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Sydney Sound Cloud

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The Tomita 'Sound Cloud' concert in Sydney's Botanical Gardens, Farm Cove took place at 8 PM on Saturday, 5 November, 1988. It was a special event for the Australia Bicentenary. Most of the pictures shown below were taken the day before the concert with a couple on the evening of the concert. Thanks to Lance Lenehan for the photographs.


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[Sydney Sound Cloud]
Close up of the pyramid where Tomita sits and mixes the sound [69k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
The barge where the Kodo drummers played [56k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
Tomita posing for a shot in front of the pyramid [88k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
The concert lights with Opera House and Harbour Bridge in background [70k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
The barge lit up later in the concert [60k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
Tomita with the interpreter behind [63k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
Tomita in front of the pyramid [74k GIF].
[Sydney Sound Cloud]
The banner at the entrance to the gardens around Farm Cove in Sydney [80k GIF].


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Thanks to Charles Cave for providing all these articles on the Sydney Sound Cloud from Australian newspapers at the time of the concert.

"Sound Cloud - A Dazzling Gift from Japan", Heather McKenzie, The Australian

A perspex pyramid is suspended from a crane where composer Isao Tomita mixes music on a bank of synthesizers.

It is the like of which Australia may never see again - "a sensory overload" - and the largest outdoor event to be staged in a year of big events.

It is Sound Cloud, another Bicentennial gift from Japan, and the brainchild of Japanese composer, Mr. Isao Tomita.

While Sydneysiders may have become blase about events on the harbour, what takes place in Farm Cove on Saturday promises to surpass tall ships, navy reviews and even the spectacular sight of the harbour bridge ablaze with fireworks.

Sound Cloud is a combination of music, lasers, fireworks, lighting and performance that has organisers lost for words.

"No one yet quite realises the size of it and I can't begin to describe it," the land co-ordinator for Sound Cloud, Mr. David Madew told The Australian.

The logistics of the event have been staggering. It has involved the largest assemblage of equipment for an outdoor event in Australia - $12 million worth.

One organiser was heard to comment: "Nearly every generator in Australia is here". In fact, according to Mr. Madew, there is enough power to light the entire city of Sydney.

Five 18 metre-high towers, placed around the Botanical Gardens, will be packed with lights, speakers and lasers. Four 12 metre-long trays will also carry sound equipment.

And on the water, the harbour will be alive with barges, stages, pontoons amd boats, all contributing to the overall effect - a three-dimensional audio and visual water-based spectacle.

The Lady Waratah will move around the harbour carrying six Skytrackers - intense beams of light which each generate the power of one billion candles.

A water boat will project a "water curtain", and the main stage will feature a wall of fireworks.

"It's been a good thing for this country - it shows logistically we can do it," Mr. Madew said.

The theme of the Sound Cloud in Sydney is "Hymn to Mankind". It is based on an Aboriginal legend explaining how fire was introduced to man from two distant stars.

The staging of this, only the fourth such event organised by Mr. Tomita, has been a boon for the Australian entertainment industry.

Many of the people involved in Sound Cloud worked on the Australia Day celebrations on Sydney Harbour.

They are an eclectic band of people from the music industry, pyrotechnics, laser companies and producers.

"Sound Cloud Bursts Into Life", Heather McKenzie, The Australian
Each Laser, Each Light and Each Firework Will be Controlled with Military Precision

Farm Cove, between the Sydney Opera House and Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, will be lit up and amplified with fireworks, lasers and music on Saturday night in what promises to be Sydney's most exciting bicentennial event. The traditional Japanese drum performers, Kodo, will be among the theatrical acts to perform on one of two moving barges in Farm Cove. Kabuki artist Tamasaburo Bando will perform at Saturday's extravaganza.

No matter who you speak to about Sound Cloud, the reaction is the same: an almost "you-ain't-seen-nothing-yet" air pervades.

The Bicentennary has provided innovative local companies with a limitless stage on which to demonstrate their prowess. From fireworks to lasers, the organisational capacities of Australians to pull off some truly spectacular entertainments must no longer be in doubt.

And although Sound Cloud is a Japanese undertaking, it has involved a high local input.

Sound Cloud is a $3.5 million gift for the Bicentennary, sponsored by Fuji Television Japan Inc. Television crews from Japan began arriving in the country last week.

And while Fuji will have at least eight camera crews covering the event, Australian TV stations regarded the show as "too difficult", according to one of the organisers, and will not televise it.

Until the final preparations for the event this week, the Japanese contigent left things in Australian hands.

The Australian production manager, Mr. Kevin Earle, said: "My job was to pull together the Australian components of the show. Instructions came from Japan and we carried them out.

