A UNIQUE RESPONSE to the massive political, social, and environmental upheaval happening around the globe has been the resurgence of music’s tranquil side. New age sounds are back in vogue, thanks to labels like RVNG and Leaving Records. There’s been a swell of ambient music arriving from all corners of the electronic music map, including a new album by one of the most prolific and consistent artists in the game, the Orb.
“There seems to be some kind of collective thing going on,” remarks Alex Paterson, the co-founder and sole original member that’s still active in this long-evolving project. “We’re all very much trying to chill the world out at the moment.”
That is, in fact, the direct plea of the English group’s 14th studio album, COW/Chill Out World! (“I think the acronym is better than the other title. Bit of the old moo,” Paterson cracks.) Recorded in the abbreviated time frame of about six months, the record is as strong as anything the Orb has created in its nearly 30-year history. The mood is as enveloping and untouchable as a fog bank, with field-recorded sounds, oddball samples, and gently undulating beats combining to evoke the blissful tang of a contact high.
The brief amount of time that Paterson and longtime Orb accomplice Thomas Fehlmann gave themselves to work on COW (and achieve outstanding results) says much about the command the pair has over this shared musical language. During the past five years, they’ve knocked out an impressive amount of work, including two goofy albums with reggae mystic Lee “Scratch” Perry and the whirling techno-house masterpiece that was last year’s Moonbuilding 2703 AD. But that album took the better part of four years to complete, so the idea of knocking something out quickly held immense appeal.
“It’s a much better way of working, to be honest,” Paterson says. “The fact is that it sounds so much fresher making something this year that comes out this year. That’s definitely a bonus for us.”
While the Orb has long kept its eyes on the horizon for new sounds and ideas, the nostalgia machine has managed to sink its teeth into the duo. Particularly this year, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the groupâ€™s innovative debut, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. Featuring their breakthrough singles, the Rickie Lee Jones-sampling â€œLittle Fluffy Cloudsâ€ and the appropriately throbbing 19-minute epic â€œA Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld,â€ the record launched the group into the international limelight.
When asked about what he remembers most about the success of Adventures, Paterson sees it as a time of internal strife and creative triumphs, as grateful as he is for what that album did for his career.
“Lots of success. Lots of misplaced trust,” he says. “Learning a big lesson. And proving [to] those bastards that I could carry on—those bastards being my old management. I’m not bitter and twisted about it. I’m proud that I did it on my own terms and broke away from a major label. I’ve built the Orb into a symbiont being that can exist without me being involved on a day-to-day basis. And that’s a huge thing.”