A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld (Loving You).
You have to love a song title that takes longer to recite than some band’s discographies, well I do. The opening track on The Orb Peel Sessions is a glorious dotty ambient mish-mash of wave noises, planes, bird song, delicate yet persistent beats, sci-fi spoken word, synth washes, some dialogue sneaked in from what sounds like a rather adult movie and those four guitar chords pilfered from ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’; to say nothing of Minnie Ripperton, whose coloratura soprano colours proceedings. Sounds and motifs drift in and out of play and focus, sometimes returning to colour another section of the track, sometimes just spinning off into the aether, throughout the track’s 20 minute length.
‘A Huge …’* is no airy-fairy wispy wallpaper though, the Orb are stronger and more distinct than that. Don’t forget this is a group founded by a Killing Joke roadie and who thrashed out a cover of the Stooges ‘No Fun’ on a later Peel Session. They demand your attention and this is not a freeform piece, it is riveted together carefully with that beat, it may disappear underground occasionally but it is always there in the background lurking. In this mix of ‘A Huge …’ in particular you can see trace the Orb’s lineage through all manner of krautrock electronic pioneers** there’s a mechanised pulse pumping right through this excellent track.
Or, I may be way off course here and everyone concerned might well just have been stoned out of their collective gourds and forgot to turn the machines off until they woke up again at the 20-minute mark.
The irony of an entirely electronic act appearing making a Peel Sessions LP at all is not lost on me. Originally set up by the grandfather of all British alternative music John Peel as a format for bands he liked to produce live versions of their tracks for his Radio 1 show, everyone from AC/DC to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band to the Undertones (and all their wonderfully scabby punk brethren) came along and, umm, bashed one out. The Orb were always more than an ambient act, they were a great live act too – they were a big draw in the 90’s for their shows. Just because they worked with samples did not mean they weren’t capable of cutting it live, using different combinations, messing with the bass lines, changing up the beats, I have heard it argued that they improvised like a jazz act*^. It does have to be said that all three of the cuts here are really rather different from their (other) studio incarnations.
The Peel Sessions, released in 1991, has three tracks totalling just under 43 minutes split between sessions in December 1989 (‘A Huge …’) and October 1990. All three tracks being taken from the Orb’s debut LP The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld which was released in April 1991.
You have to love the Pink Floyd baiting/worshipping nod^* of ‘Back Side Of The Moon’, actually a title taken from some NASA dialogue from the Apollo 11 mission which the band weave into the track. You can’t beat a good bit of space music, as my granny always used to say as she dandled me on her knee and, by Jingo! she was right. Steve Hillage, a frequent collaborator adds his impeccable and heavily treated guitar tones to the track on the session, which seems only fair given that his Rainbow Dome Musick is embedded in the Orb’s DNA. Overall this track glides and definitely sounds like the journey it was intended to.
The closer on Peel Sessions is ‘Into The Fourth Dimension’ which is a shade lighter and less menacing than the LP version, heavier on the samples too. I prefer this cut, it has a lighter airier narrative feel to it, plus any song which ends with whale song and a fairground organ playing ‘I Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside’ has to be commended, surely?
If carefree, joyously anarchic and creative ambient tinkering appeals to you, you’ll love the Orb’s Peel Sessions, if you don’t then this won’t be a record for you. I do but there again I am a huge ever-growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the ultraworld. True story.
*come on, you can’t object to me abbreviating this, even with CTR-V I’d end up putting myself in finger hospital.
**don’t ask me to name names, I’m far too young and hirsute – I have stumbled across an excellent countdown by an elderly Antipodean researcher that will, I am sure, prove a fertile place to begin your research.
*^check out this quite brilliant write-up of their 1993 live LP.
^*Battersea power station cover art, later collaborations with Dave Gilmour and Rick Wright and a very good joint interview I have stashed away somewhere in my nerdy scrapbooks.