Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Orb

The Orb virtually invented the electronic genre known as ambient house, resurrecting slower, more soulful rhythms and providing a soundtrack for early-morning ravers once the clubs closed their doors. The group popularized the genre as well, by appearing on the British chart show Top of the Pops and hitting number one in the U.K. with the 1992 album U.F.Orb. Frontman Dr. Alex Paterson's formula was quite simple: he slowed down the rhythms of classic Chicago house and added synthwork and effects inspired by '70s ambient pioneers Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. To make the whole a bit more listenable — as opposed to danceable — obscure vocal samples were looped, usually providing a theme for tracks which lacked singing.
The Orb's first actual foray into ambient house appeared in October 1989 on Paterson's WAU!/Mr. Modo label. The 22-minute single "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld," which sampled ocean noises and Minnie Riperton's "Loving You," actually hit the U.K. charts that year. The single became popular with indie kids as well as club DJs, and earned Paterson and Cauty the chance to re-record the song in December 1989 for a John Peel session.
Finally, in April 1991, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld was released in England to considerable critical acclaim. Its popularity extended to the general public as well, pushing the double-album into Great Britain's Top 30 LP charts.By mid-1991, the Orb had signed a deal to release Ultraworld in the States, but were forced to edit the album down to one disc. (The full double-disc version was later released in the U.S. by Island.) Paterson and Thrash toured Europe during 1991, and compiled the Orb's first two Peel Sessions in November 1991. One month later, the duo released The Aubrey Mixes as a Christmas special. The album, a remix compilation with reworkings by Steve Hillage, Youth, and Jimi Cauty, was deleted on the day of its release, but still managed to place in the U.K. Top 50.
In June 1992, the new single "Blue Room" hit the British Top Ten. The longest single in chart history at just under 40 minutes, it earned the Orb a spot on Top of the Pops, where they ruminated over a chess game and waved at the camera while a three-minute edit of the single played in the background. Released in July, the album U.F.Orb concentrated not on space, but the beings that inhabit it. (The actual "Blue Room" is an installation where the U.S. government allegedly keeps the relics of a 1947 saucer crash outside Roswell, NM.) It hit number one on the British album charts, and also did well with critics, who praised it and the duo's sold-out tour of England.

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