"As far as the lighting, laser and other performers were concerned, we chose the best local people for the job and the Japanese put great faith in our ability to do this." Sydney-based Laservision is one of the local companies which will take part in the event.

"It's not a laser show - lasers make up a small percentage of the total concept," Mr. Paul McCloskey of Laservision said.

For the event he will be using medium-powered argon and krypton lasers, which will be designed to operate independently and in concert.

Laservision has been making a name for itself with its advanced internationally-patented technology. Its clients include Aussat, STC Australia, Westpac Banking Corp and three television networks.

Although the company has done shows overseas, Sound Cloud represents its first work for an overseas client.

"This is a prestigious job for us, and it is important because it is the first time we have worked for an overseas client," Mr. McCloskey said. "It's going to be a good show to be involved in." On Saturday night, the lasers will operate in beam mode, and will be reflected off smoke from the fireworks, the spray of water from the water cannons and, if the weather is right, sea mist rising from the harbour.

The beams will also be used to create a three-dimensional mesh over the main stage.

The fireworks have been supplied by Mr. Seiji Kase, a pyrotechnician from northern Japan. He will be working with Mr. Syd Howard, of Syd Howard Fireworks International - the man behind the Australia Day fireworks on Sydney Harbour.

For the past six months, Mr. Howard has staged the fireworks at Expo in Brisbane and is returning to Sydney for the Sound Cloud.

"The fireworks from Kase will be very beautiful," Mr. Howard said.

In conjunction with the 3300 shells which make up the Kase contirbution, Mr. Howard will supply some of his own, including "a wall of fireworks" from the main stage.

Pyrotechnics has come a long way from the days when each shell was lit manually, a practice Mr. Howard described as "pretty dangerous".

The shells are now dangerous by electronic pulse, and for his recent work at Expo he used as computer-controlled firing system.

Computers will play a significant role in the staging of the Sound Cloud. Each laser, each light and each firework will be controlled with military precision.

"The whole event is based on time-coding," the land co-ordinator for the event, Mr. David Madew, said.

"Everything is controlled by electronic pulse and will be run by about six people in the control centre, while Tomita controls the music from the pyramid.

"Each speaker, light change and so on is pre-set - down to the second."

The pyramid is a perspex structure which will be suspended above the water on a crane. Inside, Mr. Isao Tomita will mix the music on a bank of synthesizers. On the land, about six people will be controlling the events.

At two points in the performance, a "UFO" will emerge from the heavens, signifying the bringing of fire to mankind.

The UFO is a Chinook helicopter, borrowed from the RAAF in Brisbane. It will hover above the main stage carrying an enormous weight of seven generators, lights, fireworks and speakers.

It is at this point of the performance that Mr. Tomita will incorporate the radiowave signals from pulsars into his music. These were recorded specially by Dr. Richard Manchester of the CSIRO.

Dr. Manchester recorded the signals from three or four pulsars in the southern hemisphere at the Parkes radiotelescope in western NSW.

"Mr. Tomita was aware of the interesting sounds of pulsars and was given my name - I understand he is keen to have an Australian content," Dr. Manchester said.

"The pulses given out by pulsars are vaguely musical sounds and are very rhythmical. Some signals sound like drums."

In the past, Dr. Manchester said, he has recorded such signals for composers and for use in audio visual work.

Renowned Kabuki artist Tamasaburo Bando will perform on a moving barge, as will the traditional drum performance group, Kodo. The barges will move from the Opera House around to the middle of the cove.

More than 100 people have been involved in the staging of the event.

"Logistically, it is the biggest outdoor event in Australia," Mr. Madew said.

"All the work we have done this year (for the Bicentennary) has certainly helped. A lot of the people involved in this worked on the Australia Day celebrations on Sydney Harbour.

"In fact, many of us are wondering what we are going to be doing next year. But the really wonderful thing about Sound Cloud is that there are no artistic limitations.

"Music Floats Across an Electronic Landscape", Ben Bremner, The Australian

When Sydney's Farm Cove is transformed into a visual and aural banquet on Saturday night, a soft-spoken, 58-year old Japanese man will be "conducting" the entire operation from a synthesizer laden pyramid, suspended 10 metres above the harbour by a crane.

Mr. Isao Tomita has created only three "Sound Clouds" to date: at Linz in Austria in 1982, in New York in 1984 and earlier this year in the small rural Japanese town of Gifu.

At each of these events, the audiences were left stunned - not just because of the dazzling displays of technology, but because, before hearing Mr. Tomita, few people had realised just how versatile a synthesizer can be once it is put in the right hands.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Mr. Tomita is the only person to have truly mastered the synthesizer as an instrument.

