Orbital, 23 years after Chime
August 12, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

They were a couple of blokes from a small city in in England who started out messing around with instruments. Paul played the guitar and drums, and Phil the saxophone, but both were interested in electronic music by the likes of Kraftwerk. Phil also liked hip-hop, and Paul got into acid house in the late 1980s. One afternoon, Paul slapped together a happy little song based on a sample from a now-forgotten instrumental cover version of some pop hit, and called the little ditty Chime. Even before it was pressed on vinyl, DJs were asking for it, and Orbital was born.

Paul Hartnoll had actually released two tracks previously, under the name D.S. Building Contractors (One For The Burglar and Depth Charge) on a compilation called The House Sound of London, the fourth in a series of House Sound compilations from Pete Tong's FFRR label. His life as an acid house producer ended just before his work with his brother as Orbital began.

Paul had a mentor in local DJ and producer, Jazzy M, who also ran a record store in town. Paul gave him the cassette with Chime to preview, and Jazzy M heard a portion before putting it on the store speakers. The DJs in the store all asked to buy the record, and Jazzy M decided this would be the start of his label. Paul told his brother Phil about this, and said "This is going to start our career." Once released, the limited run record was a hit with local DJs, leading to the brothers Hartnoll getting the single signed to Pete Tong's FFRR label, one of six vying to license the track from Jazzy M's local micro-label.

Even though he had said he had a new career, Paul kept his job at a pizza parlor, until he and his brother were invited to play Chime on Top of the Pops, and they got a a £2000 advance from Pete Tong. They made an appearance on Top of the Pops in 1990, where their idea of a stage show clashed with the desires of the production staff. The brothers mimed along to Chime in their anti-Poll Tax shirts, while a bored lady danced in leggings, a silver top and a silver hat (see also: a longer, lower quality cut). Though Chime charting well on both in the UK and the US charts (though in the US it was on the "Club Play" charts) and they had subsequent hits, they weren't invited back to the show for some while.

Despite their association with the London rave scene (which gave the band its name), Orbital isn't a typical rave circuit group or producers. Though their first years were marked with the release of vinyl singles, collected into two untitled albums, they prefer live, improvisational sets over DJ gigs, and some of their vocal samples political in nature, instead of songs for singing and dancing. Their first album, called Orbital or The Green Album (4 track sampler on Soundcloud) was released in 1991 in the UK, and re-released and re-arranged the next year in the US, featuring some of the brothers' love of not only the punk aesthetic, but also punk music, by sampling a hardcore punk track (wiki).

The second album, Orbital 2 or The Brown album (8 track sampler on Soundcloud) came out in 1993, though like the first, it was "just a collection of things that [they've] been doing for the last year or so," with "no overall concept to it." The album features an edit of Halycon, first released on an EP the year prior. The original was released with a full 11 minute video, in which Kirsty Hawkshaw plays a slightly drugged housewife-type character, tying together two odd references: the Hartnoll's use of Hawkshaw's vocal sample from Opus III's "It's A Fine Day, and their mother's use of the the sedative Halcion. The edit, titled Halcyon + On + On is a bit shorter and more upbeat.

In advance of their 3rd album, Snivilisation (5 tracks from the album on Soundcloud, and full album as a YT playlist), Orbital was invited to play the annual Glastonbury Festival in June of 1994. It was an eventful year for the festival, and was the first year the fest was broadcast on TV, providing an archive of that highly-regarded show (YT playlist), showcasing the brothers and their iconic head lamps that were inspired by the movie Brazil, but used to see through the smoke and other stage effects. They also played at Woodstock 94 as part of Ravestock, a last-minute addition of chaotic electronica to the otherwise rock-centric festival, and Mtv broadcast a live "Party Zone" set in full (YT, previously). Glastonbury, along with other live apperances, boosted their notoriety as a must-see band.

The high reviews of the brothers live performances probably helped to push their album Snivilization up the UK charts to #4, when it was released at the end of August, even though the over-all tone of the album was less than upbeat, opening with a track that sampled from the final scene in the black comedy Britannia Hospital. The track titles refer to the mess of modern civilization, both in English and German, and the press release went as far as to quote Situationist International writer and philosopher Raoul Vaneigem.

