The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is a seminal 1991 ambient house concept album by the electronic music collective The Orb. The album's framework is of a two-hour psychedelic trip though music genres and studio electronics, pushing the threshold of live stage performance. The double album is a continuous progressive composition consisting of several tracks advancing the travel concept and composed of vocal samples and sound effects interspersed with original music.
The lining notes indicate tracks numbering: "earth orbit one", "earth orbit two", "earth orbit three", etc.
"We'd build melodies up by overdubbing and mixing multiple tracks and then take an eight track (or was it a twelve track?) into Heaven, just linking it up to three decks ([turntables]), loads of CD players, loads of cassettes... we used to keep it very, very quiet. We never used to play any drums in there. It'd be, just like, you know, BBC sound effects, really... four or five hours playing really early dub reggae... For All Mankind [a documentary of NASA's Apollo missions, with a soundtrack by Brian Eno]. We had white screens so we could put up visuals as well. We had home movies of ducks in the park. We'd go for everything. It was all layering on top of each other.
Following success in the singles market (including the 1988 "Tripping on Sunshine", 1989 "Kiss EP" and 1989 "Huge, evergrowing brain that rules from the center of the Universe"), Paterson and Cauty started work on their first album. Cauty left in 1990 to pursue another band, The KLF, with Bill Drummond,. Paterson moved on to his next collaboration "Little Fluffy Clouds" in Autumn 1990 with Killing Joke's Youth. The track was recorded by an 18 year old studio Engineer and future Orb collaborator Kris "Thrash" Weston.
Finally in April 1991, the Orb released their first album The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld onto an audience prepared by their groundbreaking singles and several John Peel radio sessions. The album was received in the UK and Europe with critical acclaim. The album rose to position #29 in the UK Album charts. By mid-91, the Orb had signed a deal to release the album in the U.S. but were forced to edit the double-disc 109:41 minute UK release down to a one disc 70:41 minutes. The full double-disc version was later released in the U.S. by Island. As of April 25 2006, only the original 70:41 minute US release is available for purchase in Apple's iTunes Music Store.
1991 was a pivotal year for Electronic music. The KLF released The White Room, Massive Attack released Blue Lines, My Bloody Valentine released Loveless, Primal Scream released Screamadelica. and The Orb released Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. Cauty and Drummond's KLF, especially their releases The White Room and Chill Out directly relate to the Orb's Ultraworld, not only in its historical context but also musically. Paterson not only worked in Eno's EG Records but also inherited some of Eno's playful tones and ambient textures.
Ultraworld prepared the groundwork for many Glitch, Minimal Techno, and Ambient Techno artists; but additionally the commercial success of this album, the live tour which followed and the U.F.Orb successor announced the arrival of electronic music into the mainstream. The overt use of sampling flowered in this brief period before being legislated out of existence. Paterson encountered two lawsuits in relation to sampling on Ultraworld; Rickie Lee Jones sued for the use of her vocal in "Little Fluffy Clouds", and Minnie Riperton's estate for her vocal in "A Huge Evergrowing..." Paterson's use of Public Domain works (BBC and NASA recordings) also set the ground for the reaction and response of the musical community to the intrusive heavy-handed RIAA approach.
Each track on Ultraworld stands distinct from its peers; there is little interrelation between them. The journey from Fluffy Clouds to Ultraworld, occurs in stages but only the title of the track reveals the map. The self-referentialness and overt absurdity of the albums space context are presented as a lampoon of prog rock conceits, the jibe extended to the embrace of the double album. Paterson veers from sample to sample, each one reinforcing the concept of travel, motorcycles, space ships, planes, each stitched and modified to make a new narrative, the definition of travel now presented as internalised, perhaps in a narcotic context.
The rejection and absence of the standard percussive framework (a 4/4 beat) allows Paterson to experiment with some very ambitious multitracked looping; samples are looped and cut to make a shifting drone anchor. Paterson often plays with samples over this; some Russian Cosmonauts talk us through one part of Paterson's journey, Gregorian Chant through another. The use of spoken word samples, Apollo mission dialogue, Cosmonaut musings, and other incongruous sources are contrasted with (often loping, syncopated) ambient house and dub rhythms.
The 'Ultraworld' reference is from an episode of the Blake's 7 TV show; the song title "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld" is the same one given to a sound effect from that show, as released earlier on a BBC sound effects album. Pink Floyd's Animals and Dark Side of the Moon are also namechecked either as objects of ridicule, in the context of double-albums and Battersea Power Station (which is a frequent theme in Orb artwork), spaceships, or more loosely through overwrought, ornate track titles, and drug references.
The double album conceit backfired in the US market. American record labels were not prepared to have rockist principles mocked by a musician producing what was still a very esoteric genre in America (or just as likely, considered it difficult to sell a more expensive double-CD by an 'unknown' artist), and forced Paterson to compromise the integrity of the album, by cutting the album from two disks to a single one, and in cutting several tracks down to more traditional 3 or 4 minute length.
Paterson's music found favour with the Downtempo rooms in clubs designed to relax party-goers after dancing to the more up-tempo rave and techno beats. Ultraworld provided an extended listening period of just under 2 hours. Like Eno's Discreet Music and early ambient works, Ultraworld was used to soothe and calm amphetamine jitters and racing pulses.
The two covers are primarily distinguished by the outing of the Floydian Battersea Power Station on the US cover. The images are attributed as follows in the lining:
|1994||CD||Big Life/Island Red||535005|
|1994||CS||Big Life/Island Red||535005|
Eamon McCucker review
Howard Shih interview (1997)
Ambient Gurus Refuse to Lie Down and Be Counted; the Orb's Alex Paterson Gets All Nostalgic with Andrew Cowen
Oct 21, 1998; It's hard to believe that it's ten years since the strains of the first Orb single came wafting across the underground airwaves....