New Sounds Interview With Mike Oldfield

December, 1993
John Schaefer
New Sounds

From programs 900 and 901 of NEW SOUNDS, hosted by John Schaefer, produced by WNYC (New York City) and distributed by National Public Radio Original broadcast date uncertain, but probably December 1993

[Program begins with the opening theme of the original TUBULAR BELLS. After about 20 seconds, music fades down and host starts speaking. Music continues to fade down until about 1:00.]

Well, of course, you may know this music as some of the music from the old horror film THE EXORCIST, or you may know it as what it rightfully is, the opening of the piece TUBULAR BELLS, by Mike Oldfield, the English composer. This is certainly not the first time we've played Mike Oldfield's music on NEW SOUNDS, and it's not even the first time we've heard TUBULAR BELLS, but tonight, on program 900, and tomorrow night, on program 901, we have, for the first time, the opportunity to not only hear some of Mike Oldfield's music, including the new TUBULAR BELLS volume 2, but actually to speak a bit with him as well, as he is making a rare American radio appearance on tonight and tomorrow night's editions of NEW SOUNDS. I'm John Schaefer. Thanks for being with us, and it is a real pleasure to be able to welcome to our studios, for the first time, composer and multi-multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield. Mike, it's good to see you--

It's my pleasure.

--after many years of playing your recordings here. I remember the first time I played any of your music on the air, I got a letter from someone saying, "Please, please, tell me how I can get this wonderful music by Michael Field"--


--which I thought was rather funny, until I realized it was probably a reflection on my diction, and then it wasn't so funny.

It is a slightly difficult name to pronounce. I usually say "Mike Goldfield". They think I'm Jewish then, and they can understand it, but "Mike Oldfield" is a little bit [indistinct].

Uh-huh. Now, of course, the recording that most people know you for is TUBULAR BELLS, and the reason you're here in the States now is TUBULAR BELLS 2, which has been referred to in the British press, at least, as "the first sequel in the history of rock music".

That's exactly right, yes.

What is a sequel? I mean, obviously, we know what a sequel is in terms of film, but...

It's a concept which, as soon as I had the idea, it was irresistible to just try it out, and see if it worked as an idea. With TUBULAR BELLS 2, I approached it very much like a film sequel, in that I'd have similar characters or the same characters, but in a totally new environment, and the first stages consisted of identifying all the elements in TUBULAR BELLS 1. So I wrote down the number of tunes, what type of tunes they were, the sort of elements that there were in TUBULAR BELLS 1: like there's elements of chaos occasionally; there's elements of humor, in much the same vein as Monty Python, you know. There's these various elements, and I tried to juggle them into a new form, you know [formula?] for TUBULAR BELLS 2. The reason I wanted to do it in the first place was because I was hearing many things which I felt were derivative on it, of TUBULAR BELLS 1, especially in film music and TV commercials, and sometimes in the occasional rock track or pop track, and I felt that I'd avoided sounding like it for such a long time, it was time myself to do something which was identifiably TUBULAR BELLS-like, or in that language. Normally, with a film sequel, you'll add an extra character, or an extra factor, and so very much in the way that Sean Connery was an extra factor in the last Indiana Jones film, I brought in a new producer, whose name is Trevor Horn, on this production.

Wasn't he from the Buggles, and briefly Yes?

Yes. Yes... [laughs] And he's produced a lot of people. He did Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and...

He's a big pop producer...a big track record...

Yes...known as Mr. Technology, I suppose, in terms of production. He always has this very modern sound, and uses the latest equipment that's around. It's not that I don't understand these--latest equipment, because I'm also one of the first people to get this equipment, but Trevor has a way of using it in a certain style, which I felt would be appropriate for this 1990's TUBULAR BELLS.

All right. Well, let's hear the opening of TUBULAR BELLS, volume 2, a new CD. The pieces here all have, the individual sections, that is, all have titles; this is "Sentinel", the opening moments of TUBULAR BELLS 2, by Mike Oldfield, on this edition of NEW SOUNDS.


