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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Concert Review: It Came From Inner Space!

The Orb descend on Webster Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The Orb: Thomas Fehlmann and Dr. Alex Patterson at Webster Hall.
Photo by the author.
The sound came as a low, throbbing pulse, teasing at the senses and swelling, growing in volume and rising slightly, ever so slightly in pitch. It beckoned from two rooms away, deep in the maze that is Webster Hall, crooning and crooning its tendril-like fingers. The swelling sound called again, drawing the hypnotized and helpless listeners into the vast, lounges cavern of the Marlin Room, where The Orb were making their New York stop on their current North American tour.


The Orb’s unique brand of electronic music combines the insistent pulse of dub with the addition of strings and percussion. On one deck, Dr. Alex Patterson drove the pulse forward, controlling the tempo of each track. Dr. Patterson founded The Orb in 1988 from the smoldering ashes of seminal dance kings/pranksters The KLF. In 1991, The Orb released its first official albumthe sprawling double-disc The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld  and for a few glorious years, their brand of ambient techno rode the leading edge of dance and electronic music.

Ultraworld just turned 25, and the first half of this show was devoted to an hour of tunes from that record, mutated, remixed, and otherwise altered so only fragments served the listener as sonic signposts. This was music reinvented and recreated from its original form, and yet still retaining its throbbing, elemental force. As the songs fragmented, they were recombined and reworked into new and enticing forms, drawing the listener in with the help of swirling images of dolphins, flowers and constellations projected behind the two musicians.

To Dr. Patterson’s right, his longtime Orb-mate Thomas Fehlmann curated and and mixed in samples from a dizzying library of sounds. Jazz-era horn lines, samples of conversations, birds and animals and even the sweet voice of Brian Wilson (in the long intro to "Little Fluffy Clouds") showed up as ingredients in this swirling stew of sound, as each was added to the cauldron and found itself consumed by the forward-thrusting pulse. 

Classic tracks like "Perpetual Dawn," "Spanish Castles in Space" and the wonderfully titled "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of the Ultraworld" (with its conspicuous  sample of Minnie Ripperton crooning "Lovin’ You" woven into the mighty and ever-present pulse) drew cheers and applause from the audience, who either danced in place, moved about or simply closed their eyes and floated through the crashing surf of sound, After an hour, the duo stepped away from their consoles, leaving the familiar Orb map logo spinning on the projection screen behind them.

The current Orb tour is about more than a classic album and it's silver anniversary. The duo are also promoting their new disc, COW/Chill Out, World!,a kind of concept album that delves deep finto ambient textures and soundscapes. For the second set, Dr. Patterson and Mr. Fehlmann offered a selection of tracks from their new effort, which gave way quickly and seamlessly to a bouquet of remixed and reworked classic dance hits from their back catalogue.

It was these last few tracks that energized the room, bringing g the power of tracks like "Assassin" from U.F. Orb to the fore, along with bass-heavy pulses that could have been drawn from any of their middle catalogue. It didn't’t matter so much what The Orb were plYing: what was important was the deep thud of the bass, moving through the body like a deep And painless Shiatsu massage, a throbbing bass that left the listener enraptured and blissed out. 

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.