Imagine a composer taking his most successful work and 20 years later following the original's blueprint to the letter: identical dynamics, tonalities, harmonic and rhythmic progressions--everything exactly the same . . . except the melodies, which would be totally different.
That is what English musician Mike Oldfield did with "Tubular Bells 2," which reworks the formula of his most famous composition, the 1973 album-length composition "Tubular Bells." The first version, a mostly instrumental piece known best for its opening section, the haunting passage that became the theme for the movie "The Exorcist," sold 15 million copies worldwide and was the first big seller for fledgling Virgin Records.
"Tubular Bells 2," released last year by Warner Bros. Records, is constructed exactly along the lines of the original, but with different melodies. It's an impressive achievement, and one that for fans of the first version stirs a curious sort of deja vu .
But it begs the question: Why?
"Actually, I got the idea from films," said Oldfield, a movie buff. "A lot of film sequels weren't good, but some were better than the first ones. 'Aliens' was miles better than 'Alien.'
"So I got the idea of a sequel," he continued, sitting in the garden of his Hollywood Hills home. "No one had done it with music like this. . . . In film, a sequel has the same characters but in a different setting. I had the piano in the beginning build to a climax, so now I have the same piano and climax, but a different tune."
The piece will make up the bulk of a concert on Friday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, with Oldfield playing guitar in front of a 45-piece ensemble. (In addition to the official evening concert, there will be a free presentation at 4 p.m.) This will be Oldfield's first-ever L.A. concert and his first U.S. appearance with an orchestra. He made his U.S. debut in April at New York's Carnegie Hall with a rock-oriented backing band.
Oldfield, 40, admits to a certain amount of commercial calculation in this return to his most popular work. He's had his successes, especially in England and Europe, since "Tubular Bells"--including his soundtrack music for the Oscar-winning film "The Killing Fields" and the song "Family Man," which was a hit for him in most of the world and a U.S. smash for Hall & Oates.
But this was also a chance to exorcise some of his own past demons. The success of "Tubular Bells," he said, was overwhelming for a 19-year-old, as was the relative commercial failure of two similarly structured follow-up albums, "Hergest Ridge" and "Ommadawn."
"(Success) freaked me out," he said. "I put a pillow on the phone and moved to a little cottage. I eventually got back to reality through psychotherapy--rebirth experience, primal scream, I tried everything. Rebirth showed me I was scared of my birth, and 'Tubular Bells' was like my birth. . . . If anything, the new one seems happier. 'Tubular Bells 1' is a bit broody."
Now what he'd like to exorcise are his unsolicited ties to two musical movements: the "classical-rock" wave of the '70s and the New Age style of recent times. The former connection came largely through the ambitious structures of his extended pieces, the latter from the often Impressionistic aura of his instrumental works.
"Classical-rock is like things done by Deep Purple or ELP, where the band played a rock thing and then the orchestra did a pathetic classical-like thing," he said with a scowl. "I hate any connection between me and that. And I also hate New Age. That term used to mean 'Hair' and the Age of Aquarius. Now it's stuff for getting your hair done and relaxing. It's just boring ."
So what to call him?
"I'm just me . . . Pythonesque-world-classical-folk-whatever."