There's the music from Mike Oldfield, from the new TUBULAR BELLS, volume 2, the sequel, and the opening is called "Sentinel". Mike Oldfield is my guest on this edition of NEW SOUNDS. Do you actually use tubular bells once again in the second volume?

Well, yes, but what we did was, really, design a bell sound. The problem with bells is that every note has a harmonic, and this harmonic quite often is out of tune with the--


--track you're trying to play over. Because the bells were so loud, what I had to do was to find a bell sound. I went through various libraries of bell sounds, listened to, you know, the Santa Barbara mission bell, and, you know, Big Ben, and, you know, St. Peter's, Rome, you know, listening to all these bell sounds. And eventually I found the sound I was looking for in this little tiny toy set, you know. And then I took that sound digitally into a computer, and I added my own harmonics electronically to it, and the harmonics change as the bell moves through different chord sequences. So it was a bit of a technological exercise, but to achieve this level of perfection, just hitting a normal set of tubular bells really did sound bad, so we had to do some serious work on it.

I didn't mean it to be a philosphical question, but I guess it becomes that when you say, "Are there real bells on the record?" I mean, there were these children's bells at some point, but now they're--

It was a big mixture--

--something different.

Our philosophy making this album was, whatever means we needed to use to create the best result, we'd use that. If that meant spending a couple of days leafing through global bell sounds that exist, we would do that. Adding harmonics was no problem.

Well, now, the idea of using contemporary technology is not something that's specific to TUBULAR BELLS 2. TUBULAR BELLS, the first volume, was pretty far ahead of its time in a lot of ways, in the use of incredible amounts of overtracking, it seems, and there was a lot of processing of the sound of guitar, in one way or another. So it seems like that has always been kind of an ongoing concern of yours, something that you're interested in.

Well, I suppose I'm able to see the potential of what can be achieved with whatever machines are available. I mean, like in this studio, I see here operating instructions for a GainBrain Mark II Variable Ratio Limiter. I'm very familiar with that machine and what that can do.

You're not going to do anything strange to it now, are you?

[laughs] No, I'll just stick to my "cough" button which I've got here. So, any time I see a machine, I'm fascinated as what it can do. Having said that, machines are getting a bit boring nowadays, you know, and I've sort of accumulated some of the older machines, especially valve equipment, because it's got a certain sound which the modern synths don't have. You have, like, a piece of digital computerized technology, trying to recreate the sound of a valve-- oh, you probably call them tube amplifiers--

Tube, yeah.

--but why not just have the tube amplifier?

Ah, you're the second allegedly technologically proficient composer in the past month to come in here and say that.

Oh, really? Who's the other one?

Brian Eno said essentially the same thing--


--that analog synthesizers had a much warmer sound, somehow.

They do, yes! I think it's to do with-- a tube amplifier works in a more mechanical way and it generates natural harmonics, which are part of the sort-of basic rules of life and nature. I'm not being very New Age-y about this, but that's a scientific fact--

That's acoustical fact, yes. Whereas digital synthesizers are series of ones and zeroes--

That's exactly right. So what a lot of people will do is use tube technology to create the sound, and then simply use the digital tape recorder as a storage medium, because it's incorruptible once it's in the digital format. That's what we did quite a lot with TUBULAR BELLS, is use tube stuff and analog equipment, and then just use the digital tape to store it, so that you can't lose it once it's gone digital.

Mm-hmm-- you did that with TUBULAR BELLS 2.

Yes. Well, obviously, digital technology was-- either didn't exist or was in its infancy in TUBULAR BELLS 1. In fact, the only synthesizer you could get in those days came in a little briefcase, and it had a little joy-stick like an airplane joy-stick, and as you moved it from side to side, it sort-of made these strange squeaking noises. That was your synthesizer. So TUBULAR BELLS 1 was done on organs, electric organs.

Right, right. And large groups of acoustic instruments.

