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The Orb On Mars

Entry 966 posted in: 4. Orb Weavers

Recently The Orb has been remastering, re-editing and most of all re-cashing on their studio albums. Today we have a go at Cydonia. The following review was written for an Orb project of mine that never saw the light of day. and because it is so long I'll keep this intro short.

Cydonia v1 (1998)

After a few false starts in 1998 a new Orb album is announced for March 1999: Cydonia. A track listing is available as well as the names of two possible singles: Once More (in a Jim Cauty 'scourge of the earth' remix) and Ghostdancing. A while later the album is postponed till September, and when that date expires, it is believed to be delayed indefinitely...

That the finished album is lying somewhere in the vaults of the Island record company is a fact. Promotional cd's have been known to circulate among fans and internet record shops advertise a Japanese limited pressing, probably a record of illegitimate origin.

Alex Paterson later explains that the decision not to release Cydonia has been taken over their heads, by Island Records owner Universal. New masters mean new rules and even the once so progressive Island Records can't escape the hit the money and run tactic that seems to be the only marketing plan big third millennium record companies understand nowadays. "One day there'll be just the one label with the one super band, if it goes on like this.", sneers Paterson.

Crying won't help you, baby, and those urging to undergo some Orblike ambient moods have access to two excellent Thomas Fehlmann releases: good fridge. Flowing: ninezer onineight and one to three. Overflow; ninene/nd. The first record has 2 co-operations with Alex Paterson, but these are not among his best. The same can be said of Robert Fripp’s collaboration on the second.

Other millennium rumours go The Orb have been narrowed to a duo. Apparently the ongoing Cydonia story made Andy Hughes leave the building, following the footsteps of early Orbfellas Jim Cauty and Kristian Weston. Some fans speculate that it may have been LX who kicked Andy out because the latter, angry about Island's refusal to release Cydonia, leaked the early mixes to some collectors who weeded the tapes to the public. Alex Paterson: There was a spy in the camp, but we fixed that."

Note: An Orb intimate called Smiley claimed this rumour was not correct. The Orb has never been over protective anyway for its demos, and white labels, (unreleased) remixes and copies have always been circulating between friends, DJ's and collectors. But on the other hand:
"As we were about to release Cydonia, ( ... ) everyone was saying that they'd already heard all the new tracks on MP3 websites. So, we were about to release an album that had already been heard. Needless to say, that all stopped when Andy left. ( ... ) Well, it's obvious isn't it? There was a spy in the camp," growls Paterson, "but we fixed that." (Dreyer, Andrew: Big Noise, 16 November 2001).

A more vicious explanation for the split is Andy's growing interest in booger sugar, but this may have been just another villainous gossip as well. On the other hand, Trash has repeatedly testified about 'coke snorting power hungry money crazed prawn sandwich with black pepper eating scum' circling in and around the band.

Note: a short compilation of Trash's writings about the use of drugs in the band:

"We could get a new manager with a coke habit
And ask him to take all our money
and spunk it right up his nose", (Trash, LX in Bklyn two nights ago, e-mail, 1 Nov 2002)

"People like him (Andy Hughes) and others connected with the orb
Wanted to squeeze it dry for the money the coke and the birds
NOT the music!", (Trash, Nibiru - How to make great handfulls of lovely dosh!!, e-mail, 6 Nov 2002)

"that bitterness could be something to do with the tracks they (The Orb) stole off me... and the 250,000..and (apparently/allegedly) the gear Andy sold to fuel his coke habit...", (Trash, ???, email, 3 Feb 2003).

To end the Andy on drugs rumours, here is a final statement by Rachel, whose Shrine To The Orb has got the approval of the official Orb website: "I dunno what sort of sordid past there might be, but there's absolutely *No Way* Andy has a coke problem - he's a very dedicated father and AFAIK doesn't even touch weed anymore. He's a very together and down to earth guy." Rachel, Andy Hughes, e-mail, 24 May 2002.

Cydonia v2 (2000)

While a lone wolf howls at alt.music.orb, that gets lesser and lesser messages, Alex spends most of his year 2000 in the good old US of A playing DJ sets at several places. And for a change Cydonia v2 is announced for October 2000, then delayed again...

Cydonia v3 (2001)

Finally, in March 2001, nearly three years after the album has been conceited, a partially revised Cydonia enters an already overcrowded market, its impact that of a dry sponge hitting a gong. The times don’t favour The Orb anymore and almost all reviews give the album a less than average rating.

The new Cydonia is more vocal orientated than was the original plan. With more than two years time to play with the original demos some loop-based instrumentals have nearly become pop songs.

