There was a time when I would put in the latest Orb CD and murmur blimey! Blimey because The Orb pleasantly surprised me or blimey because Alex 'LX' Paterson and band utterly frustrated me. They had that effect on me for years from their very first album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991) until the quite underrated Cydonia (2001). Often the wow! and meh! impression could be witnessed on the same disk, most notably on Orbus Terrarum that probably contains the freakiest ambient track ever (the heavenly Oxbow Lakes) but also some of the worst.
The Millennium Orb
After 2001 Paterson continued to make albums under the Orb banner but the wow! effect has largely disappeared. His most prolific output lays on quite a few (from good to excellent) compilation and/or remix albums: Dr. Alex Paterson's Voyage Into Paradise, Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond The Call Of Duty (containing an Orb remix of Rick Wright's Runaway), Bless You (the best of the Badorb label), Orbsessions I and II (outtakes), Back To Mine, The Art Of Chill and last but not least The BBC Sessions.
For ages The Orb has been called the Pink Floyd of ambient dance but the only fusion between both bands is the use of some Pink Floyd samples on early Orb anthems (the four note Shine On You Crazy Diamond signature tune on A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld) and the presence of Pink Floyd bass player ad interim Guy Pratt on a couple of Orb albums.
Contrary to a stubborn belief the so-called ambient (and illegal) Pink Floyd remix albums from the Nineties are not the work from The Orb, nor from Alex Paterson. Neither will we ever know Pink Floyd's retaliation: when the band worked on their 1994 The Divison Bell album they ended up with so many left-over material that - in the words of Nick Mason - "we considered releasing it as a second album, including a set we dubbed The Big Spliff, the kind of ambient mood music that we were bemused to find being adopted by bands like The Orb".
Update 2015 01 15: Parts of The Big Spliff may have appeared on the latest Pink Floyd album: The Endless River. See our review: While my guitar gently weeps...
Exactly one year ago Alex Paterson, who has always been a bit of a bigmouth, revealed:
I’ve just started work on an album with David Gilmore (sic) from Pink Floyd which I think every Orb and Pink Floyd fan will want to hear.
But that news was hurriedly demoted by David Gilmour.
Recent comments by ambient exponents The Orb's Alex Paterson that they have been collaborating with David Gilmour are true – up to a point. David has done some recording with The Orb and producer Youth, inspired initially by the plight of Gary McKinnon. However, nothing is finalised, and nothing has been confirmed with regards to any structure for the recordings or firm details re: any release plans.
On the 17th of August of this year, however, the David Gilmour blog had the following to reveal:
David is not working with The Orb on a new album, contrary to some reports, but you may remember that he had been in the studio jamming with Martin “Youth” Glover in recent months. (…) Alex Paterson was not involved in the sole jamming session and the only plan initially was for David to play guitar on that one track.
However, as it turns out and as you can see, the result of that jam session has now been spread across the next Orb album, Metallic Spheres, which will be released as ‘The Orb featuring David Gilmour’. So there you have it. He was working on an album with The Orb. Sort of.
If I may read a bit between the lines I feel some friction here between Sir David and this Orb thingy. But the next day, David Gilmour's official website had the next comment:
David's 2009 jam session with ambient collective The Orb has grown into an album, Metallic Spheres, to be released via Columbia/Sony Records in October. David's contribution to the charity song Chicago, in aid of Gary McKinnon, sparked the interest of producer Youth (Martin Glover), who remixed the track and invited David to his studio for a recording session.
With additional contributions from Orb co-founder Alex Paterson, the album took shape from 2009 into 2010, eventually becoming Metallic Spheres, to be released by The Orb featuring David Gilmour. (underlined by FA.)
Calling LX Paterson an Orb co-founder is technically not untrue, but it feels a little weird when you have just been presenting Martin 'Youth' Glover. It is comparable to describing Syd Barrett as a Pink Floyd co-founder while discussing Bob Klose. Agreed, Youth (from Killing Joke fame) was probably around when The Orb saw the light of day but it is generally acknowledged that the band was formed in 1988 by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty but not by Youth who only occasionally teamed up with Alex Paterson as a temporary aid. Cauty's primary project however, the Kopyright Liberation Front (with Bill Drummond), pretty soon outgrew The Orb and when - at a certain point in time - some Orb remixes were released in Germany as KLF remixes this provoked a rupture in the co-operation between the duo as Alex and Jimmy started fighting over… copyrights.
After the split between KLF and The Orb Martin 'Youth' Glover helped LX out with two tracks (on two separate albums): Little Fluffy Clouds (on 'Adventures', 1991) and Majestic (on U.F.Orb, 1992), but he never was a member of the band and certainly not a founding member. In 2007 however, Youth replaced Thomas Fehlmann and joined The Orb for a one album project: The Dream.
Update 2018: Youth can also be found on the 2018 'No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds' and on a 2016 live CD and DVD release of the band.
Together with the announcement on David Gilmour's website, and then we're back on the 18th of August of this year, a promotional video for the Metallic Spheres album is uploaded to YouTube. Depicting only Youth and David Gilmour several Orb fans wonder where LX Paterson, and thus The Orb, fits in.
The first, original movie disappears after a couple of days for so-called 'copyright' reasons and is rapidly replaced with a second version (unfortunately taken down as well, now), containing some hastily inserted images of LX Paterson strolling through the grasslands and recording some outdoor musique concrète.
It feels, once again, as if the Floyd-Orb connection doesn't go down well at the Gilmour camp. Alex Paterson's image, so it seems, has only been included on the promo video after some pressure (from LX himself) took place. But the above is of course all pure speculation and not based upon any fact, so tells you Felix Atagong, who has been closely following The Orb for over two decades.
Bit by bit we learn how the album came into place. It all started with David Gilmour's charity project for Gary McKinnon, an X-Files adhering half-wit who hacked into American military and NASA computers in order to find out about extra-terrestrial conspiracy theories (read some more about that on: Metallic Spheres). Because of this he faces extradition from England to the USA where apparently they take these kind of idiots very seriously, see also the 43rd president who governed the country from 2001 to 2009.
It is not quite clear if Gilmour asked Youth (David Glover) to make a remix of the Chicago charity tune or if Youth got hold of the project and proposed to help (I've come across both explanations). The two may know each other through Guy Pratt who played in Glover's band Brilliant in 1986 (LX Paterson was their roadie for a while). In 1990 Youth founded Blue Pearl with Durga McBroom who had toured with Pink Floyd for the previous three years. Amongst the session musicians on their Naked album are Guy Pratt, David Gilmour and Rick Wright.
This isn't Glover's only connection with the Floyd however. In 1995 he teamed up with Killing Joke colleague Jaz Coleman to arrange and produce a symphonic tribute album: Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd, but only The Old Tree With Winding Roots Behind The Lake Of Dreams remix from Time combines a modern beat with romantic classical music.
To spice up the Chicago remix Youth invited David Gilmour in his home studio and out of it came a twenty minutes guitar jam. Glover soon found out that he could expand the session into an ambient suite and asked old chum LX Paterson for some help. LX flavoured the pieces with typical Orbian drones and samples, rather than turning this into a sheepish Fireman-clone.
The Orb featuring David Gilmour can only be a win/win situation. Orb fans have dreamed about this collaboration for the past two decades and that will add to the sales figures for sure. And although artist royalties go to the support of Gary McKinnon there will always be a spillover effect for the artists involved. That can only be good news for The Orb whose last album Baghdad Batteries sunk faster than the Kursk in the Barents Sea.
Rest us to say that an Orb album is an Orb album when it has got the name Orb on it, whether you like it or not. (In the case of their Okie Dokie album, not a bit).
Metallic Spheres starts with Gilmour's pedal steel guitar over some keyboard drones that makes me think of those good old days when the KLF shattered the world with their ambient masterpiece Chill Out (LX Paterson - as a matter of fact - contributed to that album, although uncredited). But soon after that Gilmour's guitar wanders off in his familiar guitar style with axiomatic nods to The Wall and The Division Bell albums. A welcome intermezzo is Black Graham with acoustic guitar, not from Gilmour but by ragtime busker Marcia Mello. The 'metallic side' flows nicely throughout its 29 minutes and has fulfilled its promise of being 'the ambient event of the year' quite accurately.
The CD is divided into two suites: a 'metallic side' and a 'spheres side' (and each 'side' is subdivided in five - not always discernable - parts). The second suite however, is more of the same, clearly lacks inspiration and ends out of breath at the 20 minutes mark.
So no wow! effect here (but no meh! either)... Youth has done what was expected from him and produced an all-in-all agreeable but quite mainstream product leaving ardent anoraky Orb fans with their hunger, but perhaps winning a few uninitiated souls.
As far as I am concerned this is about the best Orb CD I have heard for the past couple of years, but it is still far from Orblivion, U.F.Orb or Ultraworld. But as this is 2010 already you won't hear me complaining.
In true Orbian tradition this album exists in different versions. There is the regular UK version (with a 'black' cover) and the deluxe version (with a 'white' cover). That last one has a bonus CD in a 3D60 headphone remix, comparable to the holophonics system on Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut' album from 1983.
Update 2018: Just like 'holophonics' in the eighties, 3D60 no longer exists. The 'special' effects can only be heard through a headphone, but don't expect anything spectacular.
A Japanese enhanced Blu-spec release has two additional bonus tracks and two videos. One of these extra tracks (remixes, actually) could also be downloaded from The Orb website and from iTunes. One of the videos has been made by Stylorouge, who worked with Storm Thorgerson on several Floydian projects.
Last but not least there is a Columbia promo version, containing a unique identification number to trace unauthorised redistribution (see above picture). To our, but probably not to Gilmour's, amusement this promo-CD is titled The Orb Vs Dave Gilmour (instead of David). According to at least one Orb fan this version has a different mix than the official release.