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Mike at the leading edge

Oldfieldian source: Philip Bendall.

Mike has always worked at the leading edge of technology, and this technology has influences the style of his music, and his compositional technique.

When he made TB the overdubbing techniques which he and Tom Newman used squeezed the most out of the technology which was available to them at that time. If Tubular Bells had been recorded in 1963 it would have sounded very different, just as it would have in 1983.

Mike's trend of embracing emerging technology continued throughout the 1970s, especially with Mike's foray into quadraphonic sound during 1975-78. Significantly, the impact of quad was both in composition and in mixing. For example, Incantations was plainly composed with 4 channel sound in mind (and this mentioned by Mike in an interview with Derek Jewel at the time), even if the format was dying by the time Mike was doing the final mixing.

Punk had little impact on Mike, since from a production and compositional perspective it was at best sideways step in the evolution of popular music.

Mike grabbed the vocoder with both hands when it came out, with this device making significant appearance throughout QE2 and FMO. Elsewhere on the music scene it was appearing in "breakdancing music." It is now apparant to me that the vocal on Sheba is, stylistically, a slightly slowed rap (be it in a "foreign" language which you cant ever understand). Drop in a hip-hop beat in behind this track in your mind and you will see what I mean.

Mike had one of the very first Fairlight CMI's of each model as they were released. These machines had a significant impact on the style and composition of his music in the 80's. You can hear New Wave then Corporate Rock styles in these albums simply because the rise of these styles relied on this and other emerging technologies to evolve the popular trend. By way of example, you couldn't make synth-pop songs before synthesisers were widely available to musicians; and Trevor Horn couldnt make "Franky Goes To Hollywood" sounding music without digital technology.

More recently, the advent of samplers has permitted the evolution of modern dance music, the explosion of rap music (which actually dates back much further than many people realise) and the other predominant trends of today. Mike embraced samplers from their earliest availability, incorporating their ability as a prime compositional tool, particularly in his more complicated "cut & paste" soundscapes which were difficult to imagine prior to digital technology. For example, while Amarok was made with "real" instruments, I would argue that the actual composition itself evolved only because digital equipment was available.

In general, I do not agree with the proposition that Mike has only just recently been jumping on the lastest trendy bandwagon of musical styles. It might appear this way on the surface after a cursory glance, but an in depth analysis of his canon reveals otherwise.

I would propose that this evolution and incorporation has been a continuous process but you need to take a step back to gain this perspective. I suggest that he has always been progressive in this regard (and he damn well knows it too, even if he hasnt always admitted it). What he his doing at the moment is no different to what he has always done. Of course, what makes him "Mike Oldfield" is the *way* in which he does it - for that is his genius. By way of obvious examples: Guilty and Platinum put an ear to the disco trend, many of his pop songs of the 80's were in the style of the day, and recent excursions have nodded to the dancefloor. I propose the reason for this is that Mike has always, and continues to, embrace the latest musical technology, and that it is the ability of such technology to manipulate sound which has evolved the style and "sound" of popular trends in music over the last 30 years.

For this reason, we have no reason to hold any particular fear when we discover that Mike is incorporating any particular modern(sic) style - such as a rap section - into his current work. Sure, like any particular excursion, it might turn out to be good, bad or indifferent - we wont know until we hear it. But the adoption or incorporation of any particular style in itself need not be cause for alarm.

What I mean is this: imagine yourself if you were back in 1974, and TB and HR were your favourite albums in the whole world. Then you heard this rumour that Mike's next album was going to feature a big section with African drums banging away, and another bit with a bunch of school kids singing a song about riding horses and making cars ;-)

Yes, I think you would be pretty worried, eh?! And then a few months later you put Ommadawn onto your turntable for it's first spin.....

Philip Bendall New Zealand

Created: 18 August, 2004 - Last changed: 2 December, 2005 - Comments (2)