In 1976, synthesizer master Isao Tomita released his vision of Holst's The Planets. This was to be my first exposure to the suite, and it will forever stick with me as my favorite, being a fan of both the suite itself and synthesizer music, or electronica, in general.

Released by RCA, this was the last album released by that label in the quadrophonic format.

Probably due to Patrick Gleeson also releasing a synthesizer version of The Planets in the same year on the Mercury label, the US title for the album was changed to The Tomita Planets.

The sound of the album is quite cosmic and the first strains, reminiscent of a space ship or rocket, draw you in for the ride. As with Holst's original, each part moves quite appropriately into the next, weaving an electronic tapestry of the solar system. Also as with the original, there is no piece for Pluto, as in Holst's time it had yet to be discovered.

Listed among the best keyboard albums of all time from Keyboard Magazine, the album was actually pulled from stores after Holst's surviving family protested, claiming that Tomita had manhandled the great composition.

Tomita's The Planets is a must for any fan of synthesizer music.

While the original suite has 7 movements, the album was released with 5 tracks, the final two being comprised of two movements each.


Tracks
  1. Mars, The Bringer of War (10:54)
  2. Venus, The Bringer of Peace (8:39)
  3. Mercury, The Winged Messenger (5:22)
  4. Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity (17:26)
    Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age
  5. Uranus, The Magician (9:45)
    Neptune, The Mystic
Along with composing the album, Tomita also performed all of the music. Here is his equipment list:
Moog Synthesizer (Quantity)
  • 914 Extended Range Fixed Filter Bank: 125Hz - 5KHz, 12-Band Highpass/Lowpass Filter (2)
  • 904-A Voltage-Controlled Lowpass Filter: 24dB per Octave Classic Moog Lowpass Filter (3)
  • 904-B Voltage-Controlled Highpass Filter: 24dB per Octave Highpass Filter (2)
  • 904-C Filter Coupler (1)
  • 901 Voltage-Controlled Oscillator: Used as a VCO or an LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) as on the Minimoog (1)
  • 921 Voltage-Controlled Oscillator: 0.01Hz - 40kHz Frequency Range (1)
  • 901-A Oscillator Controller: 1 Volt per Octave (3)
  • 921-A Oscillator Driver: 1 Volt per Octave (2)
  • 901-B Oscillator: The Basis of the Moog Sound (9)
  • 921-B Oscillator: Newer and More Stable than 901-B (6)
  • 903-A Random Signal Generator: White/Pink Noise Generator for Wind/Rain/Sea Effects (3)
  • 911 Envelope Generator: 2ms - 10s Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release Configuration (12)
  • 911-A Dual Trigger Delay: 2ms - 10s 2 Channel Delay Unit (2)
  • 902 Voltage-Controlled Amplifier: Linear/Exponential Amplifier with 2 Inputs, 2 Outputs, 3 Control Voltages (9)
  • 912 Envelope Follower (2)
  • 984 Four-Channel Mixer (1)
  • 960 Sequential Controller: 8 Steps by 3 Rows Sequencer with Fully Variable Voltages (3)
  • 961-CP Interface: CV/Trigger to Moog S-Trig Convertor for 960 Sequencer (2)
  • 962 Sequential Switch: Configures 960 Sequencer (4)
  • 950 Keyboard Controller: 49-Note Monophonic Keyboard (2)
  • 950-B Scale Programmer (1)
  • 956 Ribbon Controller: Alternative to the Keyboard (1)
  • 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 (1)
  • 1630 Bode Frequency Shifter (1)
  • 959 X-Y Controller: Joystick Controller for Mixing 2 Signals (2)
  • 905 Reverberation Unit: Spring-Type Reverberation (1)
Roland Synthesizer (Quantity)
  • 714A Interface (1)
  • 704C Voltage-Controlled Amplifier (1)
  • 715A Multimode Filters (1)
  • 723A Analog Switch (1)
  • 720B 2 Ch. Phase Shifter (1)
  • 721A 2 Ch. Audio Delay: 700-Series Modules Later Incorporated into Roland System 700 Modular (1)
Mixer (Quantity)
  • Quad/Eight Compumix (24 Ch.) (1)
  • Sony MX-710 (8 Ch.) (2)
  • Sony MX-16 (8 Ch.) (3)
Tape Recorder (Tape Speed)
  • Ampex MM-1100 16 Tracks (76 cm/s)
  • Ampex AG-440 4 Tracks (1/2") (38 cm/s)
  • TEAC 80-8 8 Tracks (1/2") (38 cm/s)
  • TEAC A-3340S 4 Tracks (1/4") (38 cm/s)
  • TEAC 7030GSL 2 Tracks (38 cm/s)
  • Sony TC-9040 4 Tracks (1/4") (38 cm/s)
Noise Reduction
  • dbx 187
  • TEAC DX-8
Accessory (Quantity)
  • AKG BX20E Echo Unit (1)
  • Revac Echo Unit (1)
  • Binson Echorec "2" (2)
  • Roland Space Echo RE-201 (1)
  • Eventide Clockworks "Instant Phaser" (1)
  • Maestro Phase Shifter (1)
  • Roland Phase Shifte (2)
  • Fender "Dimention IV" (1)
  • Maestro Sound System for Woodwinds (1)
  • Maestro Rhythm 'n' Sound for Guitar (1)
  • Sony Transceiver CB-107: For Those Spacemen Sound Effects (2)
  • Fender Electronic Piano: Probably a Rhodes Suitcase Model (1)
  • Hohner Clavinet C (1)
  • Sitar with Barcus-Berry Contact Microphone (1)
  • Roland Strings RS-202 (1)
  • Mellotron (Chorus, Flute, Timpani) (1)
  • Electronic Harp (1)
  • Leslie Speaker] Model 147: For 'Rotating' Sounds, Popular with Hammond Organs (1)
  • Sankyo Orgel Rhythmica: Designed to Set the Music by Punch Card System (1)

