Interview with Mike Oldfield, Bonn Museumsmeile

June 28, 1999
Martin Glatz
Music Media Verlag, Cologne

Mike, 1998 the release of "Tubular Bells 3" , 1999 "Guitars" and probably at he last day of this year the "Millennium Bell" album...

That’s right .

... so this is definitively your most productive, creative phase in your career?

Looks like it, doesn’t it? It’s been a hell of a year .

What could be the reason for that?

I think it’s a reaction to the time I spent in Ibiza actually. Because I tried to relax there, not work, not do anything, lie in the sun. So two years of doing something different. I wanted to kind of wind my career down and not really work so much. But I decided that it just makes me unhappy and sick and bored and I really start to fade away. But I needed to learn that. Probably a mid life crisis kind of experience. Because of that I just realised, my life is about my work and have all this possibility to make such a lot of music and to enjoy it, to have concerts. 

What a great privilege, what a great position to be in. So I thought well OK, if I’m going do it, I will do it really properly.

Do you get new energy, creativity being back in good old England?

Well I suppose I can work anywhere really. When I’m working I like to be in my house, my studio, my equipment and all people who help me, my lovely garden, or running in my local pub and my restaurants, comfortable and I have a routine which I work around. I like it very much.

After listening to Tubular Bells III I was convinced that in contrast to your normal sequence of about two years between two albums , a new album will be released very soon. For me Tubular Bells II was very different from all albums before. It was in my opinion a kind of turning point, a retrospect of twenty five years of your career with a kind of "best of sound", "best of melody" album and that there will be a new and different Mike Oldfield coming up very soon. Did you had the same impression, intention while working on Tubular Bells III?

Well ... not really .

A lot of melodies kept coming up again, and it’s really like a journey through your whole career .

Do you think so?

Yeah. No?

I’m trying to remember it (laughs). We’re already two albums past that. It’s difficult for me to look back now. We have already practicing a new part of the set now and in my mind I’m already working on the Millennium Bell project. Where I am really excited about.

Do you have some recording equipment here?

No, but before we left for the tour I spent six weeks working on it and I have a skeleton of the whole thing now and some of it is finished, some of it is not finished and that’s very exciting .

With Tubular Bells III...I borrowed this tape from a friend, a girl friend of this techno artist called Sven Väth and I even went with my engineer Silvie Müller who knows all these people in Frankfurt to see his studio and the engineers he works with and I said "Oh! Let’s make a dance track" and I listened.. 

I can put it down to four elements which are all in the drums really, well five really: Bass drum plays every beat to the bar, hi-hat plays every off beat after the bass drum, sixteen’s in hi-hat with a slight shuffle and a snare that goes dit, dit, dit, dit and then you get a synthesizer that is going "goga, gaga, gigi, gigi.." and it can take you 30 seconds to program that. Then I started putting Tubular Bells thingys to it and I thought "Oh! That’s easy". And I started to work with that, it’s a new thing. Also I was in Ibiza and got to know some of the DJs there and you know, I go to a club and sit by the DJs and have a few drinks and watch them working.

So it was a nice time for you?

Yeah , it was quite nice, but I really got out of my head and drunk too much. People gave me horrible drugs and things and I was nearly crashing my car and I think "I got to get out of this. Get me out of this crazy place!" So I went back to the English countryside (laughs).

You mentioned that you had material recorded of about 70 minutes of Tubular Bells III and only 46 minutes ended up on the album. What happened to the rest? Did you use any of it on "Guitars" or the "Millennium Bells"?

No I didn’t, there are quite a lot of out-takes. They are just sitting in my store room somewhere. Maybe some day...

Why didn’t you put everything on the album?

Well, I didn’t want to (laughs).

So it was your decision and not the one of the record company?

Well, when you talk about a record company normally I wouldn’t listen to them. But this is Rob Dickins who’s very much a "musician record company man", he loves music and he .. you know sometimes it’s like editing a film, you know. If a film is like half an hour too long, everybody gets bored (snores) so you need to make some cuts, you know, it’s normal. I could make a three hour album and then bore everybody crazy you know, that’s what editing is.

Was "Guitars" released only for the tour, to promote the tour or vice versa, or did you realise this album independently from the tour planning?

Oh it was completely independent really, in fact it was really to clear the way for "Millennium Bell" and it was the last contractual album for Warner Brothers so I’m not contracted to anybody at the moment.

"Guitars" and some other recent albums like "Voyager" and parts of "Tubular Bells III" are produced very differently compared to the Mike Oldfield typical very complex productions, for example on "FMO", "Amarok" and "TBII". There are now very few layers, instruments above each other. Why did you choose this concept? Is this the new Mike Oldfield?

