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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 synth work 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.

Paterson had worked as a roadie for Killing Joke during the '80s, and began to be influenced by the explosion of Chicago house music in England during the mid- to late '80s. He joined the A&R department of EG Records -- the home of Brian Eno himself -- and first recorded as the Orb with Jimi Cauty (who had played in the Killing Joke side project Brilliant and later gained fame as one half of the KLF). The duo's first release as the Orb, a failed acid house anthem named "Tripping on Sunshine," appeared on the 1988 compilation album Eternity Project One. In May 1989, the Orb released the Kiss EP, a four-tracker dedicated to -- and heavily sampled from -- New York's KISS-FM. Paterson had begun to DJ in London around this time, and Paul Oakenfold recruited him to man Land of Oz, the chill-out room at his club Heaven.

Paterson's ambient sets incorporated a wide array of samples and sound effects, ranging from BBC nature recordings to NASA space broadcasts and special effects. With those samples mixed underneath the music of ambient pioneers such as Eno and Steve Hillage, his sets became popular alternatives for dancefloor victims and worn-out club kids. Hillage happened to be in the room one night when Paterson sampled his Rainbow Dome Musick album. The two became friends and later recorded together, Hillage contributing guitar to the Orb's "Blue Room" single and Paterson working on the debut album by Hillage's System 7 project (or 777, as it is known in the States due to copyright problems with Apple).

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. (That version was released two years later, alongside their second session, on the Orb's Peel Sessions album.)

In early 1990, Dave Stewart asked Paterson and Cauty to remix his single "Lilly Was Here"; the track hit the U.K.'s Top 20, and the Orb's remix work soon became just as popular as their original material. Erasure, Depeche Mode, Yello, Primal Scream, and more than 20 other bands eventually received the remix treatment before Paterson began to cut back his remixing work in 1992. (One of the only outside remixes of Orb material occurred around this time when breakbeat pioneers Coldcut remixed the Kiss EP for a U.S.-only single.)

Alex Paterson and Jimi Cauty had been recording an album during the turn of 1989-1990, but the two split in April 1990 -- a result of Paterson's fear that the Orb had become known more as a KLF side project than an original act. Cauty stripped Paterson's contribution to the recordings and released the eponymous album -- credited simply as Space -- later that year. (Cauty released another ambient album that year: Chill Out, this time with his KLF partner Bill Drummond.) In the meantime, Alex Paterson had been working with Youth (from Killing Joke) on the new track "Little Fluffy Clouds," with a melody incorporated from composer Steve Reich. The single appeared in November 1990, sparking the wrath of the sampled Rickie Lee Jones, whose dialogue with LeVar Burton -- from the PBS children's program Reading Rainbow -- was sampled for the chorus and title of the track; Big Life later settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Though the single failed to place in the charts, its laid-back vibe made it a big hit on the dancefloor.

Youth's other commitments made it impossible for him to become a permanent member of the Orb, so Paterson decided to recruit Kris Weston (nicknamed Thrash for his punk/metal roots), a young studio engineer who worked on "Little Fluffy Clouds" and had recently left his previous band, Fortran 5. The Orb performed live for the first time just after the pairing, early in 1991 at London's Town & Country 2 with Steve Hillage on guitar. The group's live dates soon became their forte, breaking down the boundaries which had previously separated electronic music from rock. An Orb show encompassed the best elements of performance hall and club, with colorful light shows and visuals, and a relaxed, positive groove rarely found in electronic circles.

All this was fine and good, but the Orb had not yet released an album, the vehicle which virtually all modern musicians use to make artistic statements. 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 that November. 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, New Mexico.) 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.

The non-album single "Assassin" -- originally slated to feature vocals from Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie -- followed in October, and it reached number 12 on the British charts. The U.S. release of U.F.Orb appeared two months later, with initial copies including a second disc with the full version of "Blue Room" plus mixes of "Assassin." A limited LP release of U.F.Orb in England included a live recording of the Orb's appearance at London's Brixton Academy in 1991. (The date was later released on video with an added CD soundtrack as Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld: Patterns and Textures.)

Though the Orb had released several hours of recordings and many remixes during its first three years of existence, the beginning of 1993 prompted a dry spell of over a year and a half. The problem wasn't a lack of material; Paterson and Thrash continued to record, but Big Life Records had begun a controversial campaign to reissue several early singles. The Orb threatened to release no new material until the label promised to cease and desist, and negotiations stalled while the duo looked to opt out of their contract. In the meantime, Big Life spent 1993-1994 reissuing five CD singles and two other 12" releases, including "Little Fluffy Clouds" (which hit the British Top Ten), "Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain," and "Perpetual Dawn" (the second single from Ultraworld). Paterson finally signed an international deal with Island in 1993 and released the stopgap Live 93 later that year. The double-disc set -- which hit number 23 in the album charts -- included highlights from Orb appearances in Europe and Japan, and featured another clever dig at Pink Floyd: the cover has a large stuffed sheep suspended over a power station, à la Floyd's Animals cover.

