There can be little doubt that Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is one of the seminal albums of the 70’s – its artistic impact and influence have been widespread and considerable, not only in regards to various other artists, but quite notably on Oldfield himself. This isn’t much of a surprise however, since with Tubular Bells, Oldfield established a number of compositional principles that define his musical style, as well as his specific, one-man multitrack recording procedures.
These unique and original “tools”, sort of a trademark, can be easily traced throughout much of his output up until the mid-eighties. Albums like Platinum, Incantations, QE2, Five Miles Out or Crises all reflect the parameters, which Oldfield had established with Tubular Bells. Most of these albums featured at least one fairly extended piece that often took the whole first side of a vinyl recording. The epic concept and scope of these more extensive compositions brings about associations with classical music and clearly, certain parallels can be found in the way Oldfield lets his themes and motives emerge and take their place in the sonic environment.
How Oldfield combines and links his musical ideas, themes and motives is very individual and unique indeed: he draws from an impressive array of different styles and idioms and so we can trace influences of South American & Latin, Balinese, Irish, Celtic, rock and minimalist sources, to name just a few. Oldfield usually doesn’t “develop” his ideas and themes in a classical sense and so the changes leading from one idea to the next are often quite surprising and, at times abrupt. Yet I always admired that the longer works are nevertheless very convincing as an overall concept. Especially if one considers the wealth of different ideas presented in part 1 of Tubular Bells for instance, it is a remarkable musical and compositional achievement.
Since my teenage years, I’ve been a big fan of Oldfield’s music and the records mentioned above were among the most notable favourites and musical inspirations throughout my late high school years. When I started working on the arrangement for 4 keyboard instruments, I naturally needed to take a much closer, analytical look at this music. During the process of deciphering the various, simultaneous layers which make up the fabric of Tubular Bells, I realized how much of the opening pattern can be found throughout the whole first part –it often reappears quasi “in disguise”, altered in terms of register, meter or tonality. It serves as a kind of connecting element, which links the various ideas together and creates a bigger overall context and structure.
Tubular Bells is Mike Oldfield’s most popular and best selling album- and had a long lasting impact on his own further musical output. It was the first of a series of recordings in which he further elaborated and developed this original idea (like Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998) The Millennium Bell (1999), and Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original, using the current technological possibilities).
Fairly soon after the (immensely successful) release of the original Tubular Bells in 1973, it must have been apparent that this work had the potential to be presented in another setting –and so composer David Bedford, a friend and musical companion of Oldfield arranged The Orchestral Tubular Bells, recorded in 1974 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and featuring Oldfield himself playing the guitar. This version, as well as a live rendition which appeared as part of the double album Exposed from 1979, provide two very different perspectives of the original music. They both were a guide and inspiration for my own approach before and while I was working on a version of Tubular Bells, Part One for multiple keyboards.
The actual idea for another rendition of this masterpiece was born in Feb. 2005 during a visit to Miami. My good friend and colleague pianist, Jeroen Van Veen and I were sitting on the balcony of a friend’s apartment and enjoyed the warm evening breeze while talking about various future projects and ideas. Since the late 90’s, we had done a fair bit of concerts and other projects- involving multiple pianos- together; and suddenly we had this idea for a multiple keyboard version of Tubular Bells. Jeroen suggested giving the premiere as part of the Lek Art festival in Culemborg/The Netherlands in September 2005, since for a long time he had been very involved in the artistic and musical organization and programming for this event.
At that point, we didn’t know whether it would be possible for us to have four grand pianos available for the premiere and so we agreed that a version for two pianos and two synthesizers would be a viable alternative under those circumstances. Furthermore, the combination of acoustic and electronic instruments had always interested me a lot and would allow me to include various synthesizer sounds as well.
Shortly before the actual premiere, it turned out that we would have four grand pianos available after all- but, having conceived and rehearsed the piece in the particular acoustic/electric instrumental mixture, we decided to present Tubular Bells, Part One in my “original” version. However, a most exciting surprise was that we were able to use the concert location (a beautiful old church with great acoustics) and the four excellent grand pianos throughout the whole next day after our successful premiere of the new arrangement –as we quickly realized, a truly unique opportunity. So Jeroen set up his recording equipment and we decided to record as much as possible in the two different combinations present on this CD.
I hope that the two versions on this CD will be able to provide yet another perspective on Tubular Bells – from the gestation of the whole project up to the finished CD, it has been a wonderful and rewarding artistic endeavour and musical experience.
© 2007 by Marcel Bergmann
Michael Gordon Oldfield was born on 15 May 1953, in Reading, England. Having learned the guitar, he began to compose instrumentals as early as 1963. He left school to join his sister Sally to form the short-lived group Sallyangie at the age of 14. After a year, Mike and Sally went their separate ways and Mike formed his own group called Barefoot, which didn't last too long, either. He then became the bass player for Kevin Ayers & The Whole World. It was here he met his life-long friend, David Bedford, who encouraged him in his unique compositions. Using a borrowed tape recorder, he discovered that by blocking the erase head, he could record many instruments over each other to form a symphonic-like work. After working with the band at Abbey Road Studios, he found a store room with tons of instruments. He realized that he had a knack for making the instruments he found sound good. In 1971, the band broke up leaving Mike alone to fine-tune his work. After finishing a demo tape, he discovered that the record companies of the day rejected it because, although they enjoyed it, they deemed it not marketable.
When Richard Branson was founding Virgin Records, he was looking for new and innovative music with which to launch his company. When Mike Oldfield was approached by Branson, Mike's response was his Tubular Bells. Launched in 1973, Tubular Bells, serial number V2001, was Virgin's first release. It was unique. It was two tracks long, each around 20 minutes in length. Part One was recorded in a week, Part Two took months. It was an astounding success, and helped make Virgin Records the industry giant it is today.
Other than music, his interests include aviation (he is a qualified aircraft and helicopter pilot) and science fiction (his album The Songs Of Distant Earth is meant as the concert music described in Arthur C. Clark's novel of the same name).
Mike Oldfield has never repeated the extraordinary success of Tubular Bells, which is sometimes referred to as the theme from The Exorcist (much to Mike's chagrin). While he has continued to release highly complex and beautiful music, his commercial success has waned.
In 1992, Mike Oldfield left Virgin and joined Warner Records, his first release with Warner being Tubular Bells II, a retrospective of his first album, having gone full circle.
Perhaps not as well recognized as he deserves, Mike Oldfield continues to produce exquisite music and will always be admired by his loyal fans.