Yes. I'll tell you a funny thing. The combination of sounds on the beginning of TUBULAR BELLS 1 was a grand piano, it was a sort-of sustained flute-y sound on the Farfisa organ, and a glockenspiel, and there was that combination of three instruments that created that sound. And lo an behold, a couple of years ago, when I bought the latest Japanese synthesizer, I dialed up program number one, and I hit middle C, and there I heard a grand piano, a sort of flute-y sustained organ, and then a glockenspiel, all readily mixed together, so all I had to do was go [sings opening melody of TUBULAR BELLS] "ding-ding-di-ding, ding-ding-di-ding", and there was TUBULAR BELLS, without all the fuss! You know, I just dialed the program on the synth. It was quite a revelation.

Ah, but it was a lot more fun your way, wasn't it?

Yeah. Took a bit longer, but...

All right. Well, let's hear the piece that started it all: the Virgin record company, Mike Oldfield's solo career-- TUBULAR BELLS, the opening of the original volume, from the early Seventies, on this edition of NEW SOUNDS.

[first 5:50 of original TUBULAR BELLS; then cross-faded to skip the "Satanic theme", 2:50; then next 8:20, to end of slow guitar solo. For those using corresponding section names from TB2, that's "Sentinel", omitting "Dark Star", then "Clear Light", "Blue Saloon", "Sunjammer" and part of "Red Dawn".]

Well, there is some of the music from the original 1972-73 recording by my guest, Mike Oldfield, who has joined me here in the studio tonight for NEW SOUNDS program 900, and who will be back again tomorrow night from program number 901, when we'll be sampling a couple of his non-TUBULAR BELL recordings. But this original TUBULAR BELLS spawned, some 20 years-- almost 20 years later, exactly, Mike's new CD, TUBULAR BELLS 2, the sequel; and in between, of course, the album launched the Virgin record label and sold many millions of copies worldwide, especially after the opening moments of TUBULAR BELLS were used in the film THE EXORCIST. Now, Mike, do you know the story of how that got to be the music from THE EXORCIST? I mean, were you involved-- was that just something that just happened? You had no idea it was going to come about?

Yeah-- you see, this EXORCIST business-- when I talk to people in Europe, they don't really-- are not so much aware of that. In America, TUBULAR BELLS was seen as part and parcel of THE EXORCIST.


But in fact, it wasn't. All it meant to me was a ten-second phone call with Richard Branson ringing up and saying, "They're using TUBULAR BELLS in a film called THE EXORCIST." And I said, "Thank you!" [laughs]


And that was all it meant to me. In fact, I never saw THE EXORCIST until about four or five years ago. And I thought, it's about time I had a look at it. And I spent most of the entire film laughing my head off, especially when the girl's head started whizzing 'round.


And I heard TUBULAR BELLS playing throughout THE EXORCIST, but by that time, nearly every horror film had something on it which sounded like TUBULAR BELLS, and I'd already seen a few of them, so I was used to it. It's a bit confusing. I'm sure that THE EXORCIST brought TUBULAR BELLS 1 to a wider audience than it would have achieved otherwise, but--

In this country, yeah.

--yes, but in a way, I'd prefer it to have been used for a more intelligent film. You know, I don't like these demonic Satanic films. I think they're very cheap and stupid, really.

Yeah--although this one, whatever you may think of it cinematically, certainly has some staying power, for better or worse. Now, TUBULAR BELLS 2, listening to it, it would seem that this was kind of a painstaking process, where you would have to figure out, "How many lines did I have going in this part of the piece, going to how many more lines when we segued into the next part...", and then trying to figure out similar melodic material for each of those lines, then deciding, "I'm not going to assign this to the same instrument that TUBULAR BELLS 1 had. Do I put in a new instrument in here?" Just in terms of composing it that way--which is a pretty strange way to compose a piece! I don't think I've ever seen anything like this before--it seems like it's incredibly detailed--lots of--

