After quite a long wait since their last work “Baghdad Batteries” (2009), the English masters of ambient are back with a brand new studio album, the thirteenth in their career started back in 1988. The Orb has always been a sort of musical collective passing through several turnovers before stabilizing as a duo: founder Alex Paterson and Swiss producer Thomas Fehlmann.
“Moonbuilding 2703 AD”, recorded in Berlin under the label Kompakt, definitely lives up to any fan’s expectations. The album consists of four parts indeed impossible to section and reveals its very nature of cohesive work. Always being one of the most prominent motifs in the Orb’s work, sci-fi is realized through a kaleidoscope of loops, sonic fractals and textures of rhythm. Space and time derail and at times dilate. The listener has to face a journey to the unknown.
A long structured introduction functionally works as a transition to outer space, leading to the first contact with the rhythmic section. This is really effective as it allows a process of progressive sound-immersion. The listener waits for the beat to turn up after going through a proper acclimatizing phase. Ambient is too often perceived as background music, but relegating Moonbuilding to mere accompaniment would be limiting. It is indeed a work of escape from reality drenching the listener with a black hole of sounds. Skipping tracks is therefore strictly forbidden at the risk of not understanding the intrinsic meaning of the journey.
The four chapters of this “lunar quest” include moments of psychedelia, dub intrusions, acid house samples and dance stages: the beat goes through constant mutations interlaced with interruptions, as if it was left more time for fantasizing on it. All of these fragments sound like human interferences from faraway planet Earth picked up by an alien civilization. The wide use of dated footage from either NASA recordings or documentaries about paranormal issues is a trademark all through the Orb’s discography: in the 80s they even used to perform their DJ-sets using record decks, cassette and CD players as sources. Every single sound in this work is refined and meticulously chosen to create a continuum of samples sometimes played backwards. The beat doesn’t sound hefty and its timbre is not overloaded. In places it is totally absent and all that you can hear is the “basic groove”. “Even an ambient track can have a pulse” claims Fehlman in the album’s making of-video “and by groove I don’t necessarily mean like drums”. By the way you’ll be able to catch the complexity of Moonbuilding 2703 AD after listening to it many times, but you’ll straight-away feel like you were floating in space together with Isaac Asimov’s phantom.
The album could be seen as a concept, although there are no words guiding us in the reconstruction of a plot. That’s a strong point in the Orb’s music; its being synestethic and capable of merging perceptions from distinct sense, converting sound into vision. A melodic and narrative common thread is perceived in “Moon Scapes 2703 BC” and “Moonbuilding 2703 AD”, both of them set thousands of years apart. This suggests an idea of space-time as existing only in their simultaneity. That’s a remarkable feature of this work: dilating and abridging the sense of time in order to completely annul it.
Paterson comments on the double symbolic value hidden in the title “Moonbuilding 2703 AD” as referring to “the idea whether the moon being built on or is this a series of moons that are going to be built in the future”. What we certainly know is that this album represents one of the most important comebacks in this year; it definitely can be seen as the necessary continuation of 1990s ground-smashing works “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld” and “U.F.Orb”. This album is ultimately a new essential chapter in the Orb’s discography and a source of inspiration for decades of electronic production to come.
‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ is out now on Kompakt
The full track-listing for ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ is as follows…
‘Moon Scapes 2703 BC’
‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’
‘Moon Quake (Slive of Silver)’
‘Moon Quake 6’