That surely is the case with opener Once More, but I can't testify, before god nor the holy bible, that not experiencing it would have left an inexplicable emptiness in my life. Starting with a typical water sample the music soon clashes with the vocals and maybe that is why Aki Omori sings about a 'sound of confusion'. Don't get me wrong: Once More isn't a bad track, but I would never give it an inch of attention without LX's signature on it.

Note: Once More didn't surprise me as some of The Orb's earlier pop singles. The 7" edit of Perpetual Dawn, for instance, with its added vocal track was, in my opinion, far more effective. So were Toxygene and Little Fluffy Clouds. And even Mickey Mars. Anyway, those who know testify that previous Once More versions were less poppy and with less dominating vocals.

A second, and far superior vocal track, Ghostdancing, sung by Nina Walsh, was obviously destined to become single number two. (Don't search for it the track was never released as a single and that's a pity.) Both of them are linked together by a quasi-seamless interlude Promis. The trilogy forms an ambient suite, taking 18 minutes of time, not too short, but sweet nevertheless.

The title of track 4, Turn It Down, undoubtedly is an easy target for a would-be reviewer. Sounding like an 8 and a half minutes crossover between Orblivion's Passing Of Time and U.F.Orb's Blue Room this ambient experiment with a beat fails to fully contradict its title. One gets the feeling that The Orb already has done this track in the past and with better results.

Egnable is announced in the cd-booklet as a track from the lost FFWD sessions. If you have read the previous Orb reviews you may remember that FFWD was a highly experimental album described by some critics as annoying or irritating. Build around a (fake) Linguaphone commercial read by Fil Le Gonidec, Egnable manages to combine both, quite an achievement if one realises that the tune is less than 2 minutes long. It makes one wonder why on earth this lost session tape was ever found back.

Firestar starts with the familiar sound of a radio cycling between stations. A similar effect was used on the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here where Have A Cigar fades out until it sounds like a cheap transistor radio. The track suddenly ends, with new stations being searched (and found) on the wave band. After a snippet of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, the intro of Wish You Were Here starts. On several live performances during the Seventies, Pink Floyd used a real radio on stage to recreate the 'musique concrete' bit between both tracks.

Note (2008): I haven't got a clue why I couldn't write anything more inspirational about the above track. Probably because there isn't anything more to say about it?

Another Side Of Paradise

A Mile Long Lump Of Lard is a beat bolero, nothing less, nothing more, a truly amazing rhythmical piece, probably the best track on the album, maybe even the best track The Orb has done in ages. Its bombast and pathos reminds this crusty old dinosaur of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer rendition of Prokofiev's Romeo And Juliet and I'm pretty sure nobody would have expected mentioning these boring old farts on an Orb review.

But just when one thinks the action is finally getting somewhere, The Orb & Co decides to have another sing-a-long contest. At their best Centuries and Plum Island sound like a mediocre tune from Grateful Dead goddess Donna Godchaux, at their worst it just sounds like Madonna with a postnatal dip.

There is no Steve Hillage on this album, but a link to times past by is offered by a guest appearance of Guy Pratt who co-signs Hamlet Of Kings. This is one of the very few tracks on this album that intelligently play with samples: flowing water, a harp sound, some tubular bells, a quasi wish-you-were-here guitar lick and the return of the famous Orb train whistle! This track time warps the listener into an atmospheric adventure from the lost Ultraworld.

Note: The thank you section in the cd booklet mentions the couple Guy and Gala. This refers to Guy Pratt who married Gala Wright in October 1996. Gala, born in 1969, is the daughter of Juliette Gale, who was background singer of the London based R&B band Sigma 6. That band would really become famous when a certain Syd Barrett joined and renamed them The Pink Floyd Sound. By then Juliette Gale had already left the troupe but only after she had married the keyboard player Rick Wright.

A remix of Hamlet of Kings will appear a few weeks later on the album Dr Alex Paterson's Voyage Into Paradise. Although the title makes one think that this is a solo record it really is a mixed compilation of 'post club chill out' tracks from the Liquid Sound Design label with Paterson's name glued to it to sell a few copies more.

Note: Orb lovers will find familiar names on Voyage Into Paradise: Youth (M. Glover), Greg Hunter and Trash (K. Weston) are represented on tracks from Kiosk, Dub Trees and a Killing Joke's Requiem remix, the band that more or less started The Orb. For copyright reasons the The Orb is presented as The Rob and The Hamlet Of Kings alternative mix has been retitled to 4 Horseman.

