Entry 350 posted in: 4. Orb Weavers
The pile you see at the left side of this screen is my to-do-list. A bunch of cd's, cd-roms, DVD's and books I'm busy with or I pretend to be busy with. Actually the rockpile is a bit higher now as the pic was already taken a few weeks ago. Then I've still got a few hundreds of vinyl records I've never listened to.
In a previous life I was a radio show assembler, meaning that I made up a playlist, wrote the comments in between songs, did the actual mixing behind the studio console, but that someone else got all the credits because that person happened to present the show. I've been nearly waiting 30 years to write this down, so finally vengeance is mine.
The above isn't entirely true in fact. The radio show host was a very good friend of mine, after each show we went to the local pub to get pissed and whenever he got free tickets to go to a concert he would invite me to come along. I was rather happy with that deal.
The bit about the hundreds of vinyl records I've never listened to is true however. As the radio station sound library only contained the latest greatest hits I went record hunting on a weekly basis. Never paying more than 100 Belgian francs (2 and a half Euros or dollars) for a used LP I would come home with 6 - 8 - 10 - a dozen records a week. At home I started digging into the intros of those tracks. I didn't bother to listen to the complete song, a minute, a minute and half would do. Once I found a suitable song to add on next week's playlist I had a go at its outro. Trying to glue two records together in what we called a perfect mix was the aim of the day. I noted how long the intro would take and how long the fade out was. Tracks with an ending (so not a fade out) got a # sign behind their name. It was a game of give and take. Sometimes I played a pretty horrendous record only because I found a perfect mix-match. This was highbrow leftist student radio and showing off was never punished, on the contrary.
But I'm not here to talk about my pimpled reminiscences; on the contrary, I'm here to talk about the re-release of U.F.Orb, a 1992 landmark album by ambient house band The Orb. Here is something I wrote a decade ago for an embryonic unfinihed project of mine (it slowly died in the womb)...
BLUE MOON RISING
In 1992 Kris Weston and Alex Paterson are in the studio with Jah Wobble, Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy to produce what will become the longest single in British history. Vinyl version: 37 minutes and 46 seconds. Add an additional two minutes and 12 seconds for the cd.
Blue Room is LX's sweet revenge on Gallup who forced him to release a shortened version of A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld because it was 2 minutes too long. (1)
The track rises to number 8 in the British charts and that means that The Orb can have a playback session at the popular BBC TV show Top Of The Pops. Rather than acting like fools behind some fake synthesizers Alex and Trash decide to play some chess on television. Unfortunately (?) the Blue Room single is shortened to about 3 minutes on television.
Blue Room shows the new direction The Orb is developing into, although it still carries the odd sample (Marilyn Monroe's Happy Birthday). Alex explains that they are: " taking weird noises and making them sound vaguely musical." The high chart position may have had more to do with the novelty effect, not to mention the hype it created in the press as being the longest single ever, than with its hit potential. So it was even more of a surprise that the subsequent album U.F.Orb made it to number 1 shortly after its release on July 7 of 1992. (2)
U.F.Orb is the first album were DR Alex Paterson and Trash fully co-operate as a composing team, all seven tracks carrying their names. (On the previous album that was only the case on Gaia.) Also gone is the weird kaleidoscope of recognisable samples that has left place for a more musical approach of sampling and the prominent use of traditional rock instruments: flute (Tom Green, O.O.B.E.), bas (Guy Pratt, U.F.Orb), guitar (Steve Hillage, Blue Room), harmonica (Marney Pax, Towers Of Dub). (3)
O.O.B.E. (Out Of Body Experience) is the perfect introductory track, starting with a haunting drone and taking us well over the four minutes mark before a faint rhythm starts sliding in. Best described as a new age meditation tape pastiche de luxe it sets the perfect mood for the record. The ending one sixth of the track is left over to experimentation: machine rumbling, pool sounds and some Arabian whining.
The meditation session is abruptly interrupted by the intro from U.F.Orb, referencing to a Radio Moscow bulletin about Yuri A. Gagarin. Driven by Guy Pratt's pounding bass and a frantic dub beat, it is the perfect track to accompany a Lavazza espresso at 11 in the morning (so far for my fantasy!). The Orb's Blue Room, with its waves at the seashore, a faint air-raid siren, Steve Hillage's guitar collage and a wailing background girl, is light-years separated from the Blue Room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where US marines define Shania Twain as a - to be avoided - punk suicidegirl.
