Additional notes from Richard Carter
Notes On The Instruments
Bowed guitar - An electric guitar played with a violin bow. Jimmy page of Led Zeppelin was one of the first people to use this technique in performance.
Sitar guitar - A type of electric guitar manufactured in the 1960s by the Danelectro company (although the upmarket ones were issued under the Coral name). The idea was to give players the sound of a sitar (which was being popularised by the likes of the Beatles) but with the playability and convenience of a guitar. It had a special type of bridge (the part on the guitar body that the strings pass over) that made the buzzy sitar sound. The Coral model (which is what Mike owns) also had a set of drone strings that could be plucked to give a more authentic sitar type sound. It can be heard at 17:18.
Glorfindel guitar - A guitar played through Mike's Roland GP-8 Guitar effects unit, programmed to simulate the sound of the Glorfindel Box (an effect used to create some of the distinctive guitar sounds on Tubular Bells - see the section on 'Guitars sounding like bagpipes' on the Tubular Bells page for more information).
Highly strung guitar - A particular way of stringing and tuning a guitar. A 12 string guitar has a pair of strings where a 6 string guitar would have one. One of these strings is tuned normally, and one an octave above (except the high B and E strings, where it is the same pitch as its partner). Take away the normally pitched strings and you have a highly strung guitar.
Steinway Piano - A piano made by the famous piano makers Steinway and Sons, founded by members of the German family Steinweg (anglicised to Steinway when they emigrated to the United States), with factories in New York, USA and Hamburg, Germany. The company is particularly famous for its grand pianos. This is perhpas another way of saying 'grand piano' without bringing to mind Tubular Bells.
Shoes - used for the stamping sounds in various places, such as at 57:45.
Hoover - A vacuum cleaner used by Mike to give a drone type sound,echoing the technique he used on his early demos for Tubular Bells. You can hear it's slightly wheezing motor noise fairly clearly at around 16:23 (although it comes in before this, and can also be heard behind similar acoustic guitar section between 16:58 and 17:18).
Clay drums - Unsurprisingly, drums made of clay. Drums of this type can be found in many parts of the world, and are normally of a hollow clay pot type construction.
Sticks - Probably something like the aborigine clapsticks, carved pieces of wood that are hit together to make a clicking type of sound, much like the 'claves' used by orchestral percussionists.
Jew's Harp - An instrument consisting of a metal frame and a small 'tongue' of metal. The Jew's harp is held at the opening of the player's mouth, which amplifies the sound and allows the tone of it to be changed (by the player making different vowel shapes with his/her mouth). The instrument has almost certainly nothing to do with Jewish people, the name having probably evolved from some other English word (one suggestion is that it comes from the old English word gewgaw). The Jew's Harp can be heard at around 37:48.
Rototom - Type of drum, related to the tom tom (hence the tom part of the name) but tuneable by rotating the head of the drum.
Kalimba - An African instrument, sometimes known as a 'thumb piano'. The kalimba has a set of flat metal 'tongues' which are flicked by the thumbs of the player, making a note sound. They often have something like a gourd as a resonator.
Long thin metallic hanging tubes - Similar to the way he uses 'steinway piano' instead of 'grand piano', the Tubular Bells are being given this name in a tongue-in-cheek attempt not to mention that instrument.
Notes On The Musicians
Janet Brown - Used to do some of the voices for British TV show 'Spitting Image' (a topical comedy series involving latex puppets of famous people). She provided the voice for the Margaret Thatcher (British Prime Minister during the 1980s) puppet on that show and impersonates Mrs Thatcher again at the end of Amarok (the 'Hello everyone...' bit at 54:34).
Paddy Moloney - What Paddy plays is not listed, but he probably plays the tin whistle.
See Ommadawn page for more information on Paddy Moloney as well as Clodagh Simmonds and Bridget St John.