Boundary Stone

Back to Cydonia. Track eleven is called 1.1.1, with its 35 seconds nothing more than a quick, but quite efficient, intro for Thursday's Keeper. Best described as a sample driven oddity it hits the listener as a crossover between LX's Kiss radio tapes and System 7's 7: 7 Expansion (Conspiracy Mix).

The album ends with Terminus, a typical 'German' minimalist track in the Valley tradition. I don't know if this soundscape was originally destined for the second FFWD album but Robert Fripp surely had his mojo working on this. Although the longest track and highly repetitive, it feels less time-consuming than others on the same album. I personally like the discreet wind chimes that sound exactly like those hanging on my porch (the first time I heard the track I thought it was the wind outside playing tricks with the music).

Note (2008): some early pressings of Cydonia had a hidden track called EDM, the 2008 remastered version includes this as well.

Conclusion 1

Reading the above can make you wonder if this album is any good.

In a relaxing kind of way, it rather is... and if you take the effort to let the music grow on you it may well become nested in your favourite Orb Top 5. On a total of 68 minutes and 48 seconds...

It has several gems. A Mile Long Lump Of Lard. Hamlet Of Kings. Terminus. Representing twenty-five and a half of excellent Orbian minutes (37%). Orblivion was a more coherent album on the whole, but the gem tracks are all individually better than those on the previous album.

It has its vocal tracks, and two of these are able to haunt the mind for days long: Ghostdancing and Plum Island. The others, Once More and Centuries, are fillers. The 'Orb In Love' invests twenty-one and a half minutes of our time (31%).

It has its transitional parts, typical album tracks that pass with the stream. Promis. Turn It Down. Thursday's Keeper. Some of them are only used as (short) intros to the next track. Firestar. 1.1.1. (29%).

Egnable is ignorable (3%).

Conclusion 2

Cydonia is probably better than we assume.
Cydonia sings: Once More, Ghostdancing, Centuries, and Plum Island.
Cydonia is ambient: Promis, Hamlet Of Kings, Terminus.
Cydonia is beat: Turn It Down. Thursday's Keeper.
Cydonia is chant: A Mile Lump Of Lard.
Cydonia is a concept: A Martian northern summer in the afternoon. A cold northern winter in Battersea. Et In Arcadia Ego. (These lines can be found on the cd booklet.)

Martian trivia

Arcadia Planitia and Cydonia Planitia can be found on the planet Mars. Cydonia (41 north latitude, 10° west longitude) is known for its collossal 'human face' photographed by the Viking spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1970s. The Cydonia area contains other strange objects as well. One of them is a five-sided 'pyramid' and there is an artificial looking rock structure that has been called the 'fortress'. Close to it the 'city' that also contains some pyramidal rock structures. Believers say these artefacts proof that there was once life on Mars, while the non-believers argue that is it all some weird cosmological trickery.

Masonic trivia

Et In Arcadio Ego is a painting of Giovanni Francesco Guercino (1618). Apparently this was a secret phrase in the esoteric and Masonic societies of those days (Arcadian myths had already been noted down by the Neapolitan poet Jacopo Sannazaro in 1501). A few years later the French painter Nicolas Poussin further elaborated on the theme, titling some of his work Et In Arcadio Ego and Les Bergers d'Arcadie (The Arcadian Shepherds (1629)).

The phrase was the official device of the French Plantard family who claim to descent from the Merovingian king Sigisbert IV (676-758), whose bloodline may go back to the Old Testamentary king David. It is believed that the Plantards have been active in the Templars, the Rosicrusians, in freemasonry and in any other (French) secret organisation you can stick your finger in. Pierre Plantard de Saint Clair became an immediate occult superstar when the authors of an esoteric bestseller wrote he was the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, the alleged guardians of the Holy Grail. (Baigent, Michael; Leigh, Richard and Lincoln, Henry: The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, Corgi Books, London, 1982).

69 69 69 69 69 79 79 40

The 2008 version of Cydonia contains the following rare or previously unreleased mixes:

Disk One

EDM: a hidden track that was previously only available on the (first?) UK release and that is now included on the remastered version.

Disk Two

Centuries (eurofen mix). Previously released on Orbsessions vol.1.
Ghostdancing (version). Instrumental version.
Hamlet of Kings (version).
Firestar (front bits).
Centuries (wine, woman & king mix). Slow and dubby.
Once More (scourge of the earth mix). Previously released on a 12” promo single.
Plum Island (flat mix).
Promis (version).
Once More (bedrock edit 2). Previously released as a single.
Turn It Down (long version).
Terminus (andy's mix). Faster version with additional beat and sounds.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: The Orb Lives On