CD Comments – Tomita Greatest Hits

(Image from, used for review purposes only.)

Greatest Hits (1977).
I think it’s kind of dangerous to release a “Greatest Hits” compilation album while the artist is still alive, because it kind of implies that everything that comes afterward isn’t going to be as great. Maybe if it was “Greatest Hits as of today, and please remember that I’m going to continue having more hits after this, but I’m not bragging and I don’t want to jinx myself by saying that my next song is going to be a monster hit and then it flops. I’m just saying that the songs on this album sold well when they came out so please buy this album and listen to what’s on it because they were monster hits. But, don’t let this cause you to stop buying my future album releases in massive quantities.” Not sure how well that would fit on the jewel case insert, but it does limit the laugh-factor of seeing a “Greatest Hits” album released in 1977 for someone that is still making new albums 40 years later. I’m just saying, is all.

Again, Tomita approaches synthesizers as instruments that can produce specific desired sounds that contribute to the kind of atmosphere he wants from the song as a whole. So, he’s not arranging songs as electronica, but rather reimagining classical songs as something more modern and “spacey”. A couple of the pieces on Kosmos resurface here, specifically “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and the “Star Wars” main theme. But then, we get “Grand Canyon Suite: On The Trail”, “Bolero”, “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” and “Firebird Suite: Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei”.

I particularly like the way “Syncopated Clock” comes together, with a solid pendulum clock effect, reverbed bells and human whistling. “Bolero” makes nice use of flanging, panning and vibrato. “Allegro Marcato” uses panning extensively, LFO on amplitudes, some weird sound effects and a few pitch sweeps, all of which I like. The one song that comes off as “heavy alternative rock” is “Infernal Dance”, with distorted guitars and a lot of base. It has kind of a King Crimson feel. “Hora Staccato” is much more of a classical piece, with little to no noticeable electronics effects. What I do find interesting is the inclusion of Holst’s “Mars Briner [sic] of War”, which had been originally pulled from the stores because Holst’s family wouldn’t give permission to Tomita to use the music. This is also a primarily orchestral performance, with a detuned radio effect in the middle of the song that makes it sound cartoony and childish.

From a synth student perspective, I think “Allegro”, “Infernal Dance” and “Star Wars” have the most going on with the synthesizers, while my personal favorites just as background noise are “Infernal Dance”, “Bolero” and “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. If you’re new to Tomita and like avant garde classical, I can recommend Tomita’s Greatest Hits as a decent introduction to his works, but if you’re looking for more examples of synth effects to study and learn from, Kosmos would be the better choice.

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