The Songs of Distant Earth
By Elf (Hogne Boe Pettersen), January 10, 1995
Since I've been a Mike Oldfield fan for years, every album from him is a highlight in my life. And in the past 5 years (apart from the awful Heavens Open from 91) he has released only great albums. Many people say that Oldfield made the spark that started New Age music with Tubular Bells. And a lot of ambient/house muscicians (Orb for instance) has spoken highly of Oldfield when asked where their musical inspiration comes from. Oldfield has through the years mixed rock, classical, jazz, folk music and ethnic music just as he pleased. Combined with a great talent and maximum use of studio technology he has by many been considered to be a genius. He just simply explains that he wants to show the world that you can make music out of anything.
Oldfield has always had a foot inside of the rock genre, though a lot of his albums are filled with atmospheric sounds and really beautifull moments with soaring feelings. But on his latest album he goes in a direction wich he has only hinted at before (for instance Island and Tubular Bells II). On this album he uses a lot of synth and sampled sounds, combined with his beautifull guitarwork. It seems like he has been listening a lot to chart toppers like Enigma, Deep Forest and such. But he only takes back the influences wich they have taken from him through the years. (Oldfield and Cretu has worked together in the past.) This, combined with his blending talent, creates a 50 minute long journey through a book by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Songs of Distant Earth." Clarke has written on the cover about the book, and there will also be a CD-ROM release of the album shortly. Here is a rewiev of the album, track by track although I think Oldfield wants the whole thing to be regarded as one composition.
1. In the beginning 01:24
The track opens slowly with a special sound rising. Soon a sample of Bill Anders quoting from The Book of Genesis aboard Apollo8, whilst orbiting the Moon in Chrismas 1968 is heard. In the background female choir samples build the track up beautifully, while some sequencer sounds are moving up and down in your speakers.
2. Let There Be Light 04:52
One of the best tracks on the album, and sets one of the main themes for the composition. In track 1 drums suddenly start with a slow beat and we enter track 2. A typical Oldfield guitar sets the main theme and 2 minutes out in the track we are presented to a woman singing very Loreena McKennit like. Big choir samples fills the background but stops when a child takes over the singing. The track slows down and the astronaut is heard again, saying: Let there be light. The guitar comes back again, and in the background we hear astrounaut samples sounding very much like the ones in Enigmas The Eyes of Truth. The track then slows down with the sound of an air attack warning, and a guitar and choir starts the theme wich we will hear in track 3. The drums disappear and the guitar stops and we are in track 3.
3. Supernova 03:29
Some very ambientsounding synths fills the sound picture, and an accoustic guitar keeps repeating the theme wich we heard at the end of track 2. Soon an Enigma like flute plays very pationately in the background. Soon more and more instruments come in, but they are all just repeating the theme over and over again. Then an explosion is heard and a sample of Oldfields voice is heard. It all builds up so nicely that the track does not get boring. Drums and explosion leads in to track 4.
4. Magellan 04:41
A ticking sound builds up a nice effect in the background, while a synth builds up the theme of the track. Then suddenly drums kick in and some great bagpipe samples repeats the track theme. The drums that build up the beat dissapear and a piano comes in, and some beautifull female vocals are heard in the background. Oldfields guitar comes on top of this and soon his vocal samples are back. When the samples dissapear the guitar is back again.
5. First Landing 01:16
Suddenly, without noticing it, you are in track 5. The guitar plays a few bars and then the ticking sound slows down, and a sample of something sounding like a interference on radio is introduced. They start at a high pitch (alomst hurts in the earphones) and then goes lower and lower. A new theme is introduced with something that sounds like screaming voices in a loop. The ticking comes and goes in waves in the background and soon the voice loop fades away together with the sound of an engine stopping.
6. Oceania 03:27
The track starts with drums building up the rythm just before the eninge sound dissapears. The theme from track 2 is repeated with the same guitar, but in the background we hear choir samples and a totally different rythm. A piano plays before the guitar takes over again. The guitar stops and we hear an accoustic guitar repeating the same note over and over again, sounding like a radar beeping. It goes with the rythm, and in the background we hear the sound of seagulls and ocean waves. A guitar starts playing and the rythm dissapears, except for the "radar". Soon all sounds fade away except for the "radar". It goes on for a while and then a synth comes in and takes us to the next track.
7. Only Time Will Tell 04:19
A rythm starts consisting of drums and glockenspiel. A sampled voice keeps repeating "only time will tell" and "only time". The "radar" is still heard and in the background we hear choir samples done in a way that I've never heard before. Then the track is filled with samples of voices. first a woman howling out something in the left speaker, and then a child answers her in the right speaker. The woman sounds very Enigma like and the child sounds very Deep Forest like. This goes on for a while, and new voices are added and some are removed. It sounds very atmospheric and beautiful. The track stops and a woman sings something and then the guitar in the next track takes over.