Just as a virtuoso violinist becomes as one with his instrument, Mr. Tomita's fingers mesh with his computer in perfect harmony.

Players able to use the synthesizer to dash out a lively robotic riff or whip together a pot-pourri of unearthly sounds are a dime a dozen.

For Mr. Tomita, the synthesizer is a vast orchestra - one whose subtle nuances are exploited to the fullest; one which is capable of producing tonal delicacies far more intricate than those that can be summoned from the world's best orchestras.

Unlike most synthesized music, Mr. Tomita's tones and chords don't simply appear or disappear - they float across an electronic landscape, approaching from a distance and fading out into sublime nothingness.

Through careful manipulation of dynamics and tonal control, Mr. Tomita creates an atmosphere in which his music is suspended in space - it surrounds the listeners, enveloping them in a finely-woven cloak of subtle harmonic textures.

Mr. Tomita's ability to use the synthesizer to exploit dynamics, tone and timbre stems from his childhood desire to be a conductor.

"Originally I wanted to be a conductor when I started studying music. But then I found it quite difficult to conduct because I found it hard to communicate well enough with each member of the orchestra. That's why, in the early days, I did some composing work," he says.

(Before taking up the synthesizer in 1971, the modern maestro had a highly successful career as a composer of scores for movies, television and theatre).

But Mr. Tomita's musical career took a U-turn when he heard Walter Carlos' album, Switched on Bach, in the late 1960s.

"When I heard Switched on Bach, I realised there was a really good instrument called the synthesizer.

"I thought, if I could use the synthesizer, I could conduct my own orchestra - the orchestra called the synthesizer - and I could use it 24 hours a day. "Whenever I felt like using my own orchestra, I could. And I didn't have to bother about problems like ringing up all the members of a real orchestra and getting them together when I had an idea I wanted to try out."

Unlike Carlos, who used the synthesizer to transpose the master of baroque's fugues and cantatas into vivid and mathematically precise electronic hues, Mr. Tomita concentrated on composers from the romantic and impressionist eras, painting a magnificent aural portrait in shimmering pastels.

"When I listened to the Walter Carlos album, I thought the linear accent of the music was quite strong," he said.

"I wanted to do something quite different. So I thought if I picked up some more colour - coloured the sounds more - it would be better.

"Also, people such as Debussy and Ravel were influenced by Eastern sounds. So if it is an Asian sound it's quite natural that it's easier for me to comprehend."

His first album, a collection of short pieces by French composer, Claude Debussy, was called Snowflakes are Dancing.

Issued in 1974 and recorded note-by-note on a single monophonic Moog synthesizer, it shot to number one on both the classical and rock charts in the United States.

His second, an electronic arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition achieved similar acclaim.

Always concerned with depth and perspective, Mr. Tomita issued these first two albums in quadraphonic.

His third album, The Bermuda Triangle, moved beyond that technique. It was recorded in "quintaphonic" to be played back on a quadraphonic system with an extra speaker suspended above the listener.

A similar quintaphonic set-up will be employed in Saturday's concert, with a speaker suspended from a Chinook helicopter hovering above the audience.

Mr. Tomita says the demise of quadraphonic sound due to marketing rivalry between competing companies was a "regrettable phenomenon".

"If you play the synthesizer, it's quite difficult to inspire the audience. There is no 'stage' for a synthesizer. There is only space. Quadraphonic allowed you to create that feeling."

Mr. Tomita said the Sound Cloud concept involved mixing traditional music with that produced by high technology. In the Sound Cloud concerts, he hopes to convey a sense of the unity of mankind, he says.

In the Sydney concert, he wants to create a musical event which will capture the multicultural flavour of Australia.

To achieve this, Mr. Tomita has complemented his own technological skills with those of traditional Japanese musicians, classical European artists and an Aboriginal didgeridoo player.

"This is the Japanese people's Bicentennial gift to Australia. So I wanted to do something unique to Japan, but mix it with something unique to Australia - something that would represent the white, Aboriginal and Asian people," he said.

"Also included in the concert will be a sense of the location of the Australian continent.

"You can get very weak signals from stars - from pulsars - so I had the CSIRO tape some pulsar radio waves from the southern hemisphere and I will be incorporating these signals into the music on Saturday."

"Japan's Gift is Modern Opera on the Harbour", Robyn Harvey

Japan's Bicentennial gift to Australia, a modern opera entitled Sound Cloud in Sydney - Hymn to Mankind, will take place next Saturday night at Farm Cove.

