Artist Spotlight: Mike Oldfield

Oldfield’s compositions serve as the crossroads between many genres

Artist Spotlight: Mike Oldfield

With over two million monthly listeners on Spotify from all over the globe, Mike Oldfield’s musical masterpieces provide a gateway into new genres. 

Throughout his career, Oldfield has experimented with progressive rock, mainstream pop and cinematic music, while also blending elements of jazz, Celtic folk and neoclassical music into his work. 

Born in 1953, Oldfield could pick up instruments and learn them quickly from a young age. While his immersion in multiple genres and vast array of instruments might seem scattered, he manages to create unified albums that are strung together with commonalities. Selections from his recordings have even been featured in movies, television and video game soundtracks. 

One of his most well-known albums, “Tubular Bells,” was used in the 1973 film The Exorcist

“Tubular Bells,” released in 1973, is an ethereal, multi-instrument composition. “Tubular Bells- Pt. 1,” is a 26-minute piece that, of course, features tubular bells, along with other instruments such as the mandolin, glockenspiel and two different types of organs. The piece also contains a phenomenal string section that adds layers to the already complex composition. 

In 1992, Oldfield released “Tubular Bells II,” which topped the British charts at its release. 

Instead of a 26-minute piece, the second rendition of “Tubular Bells” has 14 shorter pieces that, if played consecutively, sound as though they are one continuous composition. “Tubular Bells II” features unique vocals as well, and though it shares some similarities to the original “Tubular Bells,” it is quite different. 

The seventh song on “Tubular Bells II” features Alan Rickman, who introduces each instrument featured in the composition. 

This allows the listener to distinguish between various instruments, including a reed-and-pipe organ, two slightly sampled electric guitars and the iconic tubular bells. All throughout, the original base line is still detectable, even with many layers added on top of it. “Tubular Bells II” takes listeners on a powerful and winding journey, a testament to Oldfield’s talent. While listeners may debate which “Tubular Bells” album is best, it’s safe to say they are both wildly complex and acclaimed masterpieces. 

Oldfield’s other albums, such as “The Songs of Distant Earth,” play with different elements like spoken word and biblical references. Additionally, Oldfield often re-records his compositions, so it can be interesting to compare early recordings to the recordings of today. Oldfield also continues to tour, including this year's Tubular Bells The 50th Anniversary Celebration tour across the United Kingdom. 

Mike Oldfield's musical career has been nothing if not diverse and experimental. Yet, because he utilizes many instruments and genres, his works provide listeners with a platform for pure discovery. 

This article was edited by Sara Winick, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Olivia Citarella.

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