Under the Influence, Part Two: The Orb<
I first heard (and saw) The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" on a public access music video channel in Denver, Colorado, summer 1991. The KLF were then prying open the door of my musical tastes with their goofy and loveable house music, but the Orb tore it from the hinges. Unfettered, all kinds of brilliant sounds flowed in, clearing the room, sweeping the floors. I didn't know dub from the Doobie Brothers. It didn't matter. The Orb inspired me. Besides how could you be from Arizona and not immediately embrace "Little Fluffy Clouds" as an anthem?
"We lived in Arizona, and the sky always had little fluffy clouds in them," Rickie Lee Jones reminisced to Levar Burton on the old PBS show Reading Rainbow. "They were long and clear and there were lots of stars at night. They were beautiful, the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact."
Somehow this forgettable bit of television seeped into the brain of the Orb's Alex Paterson and emerged as a chilled out house groove. Rickie Lee wasn't so happy that her voice served as an instrument in the Orb's orchestra and sued the band. The suit was settled out of court, the Orb survived and prospered.
Again backed with the praise of British music magazines Melody Maker and the NME, I sought out and bought an import copy of the Orb's first record, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. If I had first heard the record now, I would probably have really enjoyed it, but I would have picked apart its influences and intentions, blunting the audacity of the music. In '91 I was just simply blown away. I had heard nothing like it before.
Spread across two discs, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is an ingenious patchwork of samples, ranging from NASA recordings to chickens, and an array of house, dub and ambient textures. It's as if Dr. Alex and his cohorts strapped their Kraut Rock and Pink Floyd obsessions to a dub-fueled rocket and blasted it off, destination the Sun. Along the way there are moments that groove and moods that elevate the senses. The album is at once unfathomably deep and gossamer thin. Echoing drums and dub bass lines shudder from beneath, while wispy, beautiful melodies and haunting samples weave about overhead like northern lights. And at the end of disc two is "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Center of the Universe", easily one of the most beautiful and enduring pieces of electronic creativity I've ever heard. It's too bad it's only 18 minutes long.