Widely recognized as pioneers of modern electronic music, The Orb also briefly revolutionized prevailing notions of popular dance music, accidentally scoring a spot on the British Top of the Pops, and earning the accolade, held until recently, of having the longest single ever to make the charts.

This "pop tune" is of course the 40+ minute epic ambient chill-out tune Blue Room, a multilayered, schizophrenic subliminal anthem complete with the eerie wailing of civil defense sirens, an infectious dub bassline, drum machine noises put through so many effects they sound like they are perhaps the result of scraping fine silverware together in a Gothic cathedral, and a sampling of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to (Mr.) President John F. Kennedy, among other sonic ingredients.

Viewers, however, were treated to a drastically slashed four minute version of the album-length single, churned out by the sound system while the "band" appeared playing chess amid a flood of laser lights, apparently oblivious to the somewhat-confused crowd by which they were surrounded.

The Orb were certainly not the only artists to mock TotP, though they certainly did it with style.
(see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/2255500.stm)

Orb founder Alex Paterson (Dr. LX Paterson) first spun his unique blend of dance, ambience, and dub with KLF frontman Jimmy Cauty, in The Land of Oz at Paul Oakenfold's club, Heaven. The two seperated due to differences in artistic vision, and one of the results of their collaboration, bearing the name Space, was released later by Cauty independently, with Alex's contributions removed.

The KLF shamelessly co-opted much of the mythology of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's cult classic Illuminatus! Trilogy, and influences of this nature are not altogether absent from the Orb's work, either.

Their 1997 album Orblivion is quite apocalyptically themed and its cover art surreptitiously includes the Masonic square and compass, along with a design which seems to suggest the trajectory of a comet set to impact the sun of a particular solar system, and a geometrical motif including the vesica pescis, as well as a symbolic unification of a hexagram and upward pentagram. This, combined with the somewhat cryptic liner note:

Thanks to Harry and Jim at Pictor International
and all who search for the Grail.

begins to make you wonder if perhaps The Orb knows something that we don't.

for further information:
  • (http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/orb/bio.jhtml) yes, VH1 actually has a decent short biography of The Orb.
  • (http://home.attbi.com/~star6n789/orbknow.html) to learn more about them than I do, or most would care to.
  • You may find (http://www.badorb.com/ amusing as well.

supplemental update 12/02/02

Orb is The Orb : A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld.

Getting Started:

Approaching the music of The Orb can be a difficult task. The sheer amount of music which they've produced in their lengthy career can be intimidating. This - combined with the fact that most Orb tracks have lengths well beyond a normal four-minute pop tune - can make for a steep "learning curve".

Making matters even more confusing, "Orb" and "The Orb" are basically interchangable names. Both are referenced without any consistent scheme of differentiation. Additionally, much of their early remix work used the term "orbital", to reference themselves, and has nothing to do with the Hartnoll brothers' group, Orbital.

I personally would recommend all the studio albums, including Pomme Fritz. Of course, this represents a substantial investment and many hours of listening time. The Orb mutates with every album, discovering successful formulas and discarding them, playing on the edge of trends without tying itself to any one in particular. Yet within all their reinventions, something indeed remains in the music which is uniquely theirs. Truly, Orb is The Orb.

Some basic (and entirely subjective) recommendations:

The Peel Sessions mix of AHEGPB is, in my opinion, a true work of art. That entire album epitomizes classic Orb. The later albums have shorter tracks but they are also more experimental and "noisy" than the lush, floating organic simplicity and almost subliminal contentedness of the earlier works. Orbus Terrarum is so multidimensional that it's difficult to listen to without hearing something new each time, and U.F. Orb is an almost danceable, deeply dub-imbued technology for inner space travel.

The studio albums Cydonia and Orblivion, with a bit more beat-centric approach, dense layers of ambience interpenetrating the more defined musical elements, and generally shorter tracks, could provide an alternate approach for someone coming from a background in industrial music, techno/IDM or other electronica. Other good crossover points into the Ultraworld include albums by The Boards of Canada, and perhaps Orb remixes of more "mainstream" industrial bands.

The Orb : A Selected Discography

CYDONIA - (February 2001)

THE PEEL SESSIONS - (April 1996)

ORBUS TERRARUM - (March 1995)

POMME FRITZ : The Orb's Little Album - (June 1994)

LIVE 93 - (November 1993)

U.F. ORB - (July 1992)
Limited Edition includes Disc Two, containing the following bonus tracks:
PEEL SESSIONS - (October 1991)
* this AHEGPB, unlike the album version, incorporates the complete Minnie Ripperton ("Loving You") sample, without using the soundalike (or more properly, the sound-not-alike, who will definitely offend a trained ear.) who appears in earlier mixes.
* this original UK double album was later re-released to the US, which originally received a cut-down version.