Also known as The Tomita Planets, this is Japanese synth whiz Isao Tomita’s rendition of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Tomita used no traditional acoustic instruments, but did lean somewhat on the traditional arrangement. Opening with a bit of vocoder-and-synth “babble” to set the mood, Tomita launches into an energetic “Mars, The Bringer Of War” which appropriately now sounds like it belongs to the space age.
The same treatment is delivered on the other pieces in the suite, with “Venus: The Bringer Of Peace” and “Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity” getting an especially spacey treatment; the synth work on “Mercury: The Winged Messenger” dates it a bit, but for something recorded over 30 years ago, the whole thing still manages to sound futuristic. In places you might even catch a hint of the synthesized “whistle” sound which Tomita also used on what is arguably his most famous recording, Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1”, also known as the theme song for Jack Horkheimer’s PBS stargazing show.
Of the outer planet pieces, “Saturn, Bringer of Old Age” and “Neptune, The Mystic” are the real highlights; “Saturn” ticks away like a time bomb with a synth “tick-tock” motif and flanged synths a la Jarre or Vangelis. “Neptune” has long been my favorite part of The Planets – I’ve always felt that it may be the most spiritual piece of music that anyone in the western world has ever composed (take that, Handel!) – so I was eager to see what Tomita would do with this particular segment. For the most part, “Neptune” sticks almost slavishly to the traditional arrangement, allowing enough wiggle room for some interesting changes in emphasis and “instrument” balance.
Overall, Tomita’s rendition of The Planets is interesting, a fascinating listen, but I can’t help but feel that there one could go further “out there” with arrangements and instrumentation, further afield from the orchestral arrangements that we’re all so used to. Other interpretations by folks like Rick Wakeman and Jeff (Musucal Version of War Of The Worlds) Wayne have also failed to break out of the orbit of the orchestral Planets. I know that there’s only so far one can go without actually changing the music itself, but within that limitation, I don’t think all the possibilities have been fully explored. Tomita does a good job, but The Planets could probably stand up to more intense, offbeat exploration.
- Mars: The Bringer Of War (10:58)
- Venus: The Bringer Of Peace (9:20)
- Mercury: The Winged Messenger (4:37)
- Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity (9:22)
- Saturn: The Bringer Of Old Age (8:41)
- Uranus: The Magician (2:14)
- Neptune: The Mystic (6:49)
Released by: RCA Victor
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 52:01