The Orb
Adventures Beyond

The Ultraworld






Hailed as one of the most important Ambient releases, both in hindsight and by contemporary listeners, The Orb's luxurious space exploration double album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld is a mile-, gem- and cornerstone of the genre that is not to be missed under any circumstance! Hailing from Battersea, London, the fellows around Dr. Alex Paterson create an entrancing aural travelog that is spiced with a multitude of samples, interviews, documentaries, Synth Pop songs and Dub skits, as well as field recordings and sound libraries. While Paterson remains in the center all of the time and gathers different musicians around him – among them Thomas Fehlmann, Kris "Thrash" Weston, System 7 and Jimmy Cauty – the album is a focused collaborative effort, and while each and every musician lends his or her talent in unique ways, the album sounds as coherent and vivacious to this day as it did back then. It may occasionally be a tad dated on the synth side, but the multitude of samples and quotations camouflage this fact quite successfully. Five tracks are found on each CD, most of them cross the ten-minutes mark with ease. The album caters to a wide audience: there are proper Ambient tracks on there as well as galactic Dub takes and Dance skits, many of these genres brand new and never presented before. The ambience, however, always remains as a bold constituent in each track. This is the album that features such hits as Little Fluffy Clouds, Perpetual Dawn and the quintessence of The Orb's enchanting magic, A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld. Read on about a track-by-track analysis or scroll to the end to find out more about this double album's stylistic impact and the utter importance of collaborative efforts as the most stringent ingredient of The Orb's formula.

And off goes disc one with the iconic rooster call, the lawnmower sample and the infamous, incessantly repeated section of the Rickie Lee Jones interview CD that is merged with
Ennio Morricone's theme of Once Upon A Time In The West. I'm of course talking about Little Fluffy Clouds, one of The Orb's six or seven real anthems. Co-written with Martin "Youth" Glover, this tale of the "purple and red and yellow and on fire" clouds in Arizona is a masterpiece in the art of sampling about nine years before The Avalanches's Since I Left You was officially released. Merging Eurodance synth stabs with Steve Reich's composition Electric Counterpoint, the only unique hand-made element seems to be the pumping 4/4 bassline that forces itself through the track. The song is utterly melodious and to this day one of the best known songs by the band, appearing regularly on late-night music programs with its video of dizzy dolphins swimming through technicolored skies as well as on Best Of lists and very recently as Golden Clouds on the band's collaborative album with Lee "Scratch" PerryThe Orbserver In The Star House of 2012. Little Fluffy Clouds encompasses everything that is (or was? Or seemed to be?) right about the early phase of commercially successful electronic music. It relies heavily on other people's material, but meshes it in a truly unique way and remains low enough under the radar that legal proceedings didn't start until much later when Rickie Lee Jones' attorneys got wind of The Orb's ditty. It's catchy, suitable for workout or the early after-hours when the real birds are chirping and intermix with the ambience of Little Fluffy Clouds. It's simply marvelous. The airplane engine that is attached at the end flows right into the next song called Earth (Gaia), a song co-written with soon-to-be-permanent band member Kristian "Thrash" Weston who played a much bigger role during the production of the 1992 follow-up album U.F.Orb. It is without a doubt the gloomiest song of the whole release, intertwining Flash Gordon samples of King Cletus with shaker-laden beats, wobbling bass drums and eerie synth strings. It is either a fan favorite or despised with a passion, as it is less melodious. It may be spacey, but is also quite harsh and depicts a dusky view on Earth from space.

The next two tracks are entangled with each other and form a 26+ minutes long super track.
Supernova At The End Of The Universe, co-written with System 7 aka Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, drives the listener farther into space with a thunderous bass drone of a supposed supernova. The interplay between space (!) and sound is what makes this composition so great. A galactosamine-fueled high-pitched acoustic guitar loop meanders through the graceful construction of hazy synth eruptions, NASA transmission samples and the seraphic glacial scenery of blue-shimmering synth washes complete with crystalline seven-note hooks. A dub bassline is introduced after a few minutes and completed by incisive shakers and rhythmical "Yeh" samples, probably off one of Paterson's many collected Dub records. Glistening 8-bit laser sounds illuminate the way to the second part – or remix – called Back Side Of The Moon, the sans-beats Ambient version of Supernova. It's a terrific track with iridescent, brightly sparkling synth chimes, the already established guitar loop and refined galactic synth washes that work all the better in the solemn setup. Glittering stars, spiraling bleeps, cascading swirls and gentle high-region drums accompany this reflective, enormously soothing and powerful track. It sounds admittedly dated on the synth side but is, at least to my mind, able to mask these flaws with its atmosphere of tranquility and peace. A mind-blowing track whose majestic grace can only be beaten by the final 15+ minutes long minimal Dub song Spanish Castles In Space. The strong, vibrant bass twangs are played by Guy Pratt, as is the warped steel guitar. Featuring a looped Russian sample about fish in tanks, this very slow song floats along quiescently with rudimentary synth pads, nocturnal bird samples and, probably best of all ingredients, the permanently repeated piano spirals of Alex North’s Spartacus Love Theme. There really is not much to be found in this song, and yet its reduced approach works marvelously, creating a spacey flow that immerses the listener. The song ends with rattling railway noises, various sheep and echoey dripstone drops. What remains left is the huge dose of British humour: using a Russian sample in a Dub track with a Spanish reference is pure genius. Are the language skills of early-90's listeners profound enough find out about the fact that this talkative speaker doesn't speak Spanish, let alone able to decipher the true meanings of his words? It's easy today thanks to the web, but back then? Cheeky!

