Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Orb - Orbus Terrarum

Year: 1995
Genre: Electronica

Highlight Tracks: "Montagne D'or (Der Gute Berg)", "Oxbow Lakes"
Weak Track: "Occidental"

Orbus Terrarum is an extremely complex album. It sounds different on every stereo system it is played on. It also sounds different at every level of volume you play it at. This is due to its sophisticated construction featuring an infinity of sound layers weaving in and out of each other in a way that is both mind-boggling and mysterious. The Orb craft albums like sound-alchemists rather than musicians.

This album represents at least three unique listening experiences based on volume.

At low volume the album makes for an excellent ambient experience. It is great to have on while you are trying to drift off to sleep. This is a relatively quiet album with soft edged sound molecules that never jolt or offend the listener's ear. At low volume Orbus Terrarum is absolutely hypnotic.

At medium volume the album is perfect background music. It is funky enough to bring energy to a room while never eclipsing the conversations or creative work being done. This is not a dance album (not in the slightest) but it does feature incredibly complex percussion programming that really comes to the forefront at medium volume.

At higher volumes the album is completely captivating and requires the listener to drop everything they are doing the moment it begins. At this volume the hypnotic ambient elements and complicated percussion combine to support the amplified synth lines and sound washes that were otherwise ignored at lower volume. At higher volumes this album leaves the realm of ambient or background music and becomes an work of electronic art.

I listen to Orbus Terrarum quite frequently when I go to bed but always drift off into weird music inspired dreams before the album ends. Today I gave the album a true listen at full volume and it reminded me of why I love The Orb and electronic music in general so much. The Orb are masters of electronic music and on Orbus Terrarum they are in top form.

There is so much going on here that it is hard to summarize in words. The majority of this album is like tripping on a sonic drug. If it had a physical texture it would be like dipping your hand into a lava lamp or maybe that scene in The Matrix when Neo's body is being consumed by the liquefied mirror. The album also brings to mind far-off lands in the near future, a soundtrack to read George Alec Effinger to. But at the same time it evokes dripping water and steam-punk.

If there is a weak track here it is "Occidental" which stretches out to almost 14 minutes without much cohesiveness. The track features an amazing array of studio trickery but no theme emerges to tie it all together. Technically the track is excellent but as a song it does not really work.

The rest of the album however is perfection. Each song inspires the imagination and confuses the ear as sonic elements emerge out of and dissolve into the thematic soup that is swirling around the room. This album sounds like someone playing the DNA helix as if it were a xylophone.

The track "Oxbow Lakes" begins with a discordant synthesized piano line that submerges into a bass heavy synth extravaganza. The percussive motor of the song dives deeper and deeper as schools of sound-fish swim in darting patterns around gigantic lumbering forms. The piano part reemerges in a warbled form as the song busts through the sea-bed and explores subterranean caverns until emerging into the new world discovered in the following highlight track "Montagne D'or".

"Montagne D'or (Der Gute Berg)" begins sounding like your are listening to a conversation through cracks in a sensory deprivation tank. It makes you feel like you are surrounded by life and yet isolated. The use of muffled vocal samples here is excellent. This loneliness quickly explodes into a sonic masterpiece that is the album's high point. The Orb rarely evoke conflict in their music but when they do, as on this track, it is brilliant. This song sounds like someone turning in on themself to discover their conflicted soul feeding on an imagined universe. It is beautiful music that brings to mind conflict on an external level leading to internal self-destruction.

4 comments:

PBC Bum said...

Florida is still recovering from Temperate Storm Michael, the first hurricane to come down from DC and lay waste to the Keys.

Anonymous said...

I originally listened to this album from its release date and found it totally mesmorising. after reading your review i had to dig it out and dust it off for another sonic journey to the land of nod.

brillant album from The Orb & completly ovelooked.

Anonymous said...

i love this cd.
thanks for offering it.

Anonymous said...

forget my last comment. i thought you were offering this to download.
"occidental" is weak? no way! it is 1 one the best songs i've ever heard.