It was! We went to a lot of trouble with it. First of all, I accumulated all the instruments that I used on the first one. But things like electric organs, they-- we're so used to hearing this very clean-cut, beautiful sound, but electric organs got hums and buzzes and squeaks and pops and things on it, so it wasn't any good, so what we did was, we found a good-sounding note, or a cluster of good-sounding notes, and sampled them, so the sampler, once you got a clean note, it'll always reproduce that. Basically, we sampled all the different instruments, so while they were generated by early 1970's technology, they were put through the 1990's technology. This is a thing that applied throughout the whole production. Like, for example, I would play a piece of live acoustic guitar or electric guitar, and that performance would be taken into the computer and digitally chopped up into its component parts and realigned up against a time-line, so it was as precise as a sequencer playing the music, but it was in fact myself playing it, but it'd been reshuffled. So it's using modern technology to benefit the best things that we could get out of a live performance.

Mm-hmm. Actually, one of your records from I guess the early 1980's--I don't remember off-hand which one it is; it's the one with the clouds on the cover and the plane flying through them--you open up the-- it's a fold-out album, and inside it's-- a score! But it's not notes on a paper; it's the multi-tracks,

[coughs] Yeah, that was my-- well, that was the old--

Now, see, you should have used your "cough" button for that. [laughs]

Sorry. [indistinct] my "cough" button. That was my working track sheet, really. It was a list of what was on all the tracks. Now, we've got a scrolling one on a big computer display, with 48 tracks on it, and a little cursor that follows it through so you know at any point in time, if you're looking for, say, piano number 3, you know it's on track 36. It's a way of finding your way around a multi-track tape.

You mention the almost Monty Python-esque elements of humor that appeared in the original TUBULAR BELLS. I guess you're referring to Viv Stansall--is it Stansall or Stanshall?

Stanshall, yes.

--the introduction of the individual instruments. Now, that is sort of reprised here, with a different voice, obviously. Who is that?

That's Alan Rickman, who's a very well-known actor, everybody's favorite bad guy, I suppose. One of his best things was the Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD.

Uh-huh. So he does essentially-- it's essentially the same layering of one instrument on top of another and building up towards the end of the piece as we got on the first--

That's right. Well, you know, if you compare the two things, you'll hear a big difference, because it's a much wider, bigger sound, and it's a different melody and different riff. Talking about the voice, we tried so many things... Vivian Stanshall, unfortunately, was, when we went to pick him up for the session, was asleep in the bath, covered by a pot plant at the time, so he couldn't make it to the session...

[laughs out loud]

We tried various people, including a computer voice from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Uh-huh, the legendary HAL.

Yes. We tried that; we tried a Liverpool voice, like one of the Beatles' voices; we tried like a Disney World type of voice, you know, like a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs type of voice, in order to make it humorous; but in the end, we wanted to give it this sort of real British, almost Shakespearian type of atmosphere, so we went for Alan Rickman.

All right. Well, let's hear the end of the first half of TUBULAR BELLS, as it sounded some twenty years ago, with Viv Stanshall, and then we'll hear the new version, the same portion of the piece, from TUBULAR BELLS 2. Once again, Mike Oldfield, my guest, on WNYC, FM 93.9, New York public radio.

[TUBULAR BELLS, picking up where the previous excerpt left off, about 17:00, or late in "Red Dawn", and continuing to the end of Part I. Then TUBULAR BELLS 2, "The Bell".]

We've just heard the same section of almost the same piece, TUBULAR BELLS by Mike Oldfield, who's been sitting in with me on this edition of NEW SOUNDS. There are twenty years between the two TUBULAR BELLS: TUBULAR BELLS 1, from 1972-- back in '72, this was just the last section of Part 1; now, in the 1990's, the 1990's version of TUBULAR BELLS, with lots of digital sampling and stuff, that same segment is called "The Bell", and, although the notes have changed, and many of the instruments, the piece itself, the structure is almost exactly the same. That's TUBULAR BELLS 2, the second of the two, and obviously a good chance there to compare and contrast the original TUBULAR BELLS with the sequel, which is literally what TUBULAR BELLS 2 is. All right. Well, you've been listening to NEW SOUNDS, and Mike Oldfield has been my guest, and Mike, obviously, there's a lot more to talk about, so we'll see you again tomorrow: we'll listen to maybe some of the more pastoral music from HERGEST RIDGE and some of the Celtic-inspired stuff that you did on HERGEST RIDGE and OMMADAWN.


