Out There

Music for buildings and food

The Orb
Island Records

Trace the history of ambient music, and you'll touch on names like Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno, but when it comes to the history of danceable ambient music, Orb would be considered a founding father. Orb was the brainchild of Alex Patterson, who took ambient out of the hands of New Age couch-huggers and into London clubs like Heaven, where it was fused with steady beats and amphetamines.

By far the most well-known of these cerebral dance tunes was the 1991 club masterpiece "Little Fluffy Clouds," which eventually became a crossover radio hit. Never ones to be confined, defined, or out of touch, however, the Orb has now come up with what could be best described as a motion-picture soundtrack for the 21st century.

There is a cohesiveness that runs throughout Orblivion, not unlike a car darting through traffic in a long underground tunnel full of strange lights and signals. Bits and pieces of music resurface on different tracks, forming a thematic continuity. Yet on the whole, Orblivion is, as its name denotes, a highly abstract piece of work.

Listen to it a hundred times, and you're still unlikely to be able to name or even really recognize the different tracks. It's more a musical tapestry, or a mosaic of sounds--mostly computer-generated, as opposed to the organic samples found on earlier Orb work like "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules from the Center of the Ultraworld," which incorporated everything from airplane noise to waves crashing on the beach.

"Ubiquity" sets the pace for Orblivion, taking Kraftwerk into the modern age, but it's not until you get to tracks like "Molten Love" and "Asylum" that you understand Orb's attempts at simulating what Plato referred to as "the music of the spheres." It's like taking mushrooms in some deep, star-infested desert canyon, then lying on your back for hours, watching spacecraft pass by. There's also a certain tribal element between primitive and modern--a tip of the hat to global culture not unlike that which Wim Wenders reaches for in film.

The final track on the album--"72"--even includes five full minutes of silence, indicating that The Orb is still obsessed with a musical nonconformity bordering on snobbery. Yet other tracks, such as "Asylum," might even still pass for dance music at a progressive club. All things told, this is a very progressive album in general, and probably not of much appeal to the "Little Fluffy Cloud" generation of Orb fans. But for the more serious pioneer, too anxious to sit around and wait for the clock to strike 2000, Orblivion is a taste of what's to come.

--Richard Baimbridge


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