In this world, everything has a pulse or a vibration. This sound is unique to each living or non-living thing and in itself creates a music that no-one can hear. I believe that this has a very powerful resonance with, and a deep effect on, our lives. What would happen if we took this further and applied it to bigger things, more powerful things; like an entire solar system or galaxy say, what would that sound like?
Musica Universalis is the ancient theory that every every celestial body, the sun, the moon and the stars, has an inner music. This is a harmonic and mathematical concept derived from the movements of the planets in the solar system. The music created is inaudible to the human ear.
Music of the Spheres is my interpretation of this theory. Every planet and every star; the whole universe has music within it that no-one can hear. This is what it would sound like if it was set free. This is Music of the Spheres.
Taking this as a beginning, Music of the Spheres should have been a very different work. Not in vain Mike Oldfield had already been in outer space before, in 1994 with The Songs of Distant Earth. However, MotS is surprisingly different, because it’s totally classic: just a symphony orchestra, a piano, a soprano and classic guitar. Oddly, in 2001 another musician, Vangelis, dedicated his album Mythodea to the Nasa Mars Odyssey space mission, and it was also a classical album, an opera in fact.
The lacks of MotS comes from the self-imposed restrictions of the symphonic approach. Oldfield got help from well-known Karl Jenkins, and even so, MotS is simple: absence of counterpoint and absence of timbric colour reach a poor climax. Only at a few moments the piano played by virtuous Lang Lang or the classic guitar by Oldfield himself bring out over the strings and brass that carry the weight of the composition, make it going forward through marked ostinatos or slow it down, together with Haley Westenra soprano voice.
Mike Oldfield’s fans face every new album with the same worry: what has been called ‘tubularism’, the more or less explicit references to Tubular Bells. All over his career, Oldfield has planted his work with references, winks, homages and self-plagiarism. Sometimes this references are subtle and well fitted in the whole and are welcome by listeners; other times, they’re so evident that they make a weak favour. Sadly, MotS belongs to the latter group: Harbinger and Musica Universalis, first and last album’s themes, are so similar in construction to Tubular Bells that some people call this album contemptuously ‘tubular bells 4’, unfairly looking down on the music between both themes, although it contains more subtle references to the same Tubular Bells and Ommadawn. Debate about ‘tubularism’, its pertinence, if it can be considered a form of signature or an example of lack of creativity has been taking place over the net for a long time now.
If a composition ever asked for a change of instrumentation, it was this one. It’s not a bad album, but it might have been much better and would have hide its deficiencies only if Oldfield had moved the symphonic away and had used a more contemporary approach, totally electronic like The Songs of Distant Earth or electro-acoustic, so Music of the Spheres would have become a real ‘tubular bells 4’.