Sound Cloud is a three-dimensional audio and visual, water-based extravaganza creating a fantasy world of lasers, music and pyrotechnics.

The opera is the brainchild of Mr. Isao Tomita - synthesizer expert, composer, director, conductor and performer - who will control the performance from a huge, clear-plastic pyramid suspended over Farm Cove by a crane. Below him, situated on four barges and a floating stage, will be 300 performers, including traditional Japanese drum performers and a 200-voice choir from Sydney University.

"All Set for Cloudburst of Sound and Lasers", Paul Chamberlain

Composer, director and performer Isao Tomita lovingly calls Sound Cloud, Japan's Bicentennial gift to Australia, "a wondrous mixture of East and West, the ancient and the modern".

The East - Japan - provides 3 million worth of lasers, synthesised music and pyrotechnics, plus traditional Kodo drummers, an American-Japanese violinist and a Kabuki artist.

The West - Australia - supplies a 200-voice choir from Sydney University, folk singer Andrew de Teliga, and the Aboriginal-based sounds of the band Gondwanaland.

The result: an outdoor concert tonight unlike anything seen before in this country, with sound equal to three rock concerts.

Sound Cloud's theme - Hymn to Mankind - is based upon an Aboriginal lesson explaingin how fire was introduced to man from two distant stars.

The hardest task probably falls to the 15 Kodo drummers, who pound drums (Taiko) as their barge floats around Sydney Harbour.

The sound of the drumming team, led by Yoshikazu Fujimoto, will be amplified many times over, so cotton wool is recommended.

It is best to get there early, well before the 8 pm start. At least 100,000 people are expected to line the foreshores around the best vantage points at Farm Cove, Mrs. Macquarie's Point and the Botanic Gardens.

Food and soft drinks will be available in the Botanic Gardens as well as portable toilets. The Red Cross will man first-aid tents.

This is the fourth time Sound Cloud has been performed. Mr. Tomita considers Sydney Harbour to be superior as a location to the Danube River, Battery Park in New York or Gifu, Japan.

He controls the performance from a nine-tonne perspex pyramid suspended over Farm Cove by a crane.

"A Synthesized Sound and Fury Signifying Something", Michael Visontay

Japan's Bicentennial gift, a sound and light spectacle that defies description, will erupt over the harbour next weekend.

Next Saturday night a middle-aged Japanese man will walk inside a perspex pyramid on the Botanical Gardens walkway about 100 metres from Mrs. Macquarie's Chair.

Inside the pyramid will be a huge musix synthesiser. A crane will lift the pyramid and its cargo 10 metres above the edge of Farm Cove while a vast ensemble of voices, instruments, spotlights, lasers, smoke and fireworks will be in silent readiness around the foreshore and on the water.

At precisely 8 pm, the man will turn on his synthesiser and the invisible symphony will come to life, signifying the start of the Sound Cloud, Japan's $3.5 million Bicentennial gift to Australia. The piece has been computer-programmed to last two hours, perhaps two seconds longer but no more.

Titled Hymn to Mankind, the Sound Cloud will be, according to those in the know, the biggest, most spectacular and unique artistic undertaking ever seen in Australia.

Superlatives are plentiful; an intelligent description proved more elusive.

Mr. Isao Tomita, the man who conceived the idea and who will stand in the pyramid before an expected crowd of 100,000, calls the Sound Cloud "a modern opera that can only be performed in a high-tech age".

The press release is just as vague: "From the land, sea and sky emerges a three-dimensional sound that literally forms a 'sound cloud' around the audience."

"The problem with the Sound Cloud is that you've got to see it to understand it," says Kevin Earle, the Australian coordinator (producer). Earle, 50, has been working on the project for a year, full-time since June.

Earle and Terry Collins, 35, the man in charge of the technical side of the event, saw a Sound Cloud in Japan four months ago but they too find a meaningful description beyond them. "It's a hell of a birthday present," was the best Earle could come up with. Under pressure, they agreed it was an event, not a concert.

Said Peter Rooney, the lighting manager: "It's a beautiful thing; it's the rebirth of the world... I don't know what it is."

To put it crudely, the Sound Cloud will describe the creation of Australia.

Speaking through an interpreter, Tomita said the "story" would draw heavily on Aboriginal legends of the origins of fire and the way it helped their lives. Intertwined with this was an underlying message about the importance of co-existence between races and countries. Basically, the theme was world peace.

Just how this will be conveyed, and whether the audience will be able to comprehend it, will only be answered on the night.