The Orb's first studio release for Island appeared in June 1994. Pomme Fritz (a "little album") was quite a departure from ambient house, the field that had since caught up with Paterson's revolution of the late '80s. The album has a schizophrenic quality that portrays the group caught between two worlds: the pastoral ambience of the first two albums and the harsher, almost industrial rhythms that the Orb were pushing forward. Pomme Fritz made number six on the British charts, but critics hated it, charging that Paterson had finally disappeared up his own arse. They even compared him to Pink Floyd's own Syd Barrett, who masterminded the psychedelic classic Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but later slipped out of the band as the world's first -- and most popular -- acid casualty.

Pomme Fritz was also a watershed in that the role of Kris Weston had diminished highly. Credited on Pomme Fritz only as an engineer, Weston did appear with Paterson on the August 1994 side project FFWD, the collaboration between Robert Fripp, Orb members Paterson and Weston, and Orb contributor Thomas Fehlmann (hence the name: Fripp, Fehlmann, Weston, and Doctor). By early 1995, Weston finally left the Orb to devote time to his own projects. Before the duo separated, however, they teamed for the Orb's most famous live appearance: on a rave bill at Woodstock 2 with Orbital, Aphex Twin, and Deee-Lite.

Taking up the slack from Weston's departure was Thomas Fehlmann. The Orb had previously remixed a single from his Sun Electric project, and most of Pomme Fritz was recorded at his Berlin studios. Finally, almost three years after U.F.Orb, the new and improved group released the Orb's third studio LP, Orbus Terrarum. With a concept and a sound rooted firmly on terra firma, the album's dense rhythms and return to natural samples heralded a turn away from the cosmic fascination within ambient house -- which had been nurtured in large part by Ultraworld and U.F.Orb. During 1995, Paterson and Fehlmann mounted an ambitious world tour. After the release of a double-disc remix compilation, the Orb returned to the great beyond with the spacy sounds of 1997's Orblivion. The retrospective U.F.Off followed in 1998, and though Paterson and company finished their fifth studio effort, Cydonia, soon after, Island delayed its release until the new millennium.

A shift in labels was in order, so 2004's Bicycles & Tricycles found the Orb on Sanctuary. Working their next label change into the album title, Okie Dokie It's the Orb on Kompakt appeared at the end of 2005, as did the first volume in the rarities compilation series Orbsessions, released by the Killing Joke-associated label Malicious Damage. The Dream, released in 2007 in England, featured a change of lineup; joining the Orb were Youth, last heard on the hit single "Little Fluffy Clouds," and Dreadzone's Tim Bran. The record appeared in 2008 on the American label Six Degrees. One year later, another volume in the Orbsessions series appeared, this a soundtrack recorded by Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann. (Although the film's title was Plastic Planet, the record itself was titled Baghdad Batteries.) Youth and Paterson collaborated again on the Orb's next proper album, Metallic Spheres, which also featured Pink Floyd's David Gilmour contributing guitar and lap steel to the album's two lengthy pieces. The 2011 release C Batter C featured a 17-minute Paterson/Fehlmann composition recorded for Battersea Bunches, a short film featuring Super 8 Paterson family footage from 1956. Seven remixes of the track filled out the disc. The next Orb project, 2012's The Observer in the Star House, featured a starring role for seminal dub producer and longtime Orb influence Lee "Scratch" Perry, along with a remix of "Little Fluffy Clouds," dubbed "Golden Clouds." ~ John Bush, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Love these guys...been listening to them with earphones at work since the late 90's...
Love The Orb!