Okay, and thanks for being here tonight, and of course, in the meantime, if you'd like a copy of the play list for tonight's edition of NEW SOUNDS, just write to us at our usual address. Our address is NEW SOUNDS, c/o WNYC, 1 Centre Street, New York, New York 10007. I'm John Schaefer, and I'm glad you've been with us for this portion of NEW SOUNDS, the first of two programs we're doing with Mike Oldfield, taking advantage of the fact that he has made a rare trip across the Pond, and will be here tomorrow night as well. You're listening to WNYC, FM 93.9, New York Public Radio.

[end Part One]

[Part Two. Program picked up in progress, about two minutes in. Transcriber guesses that missing portion is all talk by host.]

--in fact, a lot of them seem to sound almost Irish. There seems to be a strong Celtic undercurrent here.

Yeah, there is, 'cause my mother was Irish. In fact, I spent a long time trying to trace my Irish ancestry, because it's almost like she emigrated from Ireland to England and left behind a whole large family, and I'm just beginning to rediscover them. So I have been fascinated by Irish culture and Irish music, and I love people like the Chieftains, I'm sure you know. Paddy Moloney is the piper on the Chieftains, has appeared on several of my albums.

He sort of takes a solo role in one part of OMMADAWN, doesn't he?

That's right, yes. It's not just Irish; I'm fascinated by all the Celtic culture. I've got this idea of them being a very artistic, creative people, and in fact they are responsible for many of the best creative things in the Western world. Things from Ireland have generated a lot of creativity.

From the Book of Kells to Sinead O'Connor. [laughs]

[laughs] Well, I'm not sure about that one...

Something like HERGEST RIDGE--

[still laughing] I liked that!

But HERGEST RIDGE, which for me was, if anything, even a better record than TUBULAR BELLS--

Oh, really? Yes!

I've always loved that record, but there was nothing that you could identifiably say, "Well, there, that's Irish," but somehow the mood was--

You see, the mood of Irish music is very-- it sounds like, HOME, you know, it's like the fire, and the musicians playing the violins and flutes and pipes by the fire, and then you have this picture of the dog, and it's "home again"'s a lovely atmosphere--

The sleigh bells taking you home, through--

That type of thing. And also the little grace notes that you have in Irish music. That's something that I pick up, and I even use on my guitar playing. Like if I'm playing, "dum-dum-dum" [three ascending tones], I wouldn't; I'll do "boiym-dum-b'lom" [adding grace notes to first and last tones]: I'll put little grace notes, which is a piper's thing--bagpipers. Because they can't play straight notes, especially the Scottish ones, because a bagpipe is always making a noise. You can't stop it, once it's started. There's no "cough" button on the bagpipes, you know, it's just going constantly, non-stop, all the time, and so--

You're really fascinated by the "cough" buttons on these microphones, aren't you? [laughs]

[laughs] --so for a piper to make his sound more interesting, he puts in little grace notes.

A "skirl", or whatever they call it?

Yes. Something like that. And I do the same on electric guitar, and I think that's what maybe gives my music a slightly Celtic feel.

All right. Well, the piece that seems to capture that sort of Celtic mood best is probably HERGEST RIDGE, which followed TUBULAR BELLS in 1974 and featured all kinds of oboeists and trumpeters and drums and choir and strings, and, of course, also featured my guest, Mike Oldfield, playing in fact most of the instruments. Let's hear Part 1 of HERGEST RIDGE on this edition of NEW SOUNDS, here at WNYC-FM.

