Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells

Concentration of power in 20th century became devastating to the structures of traditional society. After decades and centuries of drawing creative ideas from the country, then creating more unified, universal output and selling this product back to the wide area, the very same procedure endangered possibilities of surviving of the traditional culture. Totalitarian state gave enough evidence that political power is not emanation of transcendental will but comes from subconscious fears and desires of the people. After the Holocaust most of the Europeans perceived the Holocaust as something that exceeded the human ability to understand and that it was not possible to re-experience such a traumatic event. Only little fraction of society noticed the connection between hierarchical social structures and modern rituals, between political and economic power and secular or religious institutions. Only few chose quiet rebellion against centralisation and mass culture. In many cases this became the pillar of counterculture. Creating alternative culture outside the centers, capitals or metropolises, living on countryside, practicing new age philosophy, vegetarian cuisine, world music or ecology – no matter if it’s anti-fur campaign or waste segregation, all this became the new style of life and manifestation of something much bigger than only a new manner. This was the direction chosen by young English composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield.

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells (1973)

After early musical experiences with popular music based on english folklore Mike Oldfield tried something more complex. He used possibilities of multitrack recorder and made his debut recording. For the first time in history of music complete orchestral composition was playing by one instrumentalist. New technology, modern studio and especially the Ampex 16-track tape recorder gave composer a chance to overdub parts and instruments and to build orchestral structures just by adding one layer after another. Freedom of building any structure he like was the liberation from the dictate of tradition. Maybe this is why two parts of composition remain untitled. For both sides of the record editor gave only credits and timing - side 1 composed by Mike Oldfield - 25:00, side 2 composed by Mike Oldfield - 23:50. Content of both sides is characterized on back cover by listings of instruments. Mike Oldfield used wide range of acoustic and electric guitars, fuzz guitar, speed guitar, bass guitar, even guitars sounding like bagpipes and mandolin-like guitar. The same with keyboard instruments, from Grand Piano and Glokenspiel through Farfisa Organ, Hammond Organ, Lowrey Organ to Honky Tonk Piano. Mike Oldfield played also assorted percussion instruments Concert Tympani and marked in italics Tubular Bells. There were also side men – Lindsay L. Cooper on oboe, Jon Fields with flutes, Steve Broughton on drums and vocalists Mundy Ellis and Sally Oldfield.
Debut Tubular Bells was much more than only a new album of popular music, it was a great creative attempt of taking advance in artistic discourse of post-war generation of Europeans. The structure of composition is based on folk and mediaeval models of musical construction where themes are repeated with small changes or in exact form but with changing one parameter – instrumentation, tempo, rhythm or key. Theme of characteristic, close to English folk tune melodic idiom and construction rules made Tubular Bells stylish try of fixing the connection between historical and contemporary mode of transposition folk culture into concert music. It was composer’s conscious choice. Modern technology promotes one musician to be an orchestra and any private room makes a concert hall. On back of the record cover editor placed few jokes about possibility of playing the record on old mono-equipment and handing old equipment to the nearest police station.

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