Hey could you pass me some more of that Orb!?
Little fluffy clouds no matter how they mix it is beyond the beyond...and her voice is the ultimate voice. There is no joy like the joy of a young girls voice.
Long Live the Orb. No one else can produce the collection of exquisite sounds dr Alex p does. My faves are orbus terrarum, adv beyond, and uforb
The Orb was on the top of my collection since they started producing their unique and mind blowing sounds.I searched record stores constantly for new albums and will always snag up their albums.Their consistency is amazing and this is Ambient House at it's finest.
Blissing out in the freshie fresh pow pow in Slowmass.
punkrex
What jebiniv said -- Lee Perry is not the Orb...
why does this bio have information on Lee Perry? He only did a couple of songs with them. he's not the Orb's founding member.
Take me to your house
Revisiting heaven on earth...nice
I like listening to them while I read a book or work on photos, especially the longer songs, like the Metallic Spheres album, Awesome Stuff ! Puts you at ease and alert at the same time.
Awesome, look for The orb Ft. David Gilmour on the Metallic Spheres album, Stellar!
morganskye
I lived on Orb through college. Nothing could get me through like them.
What great way to start your day off. Nice cuppa coffee, The Orb, my Boston Terrorist, Now, off to my pain doctor's appointment. Wish me luck!
Tyler, looking for for cool stuff (in London no less!) a'la The Orb, And I know I'll piss off some by mentioning, tough. I was a DJ for 12 years with this genre if music, so I know WTF I'm talking about. The Underworld of course, anything by the ever changing Prirnal Scream (except 'Sonic Flower Groove, even THEY hated it!!). There's shoots and off-shoots against of the most successful indy groups, for reasons only they know. We;re fourth graders against a double docs'PhD's Dr P said.
Little fluffy clouds is what drew me into this genre..the girls incredible voice reminded me of my best childhood friend..so I called her up ....and the rest is history...sh e was ahead of me and already knew about the song.
panster
I really enjoy the Orb's music, but I feel like he ruins the great sound with all of those nonsense words he throws in, like in "Little Fluffy Clouds", which would otherwise be one of my favorites.
tHIS IS MY FIRST LISTENING TO THIS ARTIST & I LOE THIS MUSIC! Very relaxing...
BONES
milanstevano v i c h
Ah twenty years has past since adventures beyond the Ultraworld.. . what other album/artist could be considered such a seminal masterpiece in electronica in more recent years...???
A few years back, the Orb were playing an intimate DJ show at a very tiny club in San Francisco. Alex was up on the decks when I came up with a nice joint I had rolled. We passed it back and forth while he was spinning, filling the tiny club up with smoke in the process. Boy was he lit! A truly great moment in my life...
afd252
The Orb fans... have you checked out their new album yet with David Gilmour? Go to www.metallic s p h e r e s . c o m for more info and to preorder the album!
rossjudson, you rock.
trip me out softly
mmmmm great to do photoshop too
Love me some Orb
Anita -- look at a discography for The Orb and one for Shpongle. The Orb predates Shpongle by many years. That being said, I wouldn't diminish either group in any way. They are two of the absolute best at what they do, and for those yet to discover them, I envy you. Shpongle is a little more psychadelic, and The Orb has a little more groove.
ianchristenb e r r y
"Aftermath", the second track on "Bicycles and Tricycles" was my intro to the Orb. What a superb cut! Looking forward to digging into all the early stuff . . .
Sounds like they are trying to rip off Shpongle, except this music is way to ambient for me. Thumbs down.
As soon as I heard "Fluffy..." The Orb is swank. I remember listening to early Tangerine Dream back in the early 80's thinking something was missing and I finally found it in full-blown down-tempo electronica. One Friday night in Cleveland, Ohio in the late Fall of 1999, Alex was spinning at a club directly on the Cuyahoga River by the marine firehouse. Me and my girl rolled and later spent the night with the Good Doctor in the club's green room upstairs. Xcellent Xperience!
I heard this fantastic trip when I lived in San Francisco and to date it is still by far one the best albums I've ever listened to. That was back in '92
Alright, I'll check out Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. Sounds promising. Thanks guys! I like both the dancy type electronica AND the more just "listenable" stuff like Autechre, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada. I like almost all of the different areas of electronica. So Adventures first, and if I like it I'll go try UFOrb. Thanks again!
In 1993 I borrowed a copy of Adventures beyond the ultraworld, took my papa-san chair off its base, placed my two bose speakers on its rim, sat in the middle of it and listened to that album for 10 hours of inner cerebral exploration. Changed my life. Long live the ORB.
bromide01
Things beeping rule.
creightonca
bowty94: For me, their live 93 album (double disc) gives a great account of their music and should do well for you regarding the "dancy bits" and the more "close your eyes and go" stuff. Orb has been my fave for a good 15 years and counting. Saw them in Seattle last weekend and still a great ride. Peace!
bowty, you should check out the lp "the orb's adventures beyond the ultraworld;" in particular, the epic track "an ever growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the ultraworld." "u.f.orb" is another good lp as well.
saw these close a Lollapalooza show back in the day and it was the perfect come down from Tool (who were touring Aenima at the time).
ORB RULES!!!!!!! ! DREAM TO LIVE YOU FOOLS
I am new to the Orb, but I like similar groups, and I have enjoyed the couple Orb songs I have heard. Can anyone give me a list of their top 20 songs or so? That way I can go see if I will really like them. I enjoy Orbital most, then (in no particular order) I like FSOL, Aphex Twin, Crystal Method, John Digweed, Sasha. Tend to like more danceable stuff, but there are other electronic songs I like that aren't as danceable. Any Orb suggestions? Thanks.
The Orb is solid.
What were the skies like when you were young?
How do you get a bongwater stain out of a carpet?
The name of the band is _bongwater_?
I still pop in the Live 93 album when I need to get into the groove. "what were the clouds like when you were young..."
Anyone else remember the Absorb the Orb contest?
Orbus Terrarum is a "Desert Island" classic. In my book. Would easily be one of my 10 to choose. Maybe one of three.
Thankfully introduced to the by a British co-worker while living in NYC, and enjoyed most of their work. Dr. Lx is a genius. UFOrb is a classic, and glad to hear the are back in pure form again. "Don't leave home without them."
Thank You
design84
cross Dementional Program right here.. download that s**t into your brain to free your soul
kcoppola28
AHHHHHHHHHHH H H H H H H H H H H H H H H M A Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z I N G G G G G G G G G G G G G G G G G G G ! ! ! ! !
Venture beyond the cosmic boundaries of perception with the inventor of psychedelic/ a m b i e n t electro-groo v e s . Dr. Alex is a genious here, as well as on other planets as well.
dalastar
Take a trip to another universe without leaving your armchair. Dr. Alex was really the one who started my journey into electronic trippy otherness in 1991.

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