Equipment list and technical information from: http://www.isaotomita.net/tomita

The Planets is also a 1999 documentary series by the BBC, taking nine episodes to outline the nature and exploration of the solar system. It is without a doubt the most fascinating, well made and beautifully written documentary I have ever seen, this coming from a kid brought up thinking that TV = David Attenborough. The level of information presented was extremely impressive. Interviews with astronomers, astronauts and engineers are long and detailed, often providing narration for a significant portion of an episode - a far cry from the "here's our sound bite of some dude in a lab saying something cool" approach taken to scientists in too many documentaries. At least half of the series is dedicated to the history of exploration and the space race, including all the early Soviet robotic missions to the planets. The invention and engineering of the missions is mixed in with the discoveries the missions actually made.

The episodes are:

  • Different Worlds - the history of modern planetary explorations, and the formation of the planets
  • Terra Firma - the exploration of geological activity elsewhere in the solar system
  • Giants - The discovery of the nature of the gas giants
  • Moon - History of lunar exploration, and why we have a moon at all
  • Star - the makeup and behaviour of the sun
  • Atmosphere - follows robotic missions and the exploration of the skies of other planets
  • Life - discusses the prospects for life elsewhere in the solar system, the search for water and any fossil remains on Mars
  • Destiny - the future evolution of the solar system and our chances for survival in a billion years' time

The writers have stayed very clear from hyperbole, cliche and sentimentality that so often afflicts modern documentary writing. The awe inspiring nature of the subject matter provides a bit of an emotional kick with the driest and most purely informative of scientific narrations. And it is extremely informative. Unless you have advanced qualifications in all the areas the series looks at, you're going to learn quite a bit of very cool astronomical and historical trivia. As far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much impossible to be apathetic about an actual photo or sound recording from the surface of another planet.

The series also does have a very impressive soundtrack, featuring the almost obligatory Holst, and snippets of dozens of pieces of great but not exactly household classical, much of which I still haven't been able to track down and identify. There is a lot of Vivaldi, some Mahler, some Dvorak, a very long section of Shostakovich symhony number 11, I seem to remember some Bruckner, who knows what else?

The Planets showed in Australia several years ago, and for the first time ever my family was watching TV every week. It's an extremely impressive series I fully recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in the science and engineering of space exploration and the geography of the rest of our solar system. They go into a lot of the geography, in a lot of detail, something incredibly cool when you consider the geography in question is on Venus or one of the moons of Saturn. Seriously, how cool is that? You can get it on video or DVD, in Australia through the ABC.

Bravo, freshmint, for giving the the world the straight dope on The Planets. I have come across a lot of bad information about the authorship of pieces of music inspired by The Planets, specifically that Holst wrote Pluto: The Redeemer, or Pluto: Lord of The Underworld, or Earth: Bringer of Life, etc. In an effort to clear up this confusion, I would like to add a list of compositions inspired by, and some times performed with The Planets, along with their authors.

  • Ryan Shore has composed three pieces for the Mars DVD, one each for the Earth, the Sun, and Pluto.
  • Joey Roukens has written a piece called Earth: Bringer of Life. All the information about this person and his music is apparently in Dutch, so that is all I know.
  • Colin Matthews composed Pluto: The Redeemer
  • The film The Planets: Epoch 2000, directed by Don Barret has an additional piece for Pluto.
  • Mark Grace has also apparently written three pieces inspired by Holst:
    • Sol: Bringer of Light
    • Earth: Cradle of Creation
    • Pluto: Ice Wanderer (Tombaugh's Tune)

I have also heard a piece called Pluto: Lord of the Underworld. I have been unable to locate the true author of this piece, although the mp3 I have of it incorrectly attributes this piece to Holst. There is another mp3 floating around out there incorrectly attributed to Holst, entitled Earth: The Home of Man. At least as far as titles go, Colin Mathews is most true to Holst's original ideas, in that the piece is named by reference to Pluto's astrological significance, rather than by its place in the Roman pantheon.

If any one has any more information about these or other pieces inspired by The Planets, especially those incorrectly attributed to Holst, please let me know.

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