No, it was just appropriate for this thing, you know, I used to think that I had to fill up all the tracks. I don’t have to do that any more. If it takes three tracks, fine. If it takes thirty three then, that’s fine, what ever I feel is the most satisfying thing. Some of it is quite multi layered, other tracks are just very simple.

On "Guitars" did you record even the drums on your midi guitar? Did you record only a few patterns or the whole song? How does it work?

There are samples made from bass guitar. I took a bass guitar and the bass drums are just like that. I put it in a sampler and tuned it, edited it and that became the bass drum. And then the snare drum was a harder slap, I put it into the sampler, tuned up, with a lot of very very bright echo, short bright echo and run it through a machine called a Finaliser which really squashes it together and put into a sampler and tuned and made a snare drum out of it.

And you played the whole song on the bass or only a kind of base pattern and you copied it on the sequencer?

Yes, the samples were produced from guitars. But the patterns are done on the sequencer.

Wasn’t that a compromise for you on songs like "Out Of Sight" or "Out Of Mind" which are very heavy. I would love to hear a live drummer like, say, Simon Philips. So you never thought about having a real drummer on these kind of songs? You wanted to have it completely Midi?

Yes .

And it wasn’t a compromise?

No, not a compromise. I do what I do, because I feel that it’s the right thing and I’m satisfied in what I’ve done (laughs).

I know you love to work on your own, but didn’t you had very fruitful collaborations with other musicians or producers in the past, which you could do in the future as well?

No, well possibly, but not at the moment, no.

Why did you decide to work on some project with a producer and some not?

Why? Well it feels like the right decision, you see. I don’t go around thinking, why would I do this, should I do this, why because of this. 

I spontaneously think "this is the right thing to do" and I will do that. There’s no reason why. On the "Millennium Bell" album I don’t need a producer. I have a musical director who does orchestrations and we’ve got a big string orchestra on it .

Is that already recorded?

Yeah, but there is one section where I would like to work with some re-mixes, but instead of re-mixing my track I will work with me on it, we won’t have to do a re-mix. It’s a sort of dance section just before the Millennium Bell, actual bell sound which I’ve asked "Roland" in Japan to help design the sound, so there will be a patch on every "Roland" synthesizer with the Millennium Bell .

Called "Millennium Bell"?

Yes, that’s what I’ve asked for, yes. These are decisions which I come to, you know, there isn’t a reason why. I simply think "that would be a good idea". Also there’s going to be a Rap track on it, which I’ve asked Maxi Jazz from Faithless if he would do a Rap track for me, which describes the period of slavery in the middle of this millennium, and he’s thinking if he can do something. And there’s no reason why, I wanted to do a Rap track and I never done one and I tried it. Well I can make this work.

After the Millennium Bell on the album will there be another song like an outlook to the next millennium?


Will the general mood of this song be positive?

Yes, well it starts... it’s like wiping away complete the past, you know. I know it’s one very difficult thing for human beings to do to let go of the past. What happened has happened. You can’t change it. You can learn from it. It seems like to reach such a big point. It’s like O.K. that was pretty tough, we learnt something, so let’s completely start again! That’s the mood of this little hymn. It starts with a soprano voice, one white and one black and then this big choir comes in, which I’ve done this South African choir singing in Swahili, singing the words in African and all this drums, and it’s a fabulous sound.

Does that mean that you see the millennium change as a potential positive step change for human kind?

Yes, I do. If you think ... I’m convinced that the next stage of human evolution has got to be some kind of spiritual way. We can learn all the science we can, we can probably clone human beings, you know, but a real step in the evolution has got to be in a spiritual way. And if you think that since the sixties with the birth of new age movement, the first step toward it is understanding the psychology of yourself . Most people live in a kind of trance, blaming their parents, their childhood, their school, the government for something. They don’t take any responsibility for themselves, so, I can change something if I don’t like it. I don’t have to blame someone for it.

That’s the first step, and I think certainly in the last ten, twenty years, the whole movement toward self awareness has become the center page of every single newspaper now in the world, which didn’t exist. And I think this is a very positive thing. There is a lot of bullshit of course, but eventually in one thousand years from now when there’s another millennium change, we will be very different creatures to what we are now and I will do my little part to make them good creatures and not bad horrible ones, I hope.

Have you probably read the book "The Celestine Prophesy" which influenced me very much in this thinking? 

Yes, exactly that kind of thing. That’s incredible that book, such a best-seller.

All around the world .


What kind of ideas, dreams do you still have whichmight be difficult to realise even for you, the well known Mike Oldfield?