Though it was now a few years old, Halcyon + On + On continued to be a stand-out track, getting featured in two movies in 1995: Hackers and Mortal Kombat (spoiler). The duo's music has since been featured in a number of movies, and even scored a few in the years to follow. The brothers Hartnoll also returned to Glastonbury in 1995, now promoted to the Pyramid stage, the main stage for the event. They would return to Glastonbury in 1999, 2002 (Impact, contrary to the title card), and 2004 (Chime, and Halcyon + On + On + Bon Jovi + The Darkness + Belinda Carlisle), but never again to the main stage. A a 2 hr. 18 min. compilation video of footage from the 5 years was released in 2007 as part of the 2CD+DVD collection of live Glastonbury performance audio and video.

The brothers' fourth album, In Sides (streaming on Grooveshark), returned to the early days of theme-free albums, consisting of "six unrelated sound scenarios." Considered more cinematic, the Hartnolls noted their influence from soundtrack composers, including John Barry, Lalo Schifirin and Ennio Morricone. Outside of the UK, the album was re-released twice, first with the Time Flies EP (on Soundcloud, with a bonus track) and The Box EP as a single, 28 minute long track (YT). The video for The Box is well-known and well-regarded. Where the instrumental track features the squeaking of Paul's swivel chair, the vocal version adds occasional collaborator Grant Fulton, and more common collaborator Alison Goldfrapp. The second extended edition included both tracks from the single for The Saint, the title track from the movie of the same name. This was the fulfillment of the brothers' dream of scoring a movie that wasn't sci-fi, even if it was a re-working of the 1960s TV series theme (1960s version, black-and-white era; and 1966 version, color). Related: the video for Orbital's single, featuring the brothers in cameo roles.

The Saint came out in 1997, Orbital's year for movie scores. It was the same year as the Spawn movie, which featured another new(ish) Orbital track. This time it was a reworking of the track Satan, with Metallica's Kirk Hammett doing some guitar over it. Both The Saint and the Spawn soundtrack gigs came because of Graeme Revell, the New Zealand film score composer who worked on the soundtracks for both films. He knew the Hartnoll brothers liked old '60s soundtracks, and he really loved the track Satan. Tangent: the live version release of Satan (Soundcloud) was the brothers' highest charting single in the UK, getting up to #3 in 1996, five years after the original track was released, including the Butthole Surfers sample. The single even got them back on Top of the Pops, but this time they were more animated and appeared as they would in most live shows. Just like the "collaboration" with Hammett, the brothers were never in the same room with composer Michael Kamen when they worked on the score for the score for Event Horizon (Grooveshark), but it was still their first chance to work on more than a single track for a movie. They even scored a gritty, real-life TV drama set in the Hull young offenders prison that same year.

They also scored the plot-free jaunt around the world of photographer Nick Waplington (bottom right pic NSFW, but the thumbnail is probably safe), which was aired in 1999 (YT: part 1, part 2, part 3). That year the brothers also released Middle of Nowhere (YT playlist; Grooveshark), which Paul Hartnoll recognizes as a more jolly, upbeat album, in the vein of The Brown Album (Orbital 2), complete with a song built around a stylophone, which was then accompanied by a quirky animated video. The next year, they reworked Angelo Badalamenti's themesong for The Beach, entitled Beached. The single included an odd tribute to Doctor Who, but not that one.

That track would finally get a studio release with the next album, The Altogether (streaming on Grooveshark) . Doctor? is the album title for their take on the iconic theme song, which joins a diverse set of tracks, including a remix of Tool (the video isn't related) and an appearance from brother-in-law David Gray. According to Phil, the album's guiding idea was "shorter songs," and the opportunity to have fun with a DVD. The album was released as a single CD, a 2CD edition in the US with bonus remixes and rarities (streaming on Grooveshark), or a surround-sound DVD with visuals for the tracks. Some goodies include an extended 20 minute version of Meltdown (audio only), and a bunch of Easter eggs.

That would be the duo's last studio album for London Records/FFRR, ignoring the Rest/Play EPs and the Work 1989-2002 compilation. They release a new soundtrack, for the horror road movie Octane, in 2003, and their 7th studio LP in 2004: Blue Album. (incomplete YT playlist, incomplete Soundcloud collection). The brothers went into it planning it for their final release, with Phil to be the father of twins, and Paul looking to work with other people. The brothers Hartnoll were happy with their 15 years of collaborating, ending while they were both happy with what they made. And everything felt pleasantly completed -- the final track on the album, One Perfect Sunrise was actually written for the movie One Perfect Day, and features vocals by Lisa Gerrard, but wrapped up everything so nicely. The brother's last show was even a clean closure, 90 minutes (plus a 10 minute encore), broadcast on July 28th in John Peel's last year on air.

