The bell of Oldfield

November, 1999

Mike Oldfield already left the lows <'Niederungen', in German fig. for something considered as simple, primitive> of conventional pop music long time ago - if he has ever walked in them. After all, even the debut album of the then 20-year old was a work of orchestral dimensions: Tubular Bells immediately sold over 8 million copies and became a success for the ingenious-stubborn musician Oldfield as well as for the new label of its eccentric founder Richard Branson, who published Mike Oldfield as a first artist 1973 on Virgin Records.

And the mighty sound of the bells does not let the Englishman alone in the second millenium as well. With The Millenium Bell, Oldfield, just in time for the turn of an era, publishes his personal review on 2000 years of history of mankind. Suitably, he confirmed his participation in a Millenium concert in the last New Year's Eve of the old millenium, which takes place in front of the victory column <'Siegessaeule'> in Berlin, presenting a hot-discussed light-show, designed by director Gerd Hoff (Rammstein and 'Einst'rzende Neubauten', among others).

Well, "Gold Else" <colloquial German for the 'Siegessaeule> will survive this as well, with the annual 'Love Parade' already being a good training to get accustomed to giantism. And Oldfield's music at least has more substance than Dr. Motte's <German techno DJ, founder of the Berlin 'Love Parade'> neo hippie gibberish, even if in the interview by Bjorn Doering, he does not always present his 'chocolate side' <i.e. his attractive side, best manners/moods>. What we can expect from the new album: It was to be only heard so far that this is your personal musical review of the past 2000 years?

Mike Oldfield: [ bored, to his manager ] Could you answer this question, Carolyn? Just give them that small speech, which I have been preaching already all day long.

Manager: It is round. [ Oldfield laughs aloud ] and it has a hole in the center [ still more laughter ] If that is all, then we can already finish the discussion here?

Oldfield: No, we have Anne Frank on the record. Or rather the voice of Anne. An excerpt from their diaries. [ Manager hands him a note ] Oh, that are probably the texts <lyrics?>? But aren't they in the wrong order? It begins with the Christmas story and a description of the Inka realm in Peru. The third track deals with the discovery of America, followed by a reflection of the time of the slavery. And then... [ hesitates ] these letters are so small, I cannnot read them at all. What comes next? Oh yes, those are the days of the Venecian realm and we have a phase, which is very romantic and is played by a large orchestra.

Afterwards sometime the gangster period follows, for which I used the style of a James Bond-like melody, in order to remind of the days of the prohibition. Next follows a description of times of war, which is played by a piano together with an orchestra and ends with a Harmonica. The excerpt from the diary of Anne Franc is followed by samples and noises, which represent a symbol for the meaning of the media and for the digital age.

And finally there is the singing of a small boy, whom we recorded in the St. Paul's Cathedral and which represents a hymn to the next 1000 years. This is followed by an African choir and a trip into techno-style, interspersed by small reprises of all the previous parts. An English DJ helped me with this track, which finally ends with a Russian dance. How long did it take to write and record all these parts?

Oldfield: Altogether I probably worked five or six months on it. I divided the work into two sections: The songwriting took place in March and April, interrupted by our large summer tour with the band, and finally in August I picked up the work again. I finished on Friday, 5 November. Did you always take a mobile recording studio with you for the recordings in the different locations?

Oldfield: No, the music was in my head. I had just my head with me and the ideas that are in it. From these small ideas I can create large compositions, since I learned a few techniques over the years, which make it easier for me to find my way through complex structures. In former times I would have needed two years to write such an album. But of course also my arranger, who wrote the entire orchestra parts, helped me. We recorded some parts in the famous Abbey Road studios in London, others in my small house. If you approach your work with the requirement to bring about a review on 2000 years of history in the form of music then the selection of historical events would surely be the most difficult part of the work?

Oldfield: No, not really. Because as soon as I start working, my proceeding becomes very intuitive. I dive into a kind of trance condition, until I wake up again from this trance after some days with a new piece of music. In the process of working, I limit the planned part of the preparations to an absolute minimum. What, however, were the reasons, which led you to the selection of these special historical events?

Oldfield: I just decided to take them. I made my choice. Nothing more. Naturally, there would have been one million different ways to compose and record this album, but I have not done that. I decided for one way. Don't you fear that your audience or the critics could consider this selection as superficial or doubtful?

Oldfield: If I had these fears, then I would have already had to stop my career very long time ago. My work was rejected so often, I had so many bad reviews for my records. You cannot work creatively if you are afraid of meeting this hostility, you have to love the things which you create and you have to have the courage to make your way. I am quite confident that now people will come, in order to give me clever advice, about all I forgot or what I would better not have mentioned. But that does not matter to me, because I made my selection and I am happy with it. You cannot be an artist, if you are afraid of what the people might say. Will you go on tour with this album ?

Oldfield: No, in no case. Except, someone offers me again such an enormous concert as in Berlin. I love the concept of giving some few event concerts with this album. Now, what about the Millenium concert on 31.12.1999 in Berlin?

Oldfield: I even cannot tell exactly myself, since we just signed the contract for the concert at the beginning of November 1999. On one hand this Millenium Show is very helpful as publicity campaign for you, on the other hand people only talk about this one day and not about artistic contents. Can you transfer contents at all?

Oldfield: That is completely irrelevant, whether I can transfer contents, nobody is interested in them anyway. The date is important, the time, the place, the attention is important. I wanted to be simply part of a gigantic thing, because I like these event concerts. Berlin is a large city, even more it is the capital of Germany. So many things happened here: Good things, bad things. I would like to transfer a good feeling with my music, which surely has to do much with this special city. The world looks at Berlin for many different reasons, the city is in the focus of the world. Was it a difficult decision-making process for you, before you assured your participation in the Milleniums concert?

Oldfield: Not at all. I just said: "Yes, please." But if you look at the lightshow for this Event, then you can not refrain from certain associations to fascism - particularly the concert takes place where the Nazis in former times celebrated torch-light parades?

Oldfield: Many people say so, but I do not feel that way at all. What can be fascist about a dome of light, which consists of many light columns? With a torch-light parade by the 'Brandenburger Tor', the Nazis already celebrated Hitler's election for chancellor, with many other bad occasions following.

Oldfield: I will give a positive meaning to this ambiguous symbol with my music. It is a fantastic light show, which gets a very spiritual character from my music. That is my hope. However, the light-choreography is similar to the ones used by Hitler's architect Albert Speer for the 'Reichsparteitage' or the Olympic Games?
Oldfield: But you cannot blame a simple light. The light is neutral, nevertheless.

Oldfield's Manager: In addition, it would be rather crazy to put an English musician on the stage if you want to organize a Nazi concert. You cannot regard an Englishman as a Nazi, nevertheless. The problem is simply in the fact that you should not necessarily put certain symbols into the foreground in Germany, because they are historically compromised and can be misused by the wrong people? Thus, the musicians of the band 'Rammstein' are not accused of being Nazis. It is only questionable whether someone should use just this Leni Riefenstahl look, in order to sell records.

Oldfield: Leni who? What kind of Look do you mean? The well-trained muscleman.

Oldfield: Ah, these aryan types, I understand. But I stick to the fact that you cannot blame a light for a historical event. Did you ever imagine the alternative that you could spend this millenium change in pleasant company with friends and family?

Oldfield: [ snarls <twangs, whatever??> ] No. Normally I do not even celebrate new year's eve, because I do not like this hurly-burly. But the beginning of a new millenium is something very special, after all, therefore I would like to be at an important place and do something that can mobilize a lot of energy. I would like to do something, which has as large an effect as possible on as many people as possible.

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield