music and he for me personally took away all the boredom that is associated with that field of music and made it more accessible for my ears.
Don’t get me wrong I admire the skill that goes into the composition and the playing of classical music and unlike the genres of Rap, Reggae and Punk Rock I don’t despise it like those genres of music either. There was even a time that I even started a little collection of classical music and I quite liked the music of Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and a few others. However, I find that an orchestra of strings all sounds too familiar and it does not offer enough variation for my liking. The best way to hear any classical music is to go to a concert and listen to it there simply because you could never capture that on a recording. That is where classical music can really stand out from the rest. But on record, it can bore my pants off.
Speaking of recordings this Hybrid SACD comes with the original Stereo & Quadrophonic mixes of the album that were mixed by Tomita and have been remastered by Michael J. Dutton. The good thing about Tomita’s albums is the fact that they were never reissued that many times unlike much more popular artists such as Elton John, Led Zeppelin and so on which means that the original master tapes are still very much intact and of good quality. Vocalion Dutton may appear to look like a CHEAPO! record label as I mentioned earlier but there is a lot more quality about the company than meets the eye so to speak.
To obtain a licence from Sony to release anything on SACD is not always easy and the company do on most occasions control what is released on the format. These days SACD’s are mainly used for classical and jazz music only which is something that Sony decided to do with the format over a decade ago when they introduced Blu Ray onto the market. I honestly hate the company for what they are doing with the format and they have held back many major artists albums from being released on the format. So if like myself you are hoping many more of Tomita’s albums surface on the format in the near future the chances are it is not going to happen.
As I have already mentioned most electronic music has more of an ambient presence to make it sound more than just a stereo mix especially if like myself you have a dedicated listening seat positioned in the middle of the two speakers. Tomita was very articulate where he placed sounds in the mix which is why his albums do have a STEREOPHILE’S PARADISE! presence about them. You could say that the stereo field is ample enough for his music and it does not need more channels to bring out what lies within and beneath its surface.
Though being the surround FREAK! I am these days I have in the past experimented with his albums by using the UP-MIX! facilities that come with AV Receivers such as Dolby Prologic II and 7 Channel Stereo and these have produced some very satisfying and even amazing results and have made them sound even better. But of course these UP-MIX! facilities are only a simulation of a surround mix and not the real deal and when it comes to multi-channel mixes it is all about the placement of the instruments that make the big difference in giving you much more of an immersive experience. The more channels you have the more it can bring out of a recording and you will hear things you have never heard before. Separation is the key factor and it always has been in Hi-Fi even though many Audiophiles today claim that it was never the case, yet if like myself you brought HiFi mags many moons ago it was plastered all over them.
There is no doubt in my own personal experience that multichannel recordings have quite an advantage over stereo and offer the listener much more of not only an immersive experience but also to be able to hear much more that goes into a recording. Although like with all recordings it is down to how well the music was mixed in the first place and when it comes to multichannel recordings there are very few engineers who have the right vision to work in this field especially for those who do new mixes. My personal GODS! who have all that it takes to get a multichannel recording to sound right are Eliot Shiner, Steve Wilson and Chuck Ainlay.
I would also say that the biggest majority of albums from years ago were very well mixed in the first place and Michael J. Dutton has only remastered them from the original master tapes and not done a new mix with them. So with this release, you are getting to hear how well Tomita worked in surround sound with a quad mix and he clearly has the right vision and knew precisely what he was doing. There is also no doubt in my mind that even electronic music can benefit from multichannel recordings and this Quad Mix of Tomita’s Firebird album is to die for and will give you a much better presentation of his music and give you a very satisfying immersive experience. I have nothing but admiration and praise for what Michael is doing at Vocalion Dutton and will keep a watchful eye on his website for further new releases.
Tomita’s Firebird does really benefit from a Quad mix and it really does breathe new life into it and for its price point of £11.99 it’s a genuine steal and one I would highly recommend. I would also recommend the Vocalion Dutton website and it is cheaper to get it direct from them. They are well worth checking out and here is the link to their website: https://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/
The SACD Track Listing is as follows:
01. Introduction / Dance Of The Firebird. 5:00.
02. Round Of The Princesses (Khorovod). 7:06.
03. Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei. 4:11.
04. Berceuse / Finale. 8:57.
05. Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun. 10:10.
06. A Night On Bare Mountain. 12:51.