8. Prayer for the Earth 02:10
A syntsound goes in the background of this track adding a great atmosphere. A guitar plays and then a guy named Nils-Aslak Valkepaa comes in with a samii- chant. (Valkepaa is a norwegian samii who has worked with a lot of international people, and he also performed on the opening of the Olympic Wintergames in Lillehammer 94.) The sami-chant is the main theme from a norwegian film called Pathfinder (it earned an oscar nomination) and I think Oldfield has sampled the whole theme. Deep male choir samples and a new guitar makes this track in to a beautiful experience. (To those who don't know what sami-chants sounds like, just listen to Return to innocence with Enigma.)
9. Lament for Atlantis 02:44
When track 8 has almost faded away, this track starts. It starts with a piano playing the theme of track 4 in a very quiet and gentle way, with lots of different synthsounds in the background. A sampled voice comes in now and then and more and more sounds are added, including guitar and horns. All the time repeating the same theme. Then everything settles down, and a very varm and quiet synth sound keeps repeating the theme and then fades away. There is a break between track 9 and 10 but it is not even a second long, so I still consider them linked. (This is the place where LP and MC owners must turn to side B)
10. The Chamber 01:49
A choir starts this track. It is humming a very beautiful theme, and in the background samples of voices and other sounds can be heard. This goes on through the whole track.
11. Hibernaculum 03:32
A drum beat starts, the background instruments changes and the choir continues humming the same theme as in 10. A Deep Forest sounding sample cries out and a gregorian choir starts chanting with the same theme as melody. (This track is the most Enigma sounding track of all, and it also features a lot of Deep Forest sounding samples so it is not hard to understand that this is the first single from the album.) Now and then african chants can be heard in the background. The humming comes back and then the gregorian chanting starts again. This is going on for a while. The drums stop and the choir enters an echo loop.
12. Tubular World 03:23
A woman cries out (very machinlike): Enter! Then some bell-like samples starts a theme wich is very similar to (yep, you guessed it) Tubular Bells but it also contains the theme of the screaming vioces in track 5. . A guitar joins in, and a bass starts building up a rythm. Then the drums start and different voice samples are "singing" on top of it. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album, it is very catchy and just great. More drums join in and the tracks gets even better, and more voice samples are put in. After a while all instruments except the drums and some background noices dissapear. The drums fade and a small explosion like sound can be heard.
13. The Shining Ones 02:59
A looped synthesizer sound starts just after the explosion. It sounds so simple that you could almost think it was taken from a Commodore 64. It then goes to the background and a bassline is introduced. A flute starts playing the main theme of this track, and a guitar comes in as well. The track goes quiet and all that can be heard is the synth-loop. A tambla drum is introduced and the track continues like it was before the little break. The track goes quiet once more and the loop leads us into the next track.
14. Crystal Clear 05:42
A drumbeat starts and a ticking can be heard in the background. An accoustic guitar plays in the left speaker, and is "answered" by an electric guitar. A male voice says Crystal Clear and talks every now and then throughout the track. Some other voice samples can be heard and the guitars continues their "conversation". More instruments are added and a cool synthsound replaces the guitar. But it is not playing the same theme as the guitars. The guitars reappear and the voice starts a (very slow) countdown from 10 to 0. He then says Now, and a space ship takes off. A drumbeat that is very similar to the one used in Return to Innocence with Enigma starts and a beautifull guitar solo is heard. This goes on for a while then the guitar solo stops and the drums continue with some other guitars on top until the sound that started the album appears. The drums contiune and a sample of bubbles in deep water appears. The drums then stop and we are in track 15.
15. The Sunken Forest 02:39
A sample of a female choir can be heard and the 64-sounding synth loop comes back, but slightly different this time. And synthesizer starts with the theme of the song, and wind-chimes can be heard in the background. A male choir also joins in and this goes on for a while. Then a lot of machine samples come in and when they stop the next track starts.
16. Ascension 05:48
A drumbeat starts and a choir starts singing the theme of track 3. Samples of astronauts speaking can be heard, and a guitar also plays. More choir comes in and this goes on until the guitar repeats the theme of track 2. The coir goes away, and some other synthsounds appear. Then the theme from track 3 comes back with choir for a while and then the theme from track 2 starts again with the same guitar. The song then changes theme and a rock guitar starts playing a new theme together with the guitar used previous in the track. Then a lot of guitar joins together with orchestral drums for a very intense and a bit too long climax. When this stops, the drums have changed (but still playing the same rythm) and the theme from track 7 reappears with the same voice samples and the guitar "radar" wich was used in that track. The voice that says Enter comes back and the track change back to the theme from track 3 with the sample from Oldfields voice. The track ends with several explosions wich after a while fades.
17. A New Beginning 01:33
Before the explosions dissapear this track starts. It consists only of african chants, and is performed by the choir Vahine Taihara. Sounds pretty cool and it sounds like a big choir. Some of the african samples that are heard throughout the album is taken from this track.
All in all this is a very good album. It is beautifull and almost hypnotizing at times, but if you are not in the mood for this kind of music it can be boring. If you are a fan of Enigma, Enya, Deep Forest, Jean-Mihcel Jarre and of course Oldfield, this album is highly recommended. Although I mention Deep Forest a lot through the review, it doesn't mean that he has sampled from Deep Forest. It is only very similar to their ideas. Personally I regard this as one complete composition although it is divided in to tracks. (But so is Laser Disc films (: )
Rating: 5 out of 6