The second disc starts with another single, presented in its original, non-vocal form:
Perpetual Dawn merges punchy Reggae synth stabs with club-compatible beats and is otherwise loaded with cylon countdowns, vocoded show tunes, Hammond organ-interspersed Peppermint Twist fragments, samples of laughter and cacophonous flute tones. The energetic shakers and pumping beats make this a great Space Reggae skit that works as marvelously in this version as it does on the vocal take featuring Shola Philipps. It's definitely one of my favorite tracks with a poignant video of another bunch of dolphins and skeletons (!) running through aqua-colored landscapes of clouds – your average 90's in a nutshell! Into The Fourth Dimension features the engineering talent of Andy Falconer and turns the galactic motif up a notch with space exploration documentaries, violin strings of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere and a deep drone that rounds off the glittering star artifacts that glow occasionally. Strangely enough, the majesty of this song is later diminished and nearly killed off by rustic static-noise-robotism beats and the rising theme of euphonious Italo piano chords. Faux-bongos round off the pattern of the rhythm. This is definitely the weakest but also weirdest song of the second CD. Its ingredients merge well, and the use of cantos in a technology-driven soundscape remind of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, once the beats set in, the song turns into a dated Trance track, harming the atmosphere that was so splendidly built before. The following Outlands, co-written by Paterson with his longtime collaborator Thomas Fehlmann, starts with the most beautiful Ambient vignette of cars on a highway, vibraphone washes and rolling thunders. It soon introduces acidy-robotic countdowns, another use of a different Rickie Lee Jones sample – "I don't know if I was high or if I was just …" doesn't exactly enhance her reputation as a country singer – as well as synth strings and fantastic multilayered 90's rave stabs. Cascading five-note bass pads provide a certain kind of sneaky snobbery. It's a somewhat mean-spirited track, but totally warped and catchy. 

The final two tracks are among the best works The Orb ever came up with.
Star 6 & 7 8 9 launches with engines of either a motorboat or sports airplanes, a looped but beautiful field recording of chirping birds and a stereo-panned bumblebee which awaits its destiny and sure enough encounters it soon. Hugh Vickers and Tom Green aka Another Fine Day co-wrote this coruscating song with its admixed gleaming synth sparkles and a rather complex but phantasmagoric acoustic guitar melody whose plasticity is beyond awesome. Although the melody is dumbed down to a short loop during live performances, it can shine all the more on the album and carries the whole track by decisively breaking the loop-based boundaries of the album. It is only accompanied by backing bass droplets, the many chirping birds and the occasional appearance of Johnny Osbourne's "Back off!" chants of his Dub song Back Off Ringcraft. Synth sweeps are entering in the last third of the track, but they are rather cold and disconnected from the ongoing beauty. The tune moves into another – maybe the – signature composition off The Orb, the epic 18+ minutes long live mix of A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld. Two versions of it are specifically well-known: the so-called dance-oriented Orbital Mix (made by The Orb!) with pumping beats, and a gorgeous arrangement of 20 minutes played on the John Peel Show and to this day one of the most noteworthy show performances ever. The album version differs greatly. The incessantly looped omnipresence of the eight-note base frame sounds deeper and more Detroit-like, while the aah-aah synth choir off Grace Jones' megahit Slave To The Rhyhm is unleashed more often. It is by far the dreamiest, most soothing and adventurous version of this song. Shedloads of samples are thrown into the mix, whirr around the eight-note nucleus, and fade out, among them alarm clocks, gurgling water, roosters, airplane engines, a mimicry of Minnie Riperton's Loving You (for the legal department, alas, got wind of the inclusion of the original song in time), a helicopter-like staccato bass, beat-driven intersections, ocean waves, hazy pink noise and a few surprises scattered in-between and far beyond. Co-written with Jimmy Cauty of The KLF, Paterson remixed this tune for the album all by himself. It's a synth-heavy hymn, a manifesto of a successful synthesis of Ambient music with Synth Pop and sound libraries. As the song winds and slows down in tempo, it becomes clear that The Orb reinvented the concept of Ambient music and travelog albums with Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.

What a gargantuan album! Time and space, planets and apes (or rather roosters), synths and steel guitars, Dub and Synth Pop, abyssal drones and effervescent sparkles –
Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld is bubbling over of collaborative efforts, catchy melodies and solemn pompousness. This is the synopsis of The Orb's teamwork and a real gemstone. Not only did Paterson, back then an unknown roadie for Killing Joke and a novice in the field of electronic music, somehow achieve to have this work released as a double album in Europe, but he was also capable of stressing the importance and succeeding fruition of collaborations, a theme that flows through The Orb's complete back catalog to this day. It is often said that Paterson is the nexus of the band, which is true, but he himself stressed the essence of a synergetic symbiosis time and again. He's a team player and never finishes a track all by himself. Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld is only the first album that shows the strength and power of his characteristic trait. The spacey atmosphere is kept alive in every arrangement, and the listener can choose from a variety of moods: happiness, mystique, bliss, calamity and quirkiness are all entangled, and yet does the album sound coherent. All the little curlicues and samples add tremendous wealth and liveliness, make the songs organic and fun to listen to. If you are the least bit interested in either sample-driven or sample-based music which is intertwined with a space theme, check this album out! The Orb brought Ambient to a new level and did so once again with their 1992 follow-up #1 smash hit U.F. Orb that is all about Ambient House. Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld is an essential release in any way, and if you don't know it yet, I envy you, for you can take these journeys, trips and voyages in an ecstatic way and can grow accustomed to its depth and wideness… for lightyears and more.




Further reading:

There is a notoriously great fan page of The Orb that lists most of the samples that have been used on their various tracks. Although the collection stops with the band's 2003 release Bicycles & Tricycles, it has a spot-on knowledge about every album before it, among them Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. You can find the website here.




Ambient Review 116: The Orb – Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991). Originally published on Sep. 5, 2012 at