The recording equipment used for Amarok included Mike's Harrison series X (10) mixing console and the Sony 3348 digital multitracker. The 3348 was (and still is) a large and costly machine that recorded 48 tracks of digital audio onto 1/2" tape. More and more studios now are giving up machines such as these in favour of hard disk based systems, either running on computers, or as stand alone devices such as Fairlight's Merlin which Mike has been known to use.
Amarok was originally intended as a sequel to Ommadawn. Mike had been playing with the idea of a Tubular Bells II since the late 80s, but wanted to try his hand at making a sequel to a less famous album first (possibly partly because he knew that his contract with Virgin was soon to end, so he could take Tubular Bells II to a different record company, thereby denying Virgin any success they might have had with it). Mike attempted working in a similar way to how he had back then, ditching his Fairlight and Atari setup and playing virtually all the parts by hand. Much of this was probably down to the influence of producer Tom Newman, who encouraged Mike to use his musicianship skills more, instead of doing so much with his computers.
There is speculation on what the word Amarok might actually mean. Mike himself has said that it doesn't really mean anything, but it could sound a bit like 'am a rock' (as in saying I am a rock, perhaps a comment on his nature). Others say that, like Ommadawn, the title is a corruption of Irish gaelic words, which mean 'morning' and maybe most interestingly, 'happy'. The word 'happy' is spoken at various times throughout the album.
Also similar is the Innuit word for wolf, amaroq, which some say Mike heard on a TV programme about wolves.
Mike saw Amarok as parts of his goodbye to Virgin records. As such, he created in Amarok a completely uncommercial album. It's almost impossible to take any section of Amarok on its own without it sounding rather out of place, meaning that it wasn't possible to turn any part into a single, or play it on the radio. It may be co-incidental, but may well have deliberately done to annoy Virgin. Quiet parts of the album are sometimes disturbed by loud, raucous sounds. Mike said he imagined Virgin executive Simon Draper listening to the album in his car and turning it up loud, only to be suddenly frightened to death by a loud synth brass stab. Mike also hid a message in Amarok - at 48:05 some morse code can be heard (played on a bright synth sound). It actually spells out "F*** off RB" (with RB standing for Richard Branson). Mike was annoyed at Virgin's lack of promotion for the album (although if he really had made it deliberately uncommercial, Mike would surely have expected them not to promote it...), and so took out his own advertising campaign. Part of the campaign was Mike offering a prize of £1000 to the first person to find the hidden message.
The cover photograph was taken by Mike's old friend William Murray, who also wrote the story found inside the CD booklet. Mike helped spark off William's interest in photography during the mid 70s, when he gave William a camera as a present. William later worked as a professional photographer. His attempt with the cover was to recreate the cover of Ommadawn. He admitted later that, although the Ommadawn cover looks simple, matching the David Bailey original was no easy task, with Murray saying that it showed just how good a photographer David Bailey really is. The metal lettering was made by Tom Newman. William Murray sadly died a few years ago.
In the name of progress, Virgin records have removed William Murray's story from the remastered edition of Amarok. For those of you with one of these editions, you can read the story here.
The solo at 22:30 may sound like it has been speeded up...It's my belief that it hasn't been, and that Mike actually played it at that speed. In fact, I was so convinced that I slowed it down a bit so I could hear the notes more clearly, and actually tried to work out how to play it. It wasn't easy to work out what was going on, but I did succeed in working out the first part of it and can say that it is possible to play without any electronic trickery. I believe he played that part in the open position, and uses a series of hammer ons, pull offs and bits of fast fingerpicking in order to get the speed. As far as I can tell, the technique is the same as he moves up higher. This technique is not a million miles away from the technique used to play the 'fast riff' at the beginning.
I heard a suggestion that it could probably be played using a technique like fretboard tapping (this involves, in basic terms, using both hands on the fretboard). While that technique certainly allows solos of that sort to be played (and more, as feats like Jennifer Batten's version of "Flight of the Bumblebee" demonstrate), it does not sound to me like that is what Mike is doing here. Most of the notes have the sound of a picking attack at the start - you don't get this with tapping.
© Richard Carter 2001