HE MAY have entered his sixth decade on this particular rock spinning in space – and don’t even get me started on the passage of time, I mean how can this have happened? – but the good Doctor, Alex Paterson, ambient dub techno genius behind The Orb, is ready to roll with a whole clutch of things to keep him busy through 2021.
There’s his autobiography, Babble On An’ Ting: Alex Paterson’s Incredible Journey Beyond the Ultraworld with The Orb, written with Kris Needs, featuring interview with the great Andy Weatherall, Primal Scream, Jimmy Cauty, Youth, more; and that’s also out this very Friday. (Oh, pick up your copy here if you wish, among other reputable vendors of the printed word).
“I decided to do a book now as I have reached one full human cycle 60. Also, to tell my side of stories and to set the record straight on planet Orb,” says Alex.
“Working with Kris was seriously brilliant fun. We have been friends and allies for decades now. He’s a beautiful man with a deep knowledge of all things secret and [we] actually lived through some of the stories together.”
He’s also launched a new imprint, Orbscure Recordings, ministered over by The Orb’s home of the past few years, Cooking Vinyl.
“The name is a play on the Obscure label Eno set up on Editions EG in the 1970s. Orbs Cure. Clever parrot-Orbscure! Orbscure! Orbs Cure for all ills. Orbs Cure made 2 chill,” free-associates Alex.
There’s already a raft of new releases in the pipeline, with three albums set for release this year. The label will feature artists from Uganda, Kenya, Argentina, Japan and America, with further collaborative projects to follow.
Just looking in the rear-view mirror for a second, there’s also been The Orb’s Abolition of The Royal Familia – Guillotine Mixes; that was only a few weeks ago.
Taking that versioning concept that worked to such sexily lysergic effect with 1991’s Aubrey Mixes: The Ultraworld Excursions, Abolition of The Royal Familia features reinterpretations from familiar faces, most of whom also have credits on the last studio album, Abolition …, including Youth, Moody Boys, David Harrow, Andy Falconer, Paul Metamono and Gaudi, Kris Needs and Lost Stoned Pandas, taking the originals for a trip out deeper into acid house, Balearic and techno.
But it’s the founding and launching of Orbscure that most concerns us here today, and the first record in the catalogue; it’s by Sedibus, a new name on us, until you look at the staff involved on this particular deep-space, deep-head mission.
It sees Alex reunite with Andy Falconer, who both co-wrote and engineered the ambient material on that seminal, career-launching The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.
Their paths crossed after so much time between in 2019 at Youth’s Space Mountain festival in southern Spain, where both were playing separately. They decided to work together again and sound files began to crackle back and forth across the fibre optics.
“Organic in feel and clearly referencing our shared roots, The Heavens is an immersive journey of ambient electronica which not only references a source, but the distance travelled from that point of origin to something new,” says Andy. It is spacily, blissfully cracking in the way that particular wave of British ambience so is. Lush.
“Afterlife Aftershave” begins our trip in memory-snatched children’s voices, found sound, the bells of shepherded animals and swooping synths; so that’s all good then, we know we’re coming up on the trip. Sterner, grander washes of sound disorientate as cut-glass, Alice In Wonderland voices bubble deep in the soup of snatched remembrance. It positively glows, the soundcraft; rings and wraps and glitters. And it doesn’t especially get involved with any sense of movement, of propulsion, except in the gentlest sense of an unfolding; instead it deepens, big washes of chord overlaid with a tracing paper of real-world spatial capture, skittering and snatching at your ears. Every once in a while a piano intones to mark the time. It eddies.
… and eddies and swirls and blends into the twelve-minute deep space mission, “TOI 1338b”, named for the planet in the constellation Pictor that orbits two suns (blow your mind with that here), that shifts through the tonal gears in a melange of robotic, solid state satellite chatter, acid crackle, BBC announcements adrift in the telemetry of the cosmos; and it’s spacily, blissfully cracking in the way that particular wave of Nineties’ British ambient that The Orb birthed so is. Lush. It’s music to gaze upon twin suns to in your grimy, meteorite-pocked galactic trading hulk, rolling a fat one at the antiquated controls. It picks up a gentle, creaking beat, the first we’ve encountered so far, and an anchoring utterance of “Sputnik”, as it also lets some deeper, revolving acid static into play alongside space transmissions from the archive; which are, let’s face it, always a brilliant texture. It finishes in some piano-driven music hall song sample so twisted and bent about that your head will actually begin to melt.
“Unknowable” is the molten, 19-minute core of the album; we’re still spinning way out there, and by now your shields will be full-on leaking. Again, it’s garlanded with the cross-chatter of Mission Control, twinned with an immersive piano that’s more than a little Harold Budd. And again, that glimmer of sound, sustaining, thrilling, the Milky Way through which bodies of other sonic texture shoot. Percussion pitter-patters in, just the most hushed metronome, hand in hand with a arpeggiating and cyclical riff, getting more cinematic, sequencers rising and burbling. At your all-back-to-mine at 3am, this’ll persuade the faithful to one more easy shuffle around the kitchen, arranging the cups for the next round of brews with the shuffling rhythm as the more blissed nod eyes shut with knowing grins. And you welcome Apollo 10 back to Earth to end.
The Heavens concludes with “Papillions”, itself no slouch in the longform stakes at eleven minutes minus chump change; implicitly, if we take the vocal excerpts as our guide, a tribute to the really early, pioneering days of space exploration: 1967, Sputnik, the like. It presents as an amniotic swirl, the final drift away, your tethering cable to the ship gently freed … and off into infinity you drift, lying on your sofa, looking at the stars.
What to say about The Heavens? First out: that the whole thing sits beautifully alongside that debuting Orb classic, A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld; beautiful, lush, immersive, complex, just a tinge of the eerie and the haunting to make sure you’re attentive and on guard, watching for developments. Never so ambient as to send you off, always a tiny edge to bring the delicious Maurice Sendak shiver.
I’ve said for a long while that this particular school of British ambience – see also Global Communication, Higher Intelligence Agency, The Irresistible Force (whose brilliant It’s Tomorrow Already I argue the case for as a forgotten classic here), with its absolute wonder and playfulness and complete absorption, is long overdue a revival; and with this Sedibus debut, and last winter’s album from Late Night Final, it seems the rapprochement is finally coming.
Ideally, you need to think of a way to introduce a gentle zero-gravity to your living room. Yep, it may take a while, but it’ll be worth it. Set it to oooh … maybe 50bpm for yourself, climb inside this record.
The Heavens rewrites the current ambient discourse back away from the admittedly hugely seductive dub-textural and post-classical nuclei of Berlin and Tokyo, and reintroduces a good old trippy-as-fuckness to the world. Luxurious. Buy.
Sedibus’ The Heavens will be released digitally, on Coke-bottle clear vinyl and on CD by Orbscure Recordings on May 28th; it’s available to pre-order now, here. There’s also a Rough Trade exclusive numbered mint green pressing in an edition of 250 only; visit Rough Trade to get your mitts on this, which this scribe suggests you do.