The Songs of Distant Earth Review -


For over 20 years Mike Oldfield has been at the forefront of musical innovation. 1973s Tubular Bells changed the face of popular music forever, fusing technology, musicianship and imagination to dazzling effect. In 1992, after a consistently varied and successful recording career, he celebrated that albums enduring appeal with the release of Tubular Bells II, a double-platinum chart-topper and the basis of daring and critically-acclaimed live performances.

With his latest, The Songs of Distant Earth, Oldfield boldly goes where not even he has gone before. A stunning work that is a collaboration with legendary science-fiction writer Clarke (author of the celebrated 2001: A Space Odyssey). Oldfield began sifting through the many volumes published by the British-born author, now a resident of Kandy, Sri Lanka. "It was the title of this particular book which attracted me," he relates, "Its intrinsically musical, a natural starting point. I have avoided trying to tell its story in step-by-step fashion though. The Songs Of Distant Earth follows the text loosely, is based around it, but is actually a thematic piece inspired by Clarke's work in general."

The compositional process began with a journey to meet the veteran writer, now in his eighties. Oldfield had already sent him a copy of Tubular Bells II, which had elicited an enthusiastic response. But a still greater compliment came when Clarke, trusting Oldfield's musicianship totally, did not seek to influence the direction or scope of the album in any way. I had carte blanche, which was wonderful. Arthur was incredibly helpful, but the project was all mine.

At either of his twin bases of Buckinghamshire, England and Los Angeles, Oldfield started to assimilate the necessary tools to bring Clarkes vision to musical life--no easy task, given its futuristic nature.

"It took me a lot longer than I thought, because I was unable to use whatever techniques and tricks I might usually fall back on. For instance, I couldnt use 12-string or acoustic guitars, because they sounded just too earth-bound in context. I had to come up with a whole new vocabulary of studio-originated sounds."

Oldfields own ground-breaking visual ideas have been translated onto screen by a team of top designers using silicon graphic technology. ROM users will be able to travel through a futuristic city aboard a giant starship to a central control tower in which they will encounter a musical puzzle. Its various options will trigger a number of different audio-visual clips, including one in which Oldfield himself is seen playing a song from the album. "And because its based on MYST Mode, you can actually get lost in it--spend all day looping back and forth," he adds.

"I had the audio computer and graphics computer set up side-by-side in my studio in England so that the two sides of the project were able to develop in tandem. It was fantastic to design something visually and then make it morph and dance as I was making the music. Apart from my own enjoyment of the process, I believe its given the sounds an even more visual dimension than usual"

As for the video clip "Let There Be Light," Oldfield enlisted the skills of award-winning music video director Howard Greenhalgh to visually enhance the single. Greenhalgh, who recently won MTVs Best Rock Video award for "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden, is best known for his groundbreaking technique of montaging filmed footage with computer graphics. The video film was shot in Miami, with Greenhalgh consciously attempting to create weird and wonderful events on film. The final result has an other-worldly, stranger than science fiction feel.

The Songs of Distant Earth finds Oldfield extending his musical palette, stretching himself to a degree that will surprise even his most devoted fans. "I had to put my old ways of making music behind me--all the folksy, Celtic stuff I'm known for," he says cheerfully. "This is me reaching new heights. I wanted to make a record that would appeal across the generations, right through to the kids in the clubs."

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield