Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Orb: The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

One of the quirkier, ambient, spacier (drug-wise and other-wise), humorous and irreverent of the major electronica acts that burst forth from England in the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Orb found a pretty substantial audience for its debut record, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, which came out in 1991, but featured several tracks that had long been known as singles on the British house scene.

The Orb was initially a partnership between DJ Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty, of the well-known duo The KLF.  The two split in a disagreement on how to present their music for a first album and Paterson went on to do some work with former Killing Joke member Martin Glover, also known as Youth.  Kris Weston (under the moniker of "Thrash") and Andy Falconer then joined Paterson as a full member of The Orb, with guitarist Steve Hillage, associated with the so-called Canterbury music scene of the early 1970s, but also a record producer and electronica performer, as well, making contributions, as did producer Thomas Fehlmann.

Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is replete with unusual electronic sounds and samples from a wide range of sources from music, film, and even bible reading recordings.  A thinly-disguised admiration, repeated in various ways over the years, for the music of Pink Floyd is visually demonstrated with an enhanced photo of the Battersea Power Station, which was presented on the album cover of the Floyd album, Animals and in the song title "Back Side of the Moon."

The two-disc release, originally produced for British and European released (the American version was a single-disc version), begins with the memorable "Little Fluffy Clouds," by Paterson and Glover, which uses as its centerpiece a strange interview with singer Rickie Lee Jones and her recollections of the clouds in her childhood home in Arizona.  There are, however, three other samples, including one of harmonica sounds from an Ennio Morricone piece and another from the remarkable composition "Electric Counterpoint," written by the great Steve Reich and played by guitarist Pat Metheny (and which will be the subject of a post at some time.)  Jones' management sued over the use of the sample of her voice, which led to speculation that she was high when she gave the interview (Jones claimed she had a bad cold), while Reich was pleased to be sampled, but also demanded a quarter of any royalties for the piece.

From there, the music consists of washes of electronic sound, generally subdued rhythms as well as more upfront sampled and electronic drum sounds, dub-like effects, occasional guitar treatments and a wide array of samples from the film Flash Gordon (including the delighfully devious intonation of the word "earth" by actor Peter Wyngarde), bible readings, and snippets of such varied musical sources as The Sex Pistols, jazz pianst Bill Evans, dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry, baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, and most notably, the 1970s soul ballad "Loving You" and the 5 and 1/2 octave range of its singer, Minnie Riperton, who had died years before the release of The Orb's record, but whose management sued to have her vocals removed from the recording, so a copy vocal was used instead on later versions.

One of the distinctive features of the record is that it is continuous and this merging of one piece to another, provided one enjoys the kind of "ambient house" that made this album a seminal one in that "genre", gives it a unified and cohesive structure.  The ambient feeling of the record is best exemplified in the live recording of the oft-heralded "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld," whic had the Riperton sample (as well as from the Grace Jones hit "Slave to the Rhythm") and is centered on a hypnotic, looping groove.

Ambient music has become a fascination, in varied forms, for this blogger and this record, in the U.S. version purchased in 1991, was one of the earliest exposures to it, aside from some of the essential work done by Cabaret Voltaire years before.  The Orb will be featured again in this blog, but Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld remains high (pardon the pun) on the list of memorable electronic albums among many enjoyed by YHB.

The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld: Double Album (Island Records, 1991)

Orbit Compact Disc

Earth Orbit One:  Little Fluffy Clouds  4:27
Earth Orbit Two:  Earth (Gaia)  9:48
Earth Orbit Three:  Super Nova at the End of the Universe  11:56
Lunar Orbit Four:  Back Side of the Moon  14:15
Lunar Orbit Five:  Spanish Castles in Space:  15:06

Ultraworld Compact Disc

Ultraworld Probe Six:  Perpetual Dawn  9:32
Ultraworld Probe Seven:  Into the Fourth Dimension  9:15
Ultraworld Probe Eight:  Outlands  8:23
Ultraworld Nine:  Star 6 & 7 8 9  8:10
Ultraworld Ten:  A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld: Live Mix MK 10  18:49

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