Towers Of Dub gives exactly what the title predicts and is largely saved by Marney Pax's harmonica solo throughout the somewhat monotonous beat. At the end the pace is slowly put to zero so that the waiting Close Encounters train can be set to full blast.
Close Encounters will not be remembered as the album's standout track but is nevertheless a perfect in-between for Majestic's wake up call. With its kaleidoscopically rhythmic patterns it ends this wonderful album in a, hmmm, rather majestic mode.
FLOYD ON FISH
The Orb's first album was titled Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld and that was exactly what it was, an expedition into a roomful of tunes, some green some blue, some orange. U.F.Orb is a fine, well thought-over, studio concept, although lacking in the wacky department. This also shows in the track listing, ambient and dance pieces follow each other up quite nicely, and are not separated as on Ultraworld. This makes the album more accessible to the general public. U.F.Orb made Alex and trash instantaneous superstars, playing gigs in the four corners of the world. Alex: "I was given the money for a helicopter ride to JFK airport once, so I pocketed the money and got the bus instead." (4)
Some journalists (and a few narrow-minded Floyd fans, although a narrow-minded Pink Floyd fan must be something of a contradiction in terms) used Blue Room as a scapegoat to fully illustrate The Orb's floyd-a-rama. The track meddles a lot with the psychedelic brain centre, the piece is filled with wind and water samples, even more effective are the industrial noises: air-raid sirens in the beginning and a tantalising g-o-o-d-b-y-e train whistle. "Taking natural sounds and setting them to a rhythmic idea", LX Paterson calls it.
And then starts Steve Hillage's guitar solo: genuine Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd creator) or early David Gilmour (Pink Floyd curator) so are we made to believe, but those who think only Pink Floyd play like Pink Floyd should maybe first have a go at Daevid Allen's Fohat Digs Hole In Space from Gong's Camembert Electrique album (1971).
In 1989 Steve Hillage, a forgotten musician from times past by, paid a visit to the chill out room of the Land Of Oz club where he discovered to his amazement that one of his own records Rainbow Dome Musick was being played. Wanting to meet the DJ, a certain Alex Paterson, their meeting resulted into a musical collaboration that would surface on several Orb records and on a new Steve Hillage project called System 7. (5)
U.F.Orb is a concept: U.F.Orb, Close Encounters and Blue Room point to the presence of extraterrestrials on our planet. In the top secret blue room, situated at hangar 18 of the American Wright(!)-Patterson(!!) Air Force base, some bodies (of dead) alien astronauts are kept in hiding, so the story goes...
U.F.Orb is fun: Towers Of Dub starts with a telephone prank by Victor Lewis-Smith asking the reception of London Weekend Television if Haile Selassie has arrived at the lobby. Sticky End is entirely made of noises from a defecating resident of the Gaya Park in Nepal.
U.F.Orb is ambient: O.O.B.E., Blue Room, Close Encounters.
U.F.Orb is dub: Towers Of Dub.
U.F.Orb is: Majestic.
U.F.Orb is The Orb's Dark Side Of The Moon.
(This (previously unpublished) review was written about a decade ago. No illegal chemical products were taken while writing it, as far as I can recall.)
2007. For its fifteenth anniversary U.F.Orb has been remastered and re-released in a deluxe edition. An extra disk has been added with some remixes and unreleased material. But it still hurts my brain trying to find a valid reason why the full 40 minutes version of Blue Room has not been added to the extras.
(1) The dance scene made Gallup redefine their rules. The maximum length
for a single was doubled from 20 to 40 minutes. Blue Room is 2 seconds
shorter than that. Back to text.
(2) U.F.Orb was first released as a limited triple vinyl set, the normal
issue was a double vinyl album. The cd version only has one disk,
although in America a limited double cd version could be found
containing the full 39'58" version of Blue Room and a new track called Assassin.
A video release Beyond The Ultraworld Patterns And Textures was
made containing a live performance of the music on the limited third
vinyl record. An even more limited version of this tape exists, it has
the music of the live performance on a separate cd. Back
(3) Samples that have been musically altered are, for instance, the
barking of a dog (Towers of Dub), telephone ringing (Majestic) and, last
but not least, the Sticky End noised of an effervescing elephant. Back
(4) Lester, Paul, Brothers From Another Planet, Melody Maker, 01.08.1992. Back
(5) Due to copyright problems System 7 had to be called System 777 in some
countries. Back to text.
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