Ask the Experts: The Orb’s Alex Paterson
The Orb's figurehead steps up.
Ask the Experts: The Orb’s Alex Paterson
The Orb's figurehead steps up.
The Orb‘s Alex Paterson has answered your questions, following on from Paula Temple, whose answers we published. Moby and Daedelus’ responses will drop soon.
Alex Paterson is best known for his work in The Orb who, it’s been said, “invented” ambient house, resurrecting slower, more soulful rhythms, and providing a soundtrack for early-morning ravers once the clubs had closed their doors. Members of the Orb have been fluid over the years, with Paterson remaining the only constant throughout. The other key players include Thomas Fehlmann, Youth, Kris ‘Thrash’ Weston, and Andy Hughes.
Paterson is a West Norwood resident, and punk and acid house veteran. His career in music started in the early 1980s as a roadie for Killing Joke for whom his childhood friend Martin ‘Youth’ Glover played bass. After leaving the Killing Joke crew in ‘86, Paterson met future KLF member Jimmy Cauty and the duo began DJing together as The Orb, starting with a residency in the chill out room at London club night The Land of Oz at London’s Heaven. Their style of sonic tapestry DJing soon morphed naturally into making records.
Since then, The Orb have released 15 studio albums, plus EPs, singles, compilations, and live recordings, influencing countless other musicians along the way. Included in their works are 1990’s classic “Little Fluffy Clouds,” which borrowed a sample from Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint; 1992’s “Blue Room,” which reached number eight in the British charts (despite its playing time of almost 40 minutes); and 1997’s “Toxygene.” Longplayers The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld and U.F.Orb are often cited as seminal classics, with the latter reaching the top of the British album charts—much to the shock of critics, who were surprised that fans had embraced what journalists considered to be progressive rock. Paterson also co-wrote the peerless “Higher Than The Sun” by Primal Scream.
Following the success of U.F.Orb, the group signed to Island Records through which they released live album Live 93. The double-disc set—which hit number 23 in the album charts—included highlights from appearances in Europe and Japan, and featured another clever dig at Pink Floyd: the cover has a large stuffed sheep suspended over a power station, a la Floyd’s Animals cover. “Little Fluffy Clouds” and “Perpetual Dawn” were re-issued and became top 20 hits in the UK.
More albums followed, including 1995’s Orbus Terrarum, 1997’s Orblivion—the group’s first album to chart in the United States—and 2001’s Cydonia. The group subsequently left Island Records and released several albums on assorted labels. Of particular note is 2015’s Moonbuilding 2703 AD, a major piece of psychedelic synth bliss, obscure loops, and deep ambient textures, and COW / Chill Out, World!, featuring only the occasional presence of buoyant, gently rhythmic pulses and loops—described by Paterson as “our most ambient album yet.”
In 2016, The Orb performed their seminal debut album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld in full for the first time ever. For the gig, Paterson and collaborator Thomas Fehlmann were joined on stage by the original cast of collaborators who helped create the magic on this era-defining milestone including Youth, Steve Hillage, Miquette Giraudy, Andy Falconer, Hugh Vickers, Tom Green, David Herman, and punk icon Paul Cook. More recently, The Orb released their 15th studio album, No Sounds Are Out of Bounds, via Cooking Vinyl.
In a rare interview, Paterson has stepped forward to answer your questions. You can find the answers below.
Please could you ask Alex Paterson of The Orb whether he has any plans to put out another Auntie Aubrey remix album? There have been loads of unreleased remixes Alex has done in the last few years and it would be great to hear them in their full glory, not just on Orb Radio! Plus the covers for the Auntie Aubrey albums were amazing.
There’s a plan in my mind to do a part three of the Auntie Aubrey collection, indeed there is. I just need to find a label to collate all the labels and mixes together—anyone know a label up for the job in the 21st century? Radio Orb is indeed a conduit for our music and it’s my own radio station to do just that. You can join Mixcloud and get the radio shows that way.
How do you come up with the clever track names? (Jimmy McGee)
Reading sci-fi books and learning about ancient history, stuff they never taught us in school mainly. Colin Wilson is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I’m currently reading “World of Chance” about the earth in the year 2203! It’s a classic book, by the way.
Are you currently working on any projects with Thomas Fehlmann? (Jimmy McGee)(Jimmy McGee)
No, we are taking time off from each other. It’s nothing personal mind. We are planning an album with one another in the near future.
What is your favorite fruit? Flower? (Jimmy McGee)
Apples for fruit; freesia for flower.
I’m particularly fond of a song of yours called “Sail”. Though it was recorded, I believe, before your album The Dream, it seems to convey the idea of that title to me—a kind of nostalgia for a utopia that never came true. I was wondering if you could give me some insights as to how the track came together. (Gabriel Rojo)
“Sail” is an anagram of Lisa. She was a girlfriend and a mate who we lost to radiation from mobile phones back in ‘99; she had moles in her brain. It’s a really sad story which still breaks my heart. R.I.P Lisa G. There’s a bench in Battersea park by the Pagoda with Lisa’s name on it. Go and rest and your feet there—it’s close to the river, in the park where we grew up in. The song was a take on “Some Things Never Change” by Bruce Hornsby and The Range. This track was also the first time I used Dom Bekken as our engineer and the track was realized by Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt—an old schoolmate from the mid-‘70s.
