My belief is that some creations have a spark of truth within them, a closer connection to the creative source. These works tend to have a greater impact in the world. Furthermore, since they emerge from a deeper layer of existence, they also tend to show clearer examples of colour and number alignment in their story.
Tubular Bells is one such creation. It is one of the best selling instrumental music albums of all time. In this article you will discover how blue and its complementary colour orange are intimately wound up within this work. We will also talk about 7 and 8; 72; The Exorcist and Exigesis; and of course, the Tubular Bell.
Before we begin though here is a list of the key facts which indicate Tubular Bells is something special.
A 19 year old virtuoso … Tubular Bells was created by Mike Oldfield when he was just 19 years old. It features more than 20 instruments, most of which Mike Oldfield played himself - he was a self taught musical genius.
The foundation of the Virgin business empire … Tubular Bells was Virgin Records first ever product. Its huge success was the foundation stone of Richard Branson’s Virgin business Empire. Branson is now one of Britain’s best known businessmen.
5 years at the top … Tubular Bells was never advertised. People bought it because they heard it and liked it. It took a year to slowly arrive at the top of the UK chart (the list of the 100 best selling records of the week). It was however to remain in this chart for a further four years - staying a remarkable 279 consecutive weeks in total! It has returned to these charts every decade since then.
The Exorcist … The opening melody of Tubular Bells was used in the film The Exorcist, a horror film that haunted a generation. Though the tune only appeared twice in the film, so effective was it that it became the film’s signature music.
A global audience … Tubular Bells came of age in 2012 when 900 million people around the world saw Mike Oldfield perform part of it live at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
Yet for all this success Tubular Bells was born out anguish and darkness, a communication wrenched from a soul struggling to stay sane. I learned this while watching a BBC programme revealing the story behind this record, and viewing this programme triggered many interesting insights and connections. Lets begin by setting the scene …
The story begins in childhood. When Mike was 10 his mother disappeared for a year. He and his older brother and sister were never told clearly but there was a baby brother. Downs syndrome. a weak heart, he was never brought home and within a year he was dead. Their mother came home but was never the same again. “Sometimes,” Mike said, “she would be just be rocking on her bed howling - an almost inhuman sound.”
Consequently Mike and his two older siblings retreated into their bedrooms. Mike found salvation in music. He was given a guitar and taught himself to play. He was very gifted and by 13 years old he was playing in a band with older boys, earning money at pubs. He entered the fringes of the pop scene, first in a duo with his sister and then in a band that made Top of the Pops. Then came a bad LSD trip. He was completely shaken by the view of the body and mortality he received at this time. A world of horror opened up. He was on the edge of breakdown. Music was the most real thing for him at this time, it came to him like a being, comforting him, inspiring him, in this time the first fragments of Tubular Bells began to be composed.
A door opens
Although Mike was suffering greatly, on the edge of psychic breakdown, he was still managing to work as a backing musician. One day he managed to get Richard Branson’s business partner Tony Newman to listen to a small recording of his work. Newman was captivated by it and eventually it was played to Richard Branson. It was agreed Oldfield could have access to their live in recording studio at Manor House, and, although he would not be paid, they would provide the musical instruments he needed. It was a long list, but the most important of all, the tubular bells, were a chance addition. The story is that as the studio was being cleared for Mike to move in and record he spotted some Tubular Bells being packed up about to be removed. He intervened “Can you leave those please.” Thus the stage was set.
“His eyes wet with tears”
Mike entered the studio on 11th November 1972. In just one week the core of this record (Side 1) was completed. From the opening melody to the ringing of the Tubular Bells the pure essence is all here. The astonishing thing, as Tony Newman the producer tells us, is that throughout this whole week “Michael was a mental wreck … his eyes were wet with tears nearly all the time.” Clearly this music carried a deep emotional release.
Blue / Orange
11.11.1972 the start of recording. 72 is a key here. The coloured bottles of Aura-Soma Equilibrium are all numbered. Bottle 72 (1972) is the combination Blue / Orange. Orange resonates with the unconscious, and in here will be found all our unresolved feelings and experiences. Blue, the colour that is the complementary opposite to orange offers the possibility of expression (through the throat chakra) but also the tendency to hold on (the blue of conservatives). The complementary colours in this bottle and their related themes, rather like an opposition in astrology, will create a tension that requires resolution. When a journalist later interviewed Mike Oldfield and asked him why he had written Tubular Bells the result was a 20 minute silence. Mike could not give a reason; there was no reason, It had come from a deeper place. As difficult as it had been, and Mike had been playing through his tears, Tubular Bells simply had to be created.
7 : 8 time. Deeper than you think …
A taste of the intensity that drove Mike Oldfield to create Tubular Bells is subtly communicated in the opening tune of the work. It has a very interesting time signature. It alternates between 7 beats and 8 beats per bar. This is not usual. It makes this music interesting. Literally. Our unconscious mind, which is so much more receptive and able than our conscious mind. will register that something disconcerting in the music. The time signature of Tubular Bell’s subtly demands attention. Our unconscious mind will not be able to relax until it has made sense of what is happening just as Mike Oldfield himself could not let go of the suffering in his own experience. The result is that the water-like quality of this opening melody running over the top of this alternating beat, while it should be restful and relaxing, instead carries an intensity which is hard to place.