[Entire Part 1 of HERGEST RIDGE, from original LP, with an apparently accidental skip shortly after the trumpets come in]

That's music from Mike Oldfield. HERGEST RIDGE, part 1, from the album-length piece of the same name. Mike Oldfield is my guest here tonight in the studio, as he was last night as well, and we'll talk a bit more with him and hear some even more obviously Celtic-derived music in just a moment. I'm John Schaefer, and you're listening to NEW SOUNDS.

[Pause to promote next evening's show and some concerts]

This is program number 901. It is the second of two programs in which we're taking advantage of the fact that Mike Oldfield has made a very rare trip across the Atlantic, and is our guest once again tonight here in the studio. Last night we heard TUBULAR BELLS 1 and 2; tonight, focusing on some of the more pastoral, and perhaps more Celtic-inspired things. And one of the other things that you drew on, 'way before it was fashionable, was African drumming.

Yeah, well, they call it world music now. I hate that-- categories, you know. Why must stick everything in category boxes? To me-- let me just explain. When I was a teenager, in the world of music, you had so many different sorts of music. You had a wonderful rock band-- you had Led Zeppelin, you had Beatles, Stones, you had the world of folk music, folk musicians, you had Pink Floyd. There wasn't everything in different categories; they were all these people making music, and that was called "music". I think they used to call it "progressive" or something.

Right, right.

And then this term in the Seventies appeared, "heavy metal". And "hard rock" and "rock and roll", and everything's got categorized. And "world music" to me was something that you'd occasionally see on a TV documentary, you know; it's the native music of indigenous tribes in various exotic places in the world. And as soon as I heard that sound, I loved that sound, and I tracked down people who could make that sound. And I used native African drums since 1975. And the type of vocal sound that they have, on OMMADAWN, is a type of tribal vocal, but I did it in the studio with an Irish singer, but it was an African type of influence, and sort of integrated the African and the Celtic. So I was doing that a long time ago. Now we've got this thing, they call it "world music", and they keep it in a special box in the record store, and I just look at it and think, you know, we've got music, the whole world of music, and when you turn on your Top 40 radio, you hear basically a drum machine and a sampled voice, making some sound which is more in keeping with the type of noise a five-year-old child would listen to. It's like replacing nursery rhymes, and I cannot believe people pay money to buy this absolute childish rubbish. I can imagine a five- or six-year-old doing it. And I don't like the way music has become so categorized. Why can't we just have music, and you turn on your radio and you hear lots of different things? You hear music, which is after all just sound vibrations in the air. So anyway, here I am talking about this, and with TUBULAR BELLS 2 I hope to show what can be done if you don't stick to any rules, you throw the rule book out the window and you just make music.

All right. Well, we'll hear a little bit from TUBULAR BELLS volume 2 in this next set. Let's begin with "Tattoo", from TUBULAR BELLS 2, which features the P.D.Scots Band playing bagpipes and snare, and then back to the 1975 OMMADAWN recording, which features Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains playing the bagpipes. So here are a couple of Celtic-inspired pieces, both old and new, from my guest Mike Oldfield.

["Tattoo" from TUBULAR BELLS 2] [excerpt from Part 2 of OMMADAWN, from just after multiple keyboards have faded out (about 5:25) to final up-tempo section; faded out from about tenth to twentieth measure of final theme (about 12:00 to 12:10) as host begins to speak again]

That's the music from Mike Oldfield, from the 1975 album OMMADAWN, featuring Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains doing the solo on the bagpipes; a pair of Celtic-inspired works from the Seventies and the Nineties in that set, both by Mike Oldfield, my guest last night and again tonight, on NEW SOUNDS. He's making a rare appearance on American radio, so I thought we'd get him in here on consecutive programs to talk about his twenty-odd years of making solo records. Indefinable solo records, I might add. We began that set with a piece from the newest release, TUBULAR BELLS volume 2, and an excerpt called "Tattoo", featuring the P.D. Scots Pipe Band and Celtic Bevy Band, responsible for the Celtic sounds in that piece. And then back to OMMADAWN; to conclude the set, we heard the Paddy Moloney solo; of course, Paddy is best known as the bagpiper for the Chieftains, but he appeared on that recording with Mike Oldfield as well. This is NEW SOUNDS, at WNYC, FM 93.9. Now, you've had all that stuff in the past--the Celtic, the African; does that find its way back into TUBULAR BELLS 2?