The live entertainment will be provided on three barges. On the main barge, to be anchored in front of the pyramid in the centre of Farm Cove, there will be:

On the other two barges, which will circle the cove in specially-designed paths, will be a troupe of Kodo (Japanese drum) players and a Kabuki drama group.

The music signals from these three sites will be transmitted to Mr. Tomita's pyramid, some 10 metres above the ground. He will mix the sounds with his synthesiser and send them out to 188 loudspeakers stationed on five towers around the Botanical Gardens.

Mr. Tomita has choreographed a huge array of visual effects to go with the sound. There will be a fourth barge carrying 3,000 fireworks, more than was used on Australia Day, according to Collins, who was a stage manager at one of the events that day.

There were about 2,500 shells on Australia Day," says Collins. "But I don't think it's fair to compare the two events." "People shouldn't expect a similar sort of show here. These fireworks will be used precussively, as part of a greater spectacle."

The other water-based features include a water curtain on a fire boat, lasers, spotlights and varilights (used frequently in discos) on some of the barges, and four boats pumping out smoke to enhance the laser effects.

The speaker towers, about 15 metres high, will also carry spotlights. Seven skytracker lights, which rotate light in all directions, are to be positioned in a wider circumference.

Rooney says one will be placed on the north pylon of the Harbour Bridge, another at the sound pylon, a third on the State Bank building, with others on the water and towers.

Above the harbour, there will be a helicopter, with a UFO attached, waiting to play its part in the Creation.

As a symbol of co-existence, Tomita has also included in the show a World War II searchlight, made by Australians to spot any Japanese planes which might have tried to bomb Sydney, but which was never used. The light will be used for the first time to spotlight the Kabuki troupe, he says.

The sequence and artistic logic of these elements remains a secret. As with the three previous Sound Clouds - Linz, Austria in 1984, Battery Park, New York in 1986, and Gifu, Japan, in July this year - each of which had different themes. Tomita has left the finished concept until the last minute. He handed over the final music score only when he arrived on Thursday.

However, some hints about what to expect have been provided by an astronomer at the CSIRO, Dr. Richard Manchester.

A few months ago Tomita decided to include the sounds of "outer space" in his musical score and asked Dr. Manchester to record the radio pulses emitted by pulsars (rapidly spinning neutron stars which produce regular pulses of light and radio waves).

The radio pulses were then converted into sound pulses, which sound "syncopated, a bit like a drum beat", according to Dr. Manchester.

Tomita indicated the music would be in three parts, Dr. Manchester said. The first would be classical, the second Australian, the third his own work.

The Gifu Sound Cloud revolved around American musician Stevie Wonder, representing an alien from outer space, coming down, via a huge video screen, to tell a group of children that the Earth was a beautiful place, and they shouldn't do anything to despoil it.

The children, each equipped with recorders with which they had been practising for a year before the event, acknowledged Stevie's message by playing their flutes. Stevie returned to outer space satisfied. A big display of sound and light accompanied the journey.

Although Earle and Collins say this is no guide to what will happen in Sydney, it does provide a glimpse of Tomita's vision.

Tomita, 58, is a musician of vast experience and international acclaim. One of his earliest, and least known commissions, was the music for the Japanese gymnasts taking part in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Since then, he has earned a reputation as a wizard of high-tech music with a string of accaimed albums in the 1970s, including Snowflakes are Dancing and Pictures at an Exhibiton.

The idea for the Sound Cloud came when Tomita was approached in 1982 by the producer to create an opening event for an electronic music festival in Linz.

He came up with the Sound Cloud as a way of freeing "the concert" from the confinements of a physical building. "I want to destroy the wall of the concert hall," he says.

The scope of the production is enormous: more than 300 performers and a production team of more than 100 people (64 of them supervisors from Japan). These will include 12 production managers and 20 stage managers, says Earle.

When the Japanese came to Sydney a few months ago to study possible sites, they say Farm Cove and didn't look anywhere else, says Earle. Scenic, efficient and protected, it was the perfect place, they decided.

Protected or not, how does the precision of all this technology face up to the uncertainty of nature?

Anoything more than a gentle summer breeze could make things quite rough on the water, Earle concedes, and that could make a mess of tha all-important synchronisation. From the listener's point of view, a southerly buster won't sweep the sound away, says Earle. If anything, a northerly would cause more problems.

On the technical side, the variety of elements means that the audience would find it hard to notice any isolated problems unless they were huge, says Collins. In Gifu, one of the eight generator towers didn't work, but the effect was minimal.

If the weather is too bad, the event can be postponed until Sunday. Anything beyond that, however, and the organisers might have some other music to face from a group of 45 Japanese who are coming to Sydney for the weekend specifically to witness the spectacle.

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