I don’t think Mike Oldfield planned this, i am sure he simply did what felt right. Nevertheless the fact that it is a combination of 7 and 8 beats adds a very interesting number interpretation into the mix. In numerology the number 7 resonates with the philosopher self, the 8 resonates with the return of life experience. Tubular Bells is born out of the need of his higher self (7) to make sense of the experiences that have been given to him. (8).
The disturbing quality of this 7 : 8 beat was to have another significant consequence. When the film director William Friedkin, by chance heard this 7:8 opening tune of Tubular Bells he knew he it was just what he was looking for to include in the film he was just finishing. The film was The Exorcist, one of the biggest films of 1973. It is a film that is genuinely scary as we follow the story of a young girl possessed by a demon and the struggle of two priests to drive this spirit out. The music only features briefly in the film, but that subtle intensity, that disturbing 7:8 time, meant the tune stayed with the audience, so much so that it became the musical signature of the film.
What fascinates me is that i can see the creating of Tubular Bells as an exorcism for Mike Oldfield. He was drowning in horror, his own and perhaps his mother's too. Hidden unresolved emotions were overwhelming him. His face nearly always wet with tears. For Mike Oldfield the spirit of music was not just a comfort, it was his salvation. It compelled him to create this piece of music. It was born out of darkness and it emerged into the light.
The Tubular Bell
The climax of the exorcism comes with the striking of the Tubular Bell. I believe it is the key moment in the whole record. The strength and clarity of this Tubular Bell’s ring was of huge importance to Mike. The usual chimer was too soft, the sound did not ring out above the rest of the instruments. The producers said it could not be done with their equipment. Mike was adamant. Finally it was decided to use a proper heavy hammer. The sound you hear on the album was created by a hit so heavy that it bent the Tubular Bell. Yet the sound was clear and true. I see it as the triumph of the exorcism. In China and Japan drums and firecrackers are used to dispel negative spirits. The ring of the bell is both the final dispelling of the negative spirit, and, the sign that the aura, Mike’s energetic field is no longer laden or muffled by emotion. In this moment he rings clear and true. Free. It is the gift of Music which came to him in his darkness.
This act of bending the Tubular Bell was to be the inspiration of the album’s striking artwork. The image is a gleaming silver tubular bell bent into a stylised triangular shape which floats above a turbulent sea. Intensely pure it stands out from the blue sky, gleaming, other-worldly above the emotional maelstrom of the rough sea. In one way i can imagine this bell as his muse, Music itself, transcendent, pure, beyond the reach of the world. But in another way i can imagine it representing Mike Oldfield the man. The emotional pressure that Mike experienced in his teens was almost too much to bear. It was all bottled up, like orange underneath blue. Yet the spirit of music came to him and his commitment to it raised his vibration above the sea of emotion in which had been drowning. He emerged, no longer his original shape, yet triumphant, clear once more. I believe this tubular bell image was for many years the logo of his business.
Blue and Orange again
Mike Oldfield was given the choice of colour to use for his name and that of the album on the album cover. He chose orange. Once again the blue / orange pairing appears. It is reinforced on the back cover as we see the orange flames of a fire licking some bones on the beach. This too I find symbolic though the commentators on the programme had never heard any explanation as to why that should be the image. To me the fire is purifying. Bones are the ultimate containers of human memory, the fire is purifying, consecrating… what has been is not yet disappeared, yet it is in its final stage.
The story of the album is in these two pictures, front and back covers. The creation of the album served as an exorcism, the success is in the triumphant ring of the Tubular Bell. Yet, like the bones on the beach, there was a residue that remained. Once it was recorded and released, Mike Oldfield he said for many years he wanted nothing more to do with it. That it was out was enough. He went to live in the English countryside far from anywhere, his mother when she visited him there said “You know how it feels don't you” - he was still resonant with the pain.
It was only some years later that Mike joined a pioneering group psychotherapy process called Exigesis. During this process he finally had a personal rebirth that allowed something new to fill him. For several years he was changed man, confident, willing to be in the public eye. Over time he has returned to his quieter more reclusive habit, yet he is now free of the torment of his younger years. Exorcism drove something out, Exegesis brought something in.
Coming of Age
Forty years after entering the studio to start recording, Mike Oldfield performed an adapted excerpt from Tubular Bells for the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. He was watched by an audience of 900 million people worldwide. In Aura-Soma bottle 40 is the I Am bottle. Surely we can say that on its 40th anniversary Tubular Bells and Mike Oldfield had fully come of age.
Here is a video of that performance. How strange it is that the accompanying dance in the arena portrayed an exorcism of childhood monsters!
This performance revivified Mike Oldfield’s career. He is releasing his first album in many years. Tubular Bells was all about water, The opening melody of side 1 has the fluidity of water flowing while Side 2 finishes with a traditional sailor’s song; the turbulent waves of the front cover replaced with a calmer sea by the back cover. The new album cover shows an interesting progression. The sea is now framed by rock. The album is called Man on the Rocks. It seems Mike Oldfield has mastered the waves and found dry land.
Everyone has got a back story
So said Maurice Dee, a man, to whom i told this Mike Oldfield story while on a train the other week. He enjoyed the conversation so much he asked if he could be mentioned in this story. I find a blue orange theme in his life too. He is also a self made man, meaning he created his own successful business. And he while we were on the train he spoke to several people around him, not just me. The self made man idea resonates with blue, the ability to will our vision of life into being. The many people , the community in which our vision is lived, is orange.
If you would like to explore your back story, or your present future story contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For colour, for number, for the Spiritual Dimension to your life story.
Here is the BBC documentary that inspired this post