Eh--African--yes--well, no; actually we went more towards the Red Indian on TUBULAR BELLS 2. I met this guy called Kelly Lurking Course [?]. I wonder if he might be listening. He runs Red Nations. And I also read a lot of books about Indian culture, and the history of them, like Wounded Knee, and all that. He also came along and gave us some bird calls, and we used that little bit on TUBULAR BELLS 2, and some of the lyrics on TUBULAR BELLS 2 are taken from Indian poetry. One of them is a birthing song. I can't remember which tribe it was.

Which track is that?

That's on "Sentinel", the first track. It said "my-hay-mit". Because I wanted some element of real ancient culture in there. You know, the Western culture started out in the north of the world, and I quite often find the culture that's really ancient--like ancient Mexico, ancient Greece--I need to have elements of those in my work. I don't know why; I'm fascinated by that. Maybe I should have been an archaeologist or something.

Now, one of the things that a lot of people complain about with digital synthesizers, or analog for that matter, is you can replace the full orchestra and chorus that you and David Bedford would bring on to the original TUBULAR BELLS, on to HERGEST RIDGE, made, I guess, appearances on one or two other records as well--INCANTATIONS, I think. No real need, I guess, for full orchestra and chorus--

Funny enough, we did at one point-- we were going to put an orchestra on TUBULAR BELLS 2. We even were in contact with the Los Angeles Philharmonic about doing it, and we had a conductor down, and everything, and Trevor and I were just sitting one day, and we just decided that no, it's not classical music, as such, and it doesn't belong in that world, it belongs in a different world, a world of the future. Orchestral classical music is wonderful, but it is like going to a wonderful museum, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. You see wonderful things, and you hear wonderful things in classical music. TUBULAR BELLS doesn't belong in that world, so it was inappropriate to use large elements of the classical world, and so we scrubbed that idea. The other thing is that when you've got a synthesizer, you've normally got a sample of a string in there, but you only use one element of that. You blend that with a little bit of electronic strings, which are created by two out-of-phase oscillating sine--uh--square waves, or whatever it is, so it's got elements of classical music in it, but it belongs in its own world, different world.

Although I think you could understand why some critics might have thought, when they first heard the chorus and the orchestra, and they heard an album-length piece, first of all, not six tracks on one side and six on the other, but one forty-, forty-five-minute-length piece that seemed to be theme and variations--and this could have been TUBULAR BELLS, this could have been HERGEST RIDGE, or any of those records--you could see why critics would sort of say, "Well, this isn't really rock music. This is something a little closer to a composed kind of suite for an orchestra and a bunch of rock instruments."

Yeah, well, it's made in the same way, really; a classical composer would sit down with his manuscript, and he'd probably have his ideas, but instead of manuscript paper I use a multi-track tape recorder. I scribble my ideas down on there, but instead of a pen I pick up an instrument and scribble them directly onto the tape. And it is theme and variations, exactly right, but co-existing various themes simultaneously. I'll have one theme going, then I'll join it with another one, and the two will exist simultaneously; one of them will disappear up, be happening in the very top registers of the sound, and one from earlier on will happen down in the bass area. It's very much the way that classical music is made; perhaps it's a kind of futuristic classical music.

Or something that's elements of both, and is ultimately neither.