I’ve been listening to The Orb since ‘92 and it’s interesting to notice how you find yourself fixated on a particular album for so long, then start to really discover another album that’s been around for ages, you’ve listened to it before, but suddenly you really get it. Orb Live 93 was my bible for over a decade. But suddenly I realized what originally I thought was a stab at something different was actually, in fact, a masterpiece waiting to be understood: Orbus Terrarum. Question (if acceptable): were you still experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs during the production of Orbus Terrarum? If so, had you tried DMT at this stage? I watched the video of Oxbow lakes and thought about how they “go back in on themselves” and drew parallels with this and the effects of such drugs and wondered if this was the inspiration for the title. (Simon Jones)
My bible is Super Ape by The Upsetters.
I’ve never taken the drug DMT. Many people I knew back in the day did and they questioned why I didn’t (probably because my head is already like that without taking it.) I’ve heard DMT makes you see God, or make you think you’re a God.
We all have the potential to become Gods, but they, the rulers of planet earth, don’t want us to become stronger than them. The Pineal gland— Google it. It’s in our brains, but with the diet we’re fed, it’s suppressed.
Whether Gods or not, we all need to look after Planet Earth. It’s owned by people that don’t deserve to own it or to own us. It’s all land grabbing from the 16th to 20th century. Do the governments really look after this fragile little blue dot? Have you seen “Plastic Planet” by Werner Boote? The Orb wrote the soundtrack to this film, which is about the horrors of plastic, which have been known about for decades.
What is the most obscure sample you have started an amazing journey into a song with? (Brett Colombo)
Footsteps in the snow (crunching sound in it) that became “S.A.L.T,” on Orblivion.
What are your top three Desert Island Dubs? (Michael Tai)
The Upsetters Super Ape
Joe Gibbs African Dub Chapter 3
Twinkle Brothers Dub Massacre Part 1
What happened to History of the Future Part 3? Is it still planned for release or you ditched the idea altogether? (Dima Matvienko)
In time this might happen! In the meantime, we just announced 30 Things—all manner of memorabilia, acetates, test pressings, cassettes, and more, all of which will be made available at regular intervals across the next six to eight months. First off is a previously unreleased 1991 remix of “Little Fluffy Clouds.”
How do you know when something is rubbish and when something is gold? (Brett Colombo)
Trust your inner ears.
What is your go-to gear when you are desperate for a start? (Brett Colombo)
Detune a sample of a hummingbird, pitch it down to 20BPM. Or a Minimoog, the monophonic analog synthesizer. We started many an early tune pressing a key down with gaffer tape, and away we went! “Chill Out, World” was made up of just samples..….Smoke on that, bro!
Hi Alex, I have always asked myself how a song like “Pomme Fritz” can be created, can you tell me just the half of the secret? Or any advice on creating music? Thank you, big fan from Barcelona.
“Pomme Fritz” came from one track remixed five times. Kris Weston (former Orb member) was deleting our music in the studio, so I’m lucky to have this on record. We gave our A&R man from Island an acid trip and locked the studio door until he said he’d release it! His name is Dave Gilmour, but not the famous one.
I am desperate to know the answer to which reggae track the bass line for “Towers of Dub” was taken from?
It’s off a 7” B-side from ’77, Revolutionaries “Bamba In Dub.”
I read that Daniel Lanois was to play on the NSAOOB album, but he didn’t end up on the credits on the album. Did the recording take place and if so, will it be released? (Johan Zijlstra)
There have been no recordings with Daniel yet, but in the future, yes, maybe. I can reach out to him. He’s a fine fellow. I jammed with him at Moog Fest two years ago and we hung out with Mad Professor too, which was sweet!
You are known for your diversity of styles on albums and tracks. Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to do? And, would you exclude any and if so, why? (Johan Zijlstra)
Grime. Why? It’s a London sound. It’s on-air half the time at home. WNBC (the station I DJ for) is on the other half. I’ve got a 26-year stepson who’s well into the grime scene, and I love it too.
When can we expect a release from your new project Chocolate Hills? (Johan Zijlstra)
There will be an album out in March called A Pale Of Air on Painted Word recordings and Dub Lab in North America. Chocolate Hills are Paul Conboy and Alex Paterson with guest vocals by Roney fm.
Alex, will your awesome side-project band H.F.B. High Frequency Bandwidth ever produce more new music?
Not at the moment, but we are still talking. Dom is currently working with Nick Mason’s Saucer Full Of Secrets, which is cool!
The Orb UK Tour Dates 2018
Oct 11, Cardiff, Tramshed
Oct 12, Bristol, Swx
Oct 13, Newcastle
Oct 15, Paisley, Spree Festival
Oct 18, Liverpool, Invisible Wind Factory
Oct 19, Brighton, Concorde 2
Oct 20, Sheffield, Academy 2