THE ORB-U.F. ORB.
THE ORB-U.F. ORB.
In a previous article, I wrote about The Orb’s debut album The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. That album proved to be one of the most influential of the decade. It was a brilliant album, one of the best debut albums you’ll ever hear. What many people wondered, was how would The Orb follow up that album. March 1992, saw The Orb release U.F. Orb their second album. U.F. Orb is a masterful mixture of ambient house, techno, downtempo music and otherworldly samples. On its release, the album reached number one in the UK album charts. Since then, U.F. Orb has been viewed as a classic album, and one of the most important albums in the development of electronic and dance music.
U.F. Orb begins with O.O.B.E, a track that begins with a rumbling sinister sound, gradually getting nearer. It’s an almost disturbing sound. Thankfully, that doesn’t last long, because synths sweep into the track, lightening the mood. They give the track a lighter, brighter, downtempo feel, as the track meanders slowly. After that, one of The Orb’s space age sounding samples enters. On their debut album, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, this became one of their trademarks. Although a meandering downtempo track is emerging, when these samples appear, and are joined by noises that you’d think belong in a Star Wars film, the track takes on a more edgy, sinister feel and sound. The longer the track goes on, the more the sound builds, a pulsating, near throbbing sound emerges, increasing the edginess. A noise that sound like a robot speaking through a vocoder can be heard. Now, the track has taken on an otherworldly feel. It’s glorious, fantastic. When you dim the lights, turn up the volume, you’re transported to another dimension. For nearly thirteen minutes, a melange of sweeping synths, beep, pulsating and throbbing noise surround, and wash over you. They’re joined by eerie samples, that have an unsettling presence. As the track ends, you feel as if The Orb have transported you to another dimension or plant, one where their national anthem is gloriously eerie, unsettling, otherworldly and utterly spellbinding.
The title track U.F Orb begins with what sounds like water running, synths sweep slowly into the soundscape. Here the sounds starts gently, washing over you. Then what sounds like a helicopter flying overheard appears, a sample of Radio Moscow plays. Suddenly, it’s like returning to those terrible Cold War years. Just when the atmosphere looks like taking becoming edgy and maybe bleak, out of nowhere, come some almost joyous sounding house influenced drums. They’re accompanied by synths. Occasionally, vocal stabs emerge, the music will pause or the helicopter can be heard, tormenting your ears. Mostly, it’s real hands in the air house music. Think raves and the late eighties. Sometimes, a sinister vocal interrupts. At the tend, a mixture of sinister sounding voices, and that helicopter break the spell, and reality kicks in. However, U.F Orb was two parts joyous, to one part surreal. Brilliant.
Blue Room was the single taken from U.F Orb, and when it was released as a single, was forty minutes long. The album version only lasts seventeen minutes. As fans of The Orb will know, they’re fascinated with aliens, space and UFOs, and the Blue Room is the alleged holding room at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where supposedly, evidence of aliens is held. When the track begins, the sound ambles in, waves crash, all beeps and bleeps, very retro sounding now. A plays, feedback building up subtly. Strangely, it’s effective. Overall, the sound is a multitude of sounds, they almost trickle, rather than bleed from your speaker. For a while, it’s a soothing sound, laid back and enjoyable. Later samples play, a siren sounds, you wonder what’s going on in the Blue Room. Synths sweet, a rattling sound appears, then almost silence. Just when you least expect it, things take an unsettling turn. Noises that are unrecognizable make their presence felt, sample play. Gone is the soothing, laid back feeling. By now you’re wondering what goes on in the Blue Room. You’d love to see in, but are almost scared to do so. Another sample appears, thankfully, it’s not unsettling, quite the opposite. It calms your nerves. Then drums play, they pound, a squelchy sound accompanies them. Water drips, that lovely sample returns. Thereafter, the drums are at the forefront of the mix, swathes of sound emerging. Multi-layers of music emerge. Generally, it’s much more relaxing, apart from the occasional sample that tests your nerves. Then, when you least expect it, feedback can be heard, setting your teeth on edge. The drums, and occasional percussion are welcome contrast to the teeth grating feedback. As the track ends, muted screams, a train whistle blows, feedback and water dripping can all be heard. Truly, Blue Room has been both a magical and unsettling musical journey. If that is what is in the Blue Room, I’m not sure if I want to enter.
As Towers of Dub begins, a comedy sample plays. It’s a hilarious interplay between a security guard taking a prank phone call from someone looking for Haile Selassie. It’s absolutely priceless, and it always makes me smile. After that, a dog barks, then quietly, another spoken word sample plays. Meanwhile, a melody gently meanders, against a backdrop of the tide breaking against the beach. A harmonica plays, and quickly, the track builds. Sound effects enter, synths sweep, drums play. Echo is used to give the drums a dub feel and sound. What’s emerging is a mixture of electronica and Jamaican dub. It’s quite an effective and potent mix. As well as crunching drums and percussion, a dog barks, the harmonica returns. All the while, the dub influence is present. Suddenly, a bank of keyboards play, their sound slightly discordant. If you imagine dub music with a bluesy harmonica playing, occasionally accompanied by a dog barking you’ve got the picture. During the remainder of the track, samples and sound effects play, synths join the fray, dubby drums play and that dog barks. For fifteen laid back and sometimes, manic minutes, The Orb mix their own unique brand of ambient with one of Jamaica’s finest exports…dub. The result is masterful.
Like the Blue Room, The Orb’s interest in space, UFOs and aliens is apparent with the next track Close Encounters. Space age sounds emerge from your speakers, you could be fooled into thinking you’ve mistakenly put on a sci-fi soundtrack. Synths sweep in from space, sound effects emerge from the ether, an otherworldly sound and feel makes its presence felt. The track almost pulsates into being. Rippling synth sounds, joined by others that throb and pulsate appear. As Sun Ra said, Space Is the Place. Drums pounding enter, a house beat playing. Joined by a melange of sound effects which The Orb produce with their banks of electronic instruments. One minute, the sound sweeps understated, the next, it throbs tumultuously. Overall, it’s a heady brew, one that tantalises your senses, in anticipation of what will happen next. Quite simply, you never know, you can’t second guess The Orb. What you do know, is that they’ll always surprise and fascinate you. Omnipresent, are those drums pounding punchily and pleasantly, their presence reassuring. No effects are used to transform their sound. However, around them, effects are everywhere, sound surround them, produced by synths, sequencers and samplers, a laborious labour of love back then. With two minutes remaining, the sound growls, grinding to a halt. Samples of children playing appear, droning voices enter, the sound is quiet but slightly disturbing. It drones towards the end, a variety of sounds making their presence felt. Those droning voices remain, accompanied by a dark, somewhat threatening sound. By the end of the track, it feels as if you’ve had a close encounter with some magnificent and innovative music, music that can move you in a multitude of amazing ways.
Majestic is a word that could be used to describe The Orb’s music. However, it’s also the title of the next track. It begins darkly, then another sample referencing space appears, and the track brightens. A glacial voice emerges singing, a rhythm repeats, samples assault you, occasionally, they’re drenched in delay or echo. Drums distantly play, sounds reminding you of a dusty bazaar appear. Then banks of synths and keyboards combine, a house beat plays. By now the sound has grown. Suddenly, all you can hear is a plodding, throbbing bass play. The sound starts to rebuild. Repetition is everywhere, the same rhythms and melodies appear, disappear and reappear. Voices emerge, synths sweep in and out. What you hear is a complex multi textured sound, which features layer upon layer of music. So much is going on, you’re constantly distracted. Never try second guess The Orb, it’s impossible. Only they know who the direction this soundscape will take. What happens is samples and sound effects aplenty enter and leave the mix, synths and drums combine, then suddenly, towards the end, it’s almost quiet. You feel a surprise awaits you, and you’re correct. Sound effect and samples make their presence felt, and then…the track ends. Eleven minutes of complex, multi layered music, music that is intriguing, enthralling and full of subtleties and nuances.
Sticky End is the final track on U.F. Orb. It’s a strange almost, unsatisfying way to end the album. For fifty-seconds a bubbling sound effect can be heard. Very little happens, it doesn’t grip your attention and seems out of place on the album. Maybe it’s The Orb’s sense of humor. Who knows? Personally, I feel it’s a sad end to a great album.
For twenty years I’ve been captivated by The Orb’s music. U.F. Orb was an innovative and pioneering album. It demonstrated just what was possible using synths, samplers, sound effects and traditional instruments. Back in 1992, this album must have taken a huge amount of time to make. Technology then, was in its infancy, whereas nowadays, computers can do things quickly and easily. Even though this album is nearly twenty years old, it still sounds fresh and relevant. Unlike some dance and electronic tracks and albums, made in the early nineties, U.F. Orb still has a contemporary sound. It sounds as good in 2011, as in 1992. That’s quite a compliment, as a lot of music sounds dated, and this can happen really quickly. Like many great albums, U.F. Orb has a timeless quality. What I love about U.F. Orb is that every time you listen to it, subtleties and nuances reveal themselves, you discover new sounds. This is to be expected as their music is complex, and features many layers and textures of music. The music on the album ranges from relaxing and soothing, to edgy and almost disturbing. Sometimes it’s the musical equivalent of a horror movie, and makes you sit on the edge of your seat. That is the power of U.F. Orb, a remarkable album, an album that can elicit a multitude of thoughts and feelings as you listen to the seven songs on it. Should you not have heard the album, I recommend that you buy it. Both U.F. Orb and its predecessor, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, are brilliant albums. They’re two of the best, and most influential albums in the history of electronic and dance music, and deserve a place in your record collection. Standout Tracks: O.O.B.E, U.F Orb, Blue Room and Majestic.
THE ORB-U.F. ORB.