No nothing, well things are difficult but there’s nothing that can’t be achieved given enough time.

Like the Tubular World, the virtual reality project?

Yes, exactly like that, yes, which I’m going to get back to after the Millennium project.

When do you expect to have this ready?

It’s virtually ready. I’ve done a lot of the music for it, all the 3D models are built, the software to construct it is written, although it has to be re-written for PC’s .

Is the speed of the processor already there?

Well, the high end ones, but still you have to pay quite a lot of money to get one of these machines. For example the machine I built it on cost 120.000 pounds, now you get the same performance for 10.000 pounds. I think in 3 years you get the same performance for 100 pounds. Then it becomes possible for everybody to experience it, otherwise it becomes a thing in an exhibition.

And then you can further improve it .

Yes, it’s a lovely thing to work on, I just love it! One of the most difficult things was getting an interface, a really beautiful one, a mouse, it’s a very primitive thing, so I tried a space mouse.

Is it possible to modify the music while being in this world?

Oh yes! The music not only does it draw you in certain directions in the virtual landscape it can also change the tempo of the music. We just started to get the thing to respond to Midi, to have little samples in it. I don’t know technically how it will end up, probably be something ridiculous, maybe when the Internet speeds up with fiber optic cables or something. Somehow I will do it (laughs). I don’t know how, but it’s certainly not impossible. It will happen somehow. There was already one on the "Songs Of Distant Earth", a little one, you have seen it?

Yes, I played with it. You said that the "Millennium Bell" album will be the highlight of your career. The most important project so far.

Yes, I think so.

Why do you rate this album as so important?

....You said another why question!!

Oh sorry. Kill me.

(Mike laughs loudly!)

It just feels what it feels like, it feels like everything I’ve learnt, everything I’ve done was designed to teach me how to do this project, it’s what I feel, it’s what my life has been about. 

What about the "Millennium Concert", have you planned it for New Years Eve?

Yes, New Years Eve, it’s planned to be in a place called "Jubilee Garden" which is right by the Thames in the center of London. There are two Government sponsored shows that night, one of them is in the Millennium Dome which is a big spectacular. Peter Gabriel has written the music for. I don’t know if he’s performing there, and the other one is my concert in "Jubilee Garden".

Is there any special performance planed?

We’ll have the nucleus of this rock band, perhaps a couple of more people if we need them, we’ll have a fifty piece string orchestra, a couple of woodwind, an opera singer, two child sopranos, a rapper, we will have a fifty piece choir, black and white, mostly South African as I just love the sound of that. We’ve had to design a Millennium Bell object. I don’t know, either I will hit it or trigger it. And as it is on the Themes we might have some of these curtains of water that we can project images on to. I think there will be an enormous amount of fireworks. I don’t know about lasers yet, but we’re going to make a documentary film to go along with the whole thing. A big thing!

Will there be only one performance?

No, we’ll tour it. I don’t know if we can tour it like this, it’s a much bigger production . It’ll be much more, for example the city of Hamburg wanted to celebrate something, a 500 years celebration, we would go there in the same way Jean-Michele Jarre does his things for Houston and Docklands. We want to be able to do that kind of thing.

What about Berlin?

Berlin would be fabulous!

You’ve worked with classical orchestras throughout your whole career for example on "Orchestral Tubular Bells" , the "Exposed"-tour, on "Mont St.Michel" and now on "Millennium Bell". Would you like to perform your songs live with a big orchestra on tour?

No, if things are written for orchestra, that’s fine. But doing orchestral versions of things which were never be supposed to be orchestral just doesn’t work. I didn’t like Orchestral Tubular Bells or any of that stuff, but when I think this is an orchestral thing then that’s fine. 

I’ve already seen your concert. The highlight of your show if you rate the reaction of the audience is "Ommadawn". 

Yes, definitely. That’s right. 

Why don’t you play a little bit more of your older stuff to satisfy your audience? Ups, another "Why" questions! (laughs).

(Mike laughs loudly!)

O.K. let me try another one.

(Mike laughs loudly again)

Let’s be the last question a "why" one, yes?

O.K. (laughs)

Even the most positive reviews of your live performances of the 90's end with a negative comment, that the concerts are simply too short. 75 minutes of Tubular Bells II 1993 and Tubular Bells III in London and the 90 minutes of your current tour is quite short compare to concerts other artists. Why don’t you play a little bit longer?

Well I’d rather they say that, than it should be a bit shorter (laughs)

That’s right.

(laughs) That’s why.

Thank you, Mike, and good luck for the show.

Thank you.

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield