Why rehash Tubular Bells, the 1973 classic whose hypnotic motifs electrified The Exorcist and helped plant seeds that blossom now in countless solo studio albums? Because its marriage of minimalist techniques and romantic bombast dazzled us once, and because Oldfield, his powers as a multi-instrumentalist undiminished, still finds meaning in the whole TB idea. In spots, these reasons seem sufficient to recast the spell of the original album, as when Oldfield announces layer upon layer of instruments over the galloping rhythmic motif of "The Bells." But to a degree, it is nostalgia for the roll call recited on TB1, not the intrinsic power of the music, talking here. To jaded '90s-era listeners, words like "digital sound processing" or "slightly sampled electric guitars," no matter how portentiously intoned, suggest nothing more than a close-up of someone nudging a slider on a mixing board. Also, while the conceptual progression of TB2 impresses as much as on the original album, too many distractions interrupt this flow, like the gratuitous bluegrass finale "Moonshine" and the awkward slapstick effects and truncated themes in "Altered States." Much of TB2 is glorious, even by comparison to TB1. We only wish that Oldfield, in his pursuit of the grand vision, hadn't wandered down quite so many distracting detours.
Playing guitar one minute, then xylophone the next, then going to the timpani. Then when the Fairlight came along, I tried taking that on tour. It was great for the first ten shows, but then it became really predictable. You knew exactly what it was going to sound like because you had this clock ticking away on every gig. So, let's put it this way: I'm open to ideas."
Until then, the studio will remain Oldfield's main turf. There, he relaxes and seeks the glimmer of inspiration with his keyboards, guitars, Harrison Series 10 mixing board, and ... cigarette papers? "I smoke these home-made cigarettes - not marijuana, mind you, but tobacco," he explains. "When I start these sessions, I usually have the very beginning of an idea. So I sketch the idea on the nearest piece of paper, which is one of my rolling papers, then stuff it in a jar I keep in the studio. Later, when it's album time, I'll dig my hand in there and pull out an idea. And as soon as I read the music, I always remember exactly what I was thinking when I wrote it. At that point I might fire up the Fairlight, put down the tune, and see what I can do."
Often he does his writing on guitar too. "The problem is that I'm not a very technical keyboard player. "he points out. "My fingers tend to fall into set patterns. If I work too much on the keyboard, I end up with those same chord progressions where my fingers fall. So quite often I'll switch to guitar and come up with things I might not have come up with on keyboards."
Oldfield seldom draws ideas from whatever the trendy style of the moment might be. "To be honest, I'm fairly isolated from what's happening in the music world. I'm working so much on my albums and videos that I don't go out and listen to music. I might hear something I like in a song, maybe a chord progression or a way of using the bass, and I'll pick up on that. It could be in folk music, or classical, or rock, or anything. But nothing like punk rock. I hated punk because it made fun of music. Music, to me, is almost a holy thing, so it was almost like making fun of God."
Rock videos haven't impressed Oldfield too much either, although lie is busy working on videos at his home studio. "Most videos don't even cut on the beat," he says. "It's as if the pictures exist in their own world and time. I don't know whether it's because the video maker are not musical and they don't know where the first beat of the bar is. I ran into the same attitude when doing the soundtrack for "The Killing Fields. The filmmakers don't want the pictures to follow the music too closely. They want music to be like turning on a tap. It's like something you can get out of a can. Doing "The Killing Fields" was, so uninspiring because I was forced to follow these rules. I've had a lot of other offers to do film scores, but I don't intend to do any more of them. I'm much more interested in making my own abstract pictures to go with my music."
Much of Oldfield's time is spent these days on these pictures. "I have a professional video studio with 3-D graphics and special effects, and an editing suite," he says. "I'm putting a video together to go exactly with "The Wind Chimes" and all the songs on "Islands". For example, its autumn now in England, and I've been taking two or three frames every morning for a month now of this tree, for a ten-second piece of all the leaves coming off. I'll use that with a combination of computer graphics and other pictures."
So Oldfield relishes his solitude. The hubbub of London and the chaos of the music industry seem far away as he assembles his projects. He admits that there are moments when he misses the thrill of giving a good live performance, but mostly he's happy to be able to do his work in his quiet space.
"I make my music for myself," he says. "When I do something I like it gives me so much pleasure. I'll sit there and I listen to it all night, it makes me so happy. I hope that when other people listen to that music, it gives them the same buzz it gave me when I made it. I don't think there's anything negative about that. After all, an artist paints in private. You don't expect a painter to paint in front of an audience. And I don't think there's any difference between that and music, to be honest."
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net