Maybe. Yes. For TUBULAR BELLS 2, when we did it live in Edinburgh in September, the whole thing was scored out, not entirely by me; we had a guy whose specific job it was to score the entire thing out. We had a conductor as well, and he conducted it, and we had an orchestra of rock musicians who were reading their parts. And that was really like a classical concert. At the same time, on the stage were two Macintosh computers, who were controlling all the synthesizers. We had about twelve, fifteen synthesizers, and four players, and several samplers, and all the computers were sending out signals to make sure every synth was exactly on the right sound, with the right effects and the right volume, ready for guy to pick up his hand and play the sound. You see, I think with a classical orchestra--I'll probably get into trouble for saying this, but--

Oh, go for it!

[laughs] If it is going to have something happening in the future-- you see, avant-garde classical music to me is not the way forward for classical music. They have to develop the instruments a bit more. I mean, who's to say that a violin shouldn't have a MIDI connection and communicate with a synthesizer? I know it does happen, but it's only people like Nigel Kennedy who would think of doing that. But he's outrageous. The normal classical world would never dream of that. But if classical musicians really got into all that, maybe we could see something interesting happening, and room for young composers to come in and have some scope. But once you're stuck with the old instruments, it becomes a bit limited. Sound-frequency-wise, for a start: with electronics, you can get right up to 20K, and down to the bottom...

Well, you're right: you will get in trouble for saying that, but since you won't be around to get the mail, I guess that's o.k. So let's move along to some more music, and again, getting back to the theme-and-variations idea, here's some of Part 2 of HERGEST RIDGE, from Mike Oldfield, on NEW SOUNDS.

[First 4:00 of Part 2 of HERGEST RIDGE, original mix; then faded out rapidly under host's voice]

Just a little bit more from HERGEST RIDGE, by Mike Oldfield, on this edition of NEW SOUNDS. We've heard from this old favorite, from the album OMMADAWN, and Mike, of course, from the new TUBULAR BELLS 2, the sequel to the album that started it all back in '72, the album TUBULAR BELLS. And as you were telling us before, TUBULAR BELLS 2 has already had its concert premiere: the live performance was in one of the big castles in Edinburgh, right? It was for the Prince's Trust?

Yes, Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the whole of the city. And it made a fabulous backdrop to the concert, but it also-- you think of the things that happened there, like Mary, Queen of Scots was in prison there, and I don't know how many kings and princes ventured there, or battles took part on its ramparts. It's just full of history and full of atmosphere, and it really fitted the concert so well.

Are there any plans for more conventional concert sites? ["Maya Gold" from TUBULAR BELLS 2 begins to fade up behind the voices.]

Yes, we're coming to do a concert in Carnegie Hall in February: February 23rd and 24th are booked at the moment. We'll bring the same concert tour set-up to Carnegie Hall. The only thing we won't have is the $10,000 worth of fireworks.

So that'll be-- TUBULAR BELLS 2 will take up the whole program, or will there be other things?

No, it sort of takes up the whole program. It's going to be like the American premiere of a new piece of music; I hesitate to call it classical music, 'cause it's not. I don't know what it is. We need a new-- You can be the person that gives it the new terminology--

Oh, I don't want to do that--

Come on, invent the category! It's not New Age, it's not classical, it's not rock; what is it?

I kind of liked your term, "music". That seemed to work for me.

I know. Contemporary Instrumental, or something.

If I could come up with a better term than "new music" to describe what this show is, I would have, so I'll just use "new music."

Yeah! Well, that's a good title, a good category.

Well, so that's February 23rd and 24th, Carnegie Hall, and in the meantime, Mike, it's been a real pleasure having you here in the studio.

It's been my pleasure too.

Thanks so much.

Thank you.

[segue (from album) into "Moonshine". End of part 2.]

[Transcribed by Marc S. Glasser, March 1995. Edited to the extent of dropping some stammers, repeated words, "uh"s, "sort of"s and "you know"s. Transcriber is American and spells words accordingly. Album, film and show titles are in capital letters; selection titles are in quotation marks. This transcription was produced without permission, knowledge or co-operation of any of the principals involved, solely for the enjoyment of the transcriber and his fellow fans, and should not be re-produced for profit without obtaining said permission. All rights remain the property of National Public Radio and Mike Oldfield, as appropriate.]

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield