The self-titled album and one-release affair by FFWD is a collaboration between one great guitarist and three dextrous Electronic musicians. The band name is a surname-related acronym for Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame, Thomas Fehlmann, Kris Weston and Dr Alex Paterson, the last three being members of The Orb back then. Interestingly, this collaboration is a twofoldly important foreshadowing device for fans of the latter band because firstly, this was Alex Paterson‘s first true collaboration album – since then, he is keen of new liaisons every so often and also finds the time to orchestrate a new Orb album almost annually. And secondly, the style of the album, shuttling between beautiful synth washes and high-pitched noises and clangs, foreshadows the fan-dividing arrival of The Orb‘s mini album called Pomme Fritz which is all the more keen on weird noises, fizzling roaring and sputtering crackles, all of these noises being once more reunited with beautifully haunting melodies. Curiously, both FFWD and Pomme Fritz were released in July, 1994. By nature, FFWD is an Ambient album and originally derives from an unreleased 51+ minute super song called Orbert, constructed and glued together in late 1993 after The Orb‘s world tour, and slightly altered and divided into 12 tracks on FFWD. Robert Fripp‘s inclusion is noticeable in terms of his warped guitar and his skilled use of it. However, there is absolutely no Folk or acoustic flavor to be found on here, for the guitar is really churned and heavily swayed by all kinds of different post effects with just a few slight exceptions. As a bonus, the album was mastered in Dolby Pro Logic, also known by housewives as Dolby Surround, and hence greatly amplifies the effects of the wandering and ever-altered synth waves. The album still sounds as fresh today as it sounded back then. It is considered a cult classic on websites like Discogs and by reviewers on Amazon. In the end, the album is a no-brainer for fans of The Orb and Ambient music, but probably less appealing to fans of King Crimson or Progressive Rock. However, at the time of writing, it is not available for purchase.


Hidden starts the album with a mysterious melody, but after just a few seconds, gorgeously bright synthesizer strings are tremoling through the mix. A field recording of chirping birds is added, which is all the more effective due to its prominence in the mix; the synths wane for a minute to let the nature scenery shine, while the 6-note bass melody adds a room-filling flavor. The synth strings then return, even louder and more dominant, encapsulating the listener in an orb of ambience. Robert Fripp‘s high-pitched guitar is featured in two simultaneously played layers, and the synths slowly subside near the end of the song, making room for splattering water burbles. Hidden works on an arcane level. It is beautiful, yet mysterious, yet comforting and hopeful. A great way to start the album. What is simply the best song on the album follows next: Lucky Saddle. It consists of a great acoustic guitar loop with a clearly audible instrumental source. A wonderful electronic motif is looped in accordance to Fripp‘s guitar. A few reverberated, crushing sounds are thrown into the mix. It is after 2 and a half minutes when Lucky Saddle starts to mold into something gargantuan: the rhythm is changing which is only notable due to the soft and quiet cymbals, and layers of soothing synths are superimposed on each other. The song ends on a noisy note right out of a plant floor. The end of this beautiful song might spoil its entire concept of felicity, but since these noises are shattered far and wide on FFWD, they equally belong to the very same concept, and one is either getting used to it or not.


Hempire is a beatless Ambient piece that consists of three layers of a high-pitched electric guitar and several meandering synths. Since there is no disturbing background element to be found, this song forms a great occasion for presenting Pro Logic equipment or a comparable listening session with suitable headphones. The surrounding effects of Hempire are especially well-made, not overly gimmicky but quite harmonious indeed. A similarly structured song is Can Of Bliss, and this could well be the second best Ambient song on the album. It is built by utterly gorgeous synth waves, their swells and downswings are deliciously crafted and very vivid due to the spaces that accrue from the respective fade-outs. From there on, the album pulls the noise trigger and features interesting shuffles of layered sound effects, heavily reverberated and twisted, as can be heard in the (slightly too long for my taste) Buckwheat & Grits, which starts with glacial sounds and bird noises, but borrows too much from Hempire and can thus be seen as a 10-minute extension to that song. Don‘t get me wrong, Buckwheats & Grits is beautiful – it‘s just in the wrong place on the album and somehow turns things into a more boring direction. In my opinion, Hempire is good as it is, and a prolongation which appears several songs later doesn‘t do much for me conceptually. However, in Klangtest, which is a collage of quite a few songs on the album, the concept of a resumption of former takes does work. It includes the synth sounds of Can Of Bliss, the haunting guitar of Hidden and Lucky Saddle and adds an electronic marimba as a golden thread to the song. However, this is no half-hearted recycling of already presented ingredients, but a new and rather hectical take, as the familiar sounds fade in and out rather swiftly. Klangtest reunites in its 5-minute runtime a few ideas found in FFWD and thus works on a meta level: it forms one song with the help of other songs, while these other songs originally formed Orbert, the one track that was divided into 12 parts, all of them parts of a new whole, namely FFWD. The last track, Suess Wie Eine Nuss (translated as Sweet like a nut) ends the album with the repetition of the motif of Hempire, with a slightly more melancholic mood and a feeling of uncertainty. Similar to Hempire, the surround effect plus the stereo panning work great, and the artificial cracking of nuts or eating of apples, followed by their chewing, add an interesting and not too noisy environment.


All in all, the FFWD project is a masterpiece and one of the best Ambient outings ever. The sound of the band is to this day distinguishable from everything else out there, and only partially similar to The Orb‘s Pomme Fritz of the same year – and the same month of that year. While the synth washes are beautiful and enjoyable, the mood of the album cannot be pinpointed easily. It shuttles between utter joy, mysticism and melancholy, a gorgeous cocktail that elevates the album above the seasons, making it timeless and equally enjoyable in Spring evenings and Winter mornings. It is, once again, an utter shame that this album is not available right now, neither on CD, nor on iTunes and Co. As far as I‘m aware, the publishing rights are now in the hands of Robert Fripp himself, on his Crimson Music label. I am sure and hopeful that a re-release is coming soon, as there might be a monstrous Fripp anthology secretly in the making, which will surely add Fripp‘s one-time affair with The Orb. It better should.




Ambient Review 020: FFWD – FFWD (1994). Originally published on Jan. 4, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.