The brothers went their separate ways. Paul did work on his own, and both Paul and Phil collaborated with others, with each coming out with albums in 2007. Paul released his debut solo album, The Ideal Condition (incomplete YT playlist), which continues some of the cinematic aspects of Orbital, but adds in a lot more, ranging from haunting landscapes to beautiful pop-tronica. Guests on the album include Robert Smith of The Cure. Paul also collaborated with UK punk band The Cravats on their track Seance. Phil, on the other hand, had been collaborating since at least 2005 with producer Nick Smith under the name Long Range. They worked with Aquasky on a track, and in 2007 released Madness and Me (tracks on Grooveshark), which calls up a lot of past trip-hop acts more than it does anything from Orbital's past.

Then in November 2008, Orbital announced a reunion show, 20 Years After Chime at the 2009 Big Chill Festival. One show lead to another, and soon there was a 2009 tour schedule, though they generally stuck to locations around Europe. They continued to tour, even returning to Glastonbury on July 27, 2010 for a fairly short set, ending with an appearance of the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, who got his own illuminating glasses, and played along in their rendition of the Doctor's theme. The brothers also played a new song, released on vinyl and digitally the same day as their Glastonbury appearance. Don't Stop Me was backed with The Gun is Good, complete with a video.

The brothers started a video diary in February 2011 and started posting the videos to YouTube, showing a map of the album in the making and playing part of a new song. Part 2, showing progress through the "album map." Part 3, with a weird bit of wub-wub-dubstep rework of Satan, and a bit more on the album map. Part 4, from MTV Winter, Valencia, where they played some early demo tracks, and that remix of Satan (that turned out a bit like this live). Part 5, showing another demo preview, and progress along the map. Part 6, Paul showing off some "weird" demo bits, and how that looks on the map. Part 7, the brothers ramble vaguely. Part 8, showing off the rejiggered studio layout. Part 9, demoing an "off-map" track for their upcoming Glastonbury DJ set. Part 10, clips from the Arcadia Spectacular stage at Glastonbury, and an after-show run-down (see also: professional video clip of the show, and decent audio recording: part 1, part 2). Part 11, reviewing progress to date on the map. Part 12, with a nearly polished demo of the final track, and talk of Flood mixing the album. Part 13, with a teaser of the first single, Never, and a glimpse of mixing the album with Flood, plus a mention of scoring the movie Pusher (IMDb). Part 14, back in the studio, featuring the 2nd single from the album, New France, with an unnamed vocal collaborator.

After a year of video diaries, hints at tracks and live previews at shows around the world, Orbital were back in 2012 with Wonky. Even though there was an elaborate "audio map" of the album, the album was simply titled for the last track they completed. In January 2012, Orbital released two videos: Never, followed by Straight Sun, another instrumental track. The next two videos came out in March, and both featured guest vocalists: Zola Jesus provided more typical Orbital-type abastract vocals on New France, and Lady Leshurr, "the female Busta Rhymes" rapped on Wonky, the track which Paul and Phil called "Cats" in the studio for the unintentional "meow meow meow" sounds (lots more of keen stuff in that interview). The album was released in Europe in April (short review and full album streaming). The brother also sat down for a track-by-track review, providing bits of insight about the tracks (is Stringy Acid done in the style of late 80s/early 90s acid house, or was it actually an unfinished track from that era?)

In case you actually didn't get enough:
* An MTV interview in 1993 (3:00), with Paul talking on the expansion of dance music into other genres, and electronic music as having the same sort of DIY punk aesthetic

* Rave New World (Google video), a 1994 episode of Equinox, a long-running Channel 4 science and documentary programme.

* Audio only of Orbital's 1996 New Years Eve version of Chime, from Alexandra Palace, London, seguing from the Big Ben chimes at midnight. Alternative audio on YouTube.

* Loopz.co.uk is dead, but it's an archive of great info up to the 2009 tours. Orbital is now split across two websites:

* Orbital Official, home to everything officially Orbital. See also: related YouTube channel, and Soundcloud account.

* LoopzOrbital.com, the blog with things that don't fit on the official Orbital site. See also: related YouTube channel

* An archive of info on old Orbital bootlegs, up through 1999.

A few more previous mentions of Orbital:

Orbital - The Box - REMEMBER EARTH CLEARLY (MPG link to the music video, and the link still works!)

The final Orbital gig on John Peel's show. (these links, not so much)
posted by filthy light thief (64 comments total) 225 users marked this as a favorite
posted by erebora at 8:09 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My God it's full of stars!
posted by fullerine at 8:09 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is a completely awesome post and I'm giving you a standing ovation for actually managing to create something which is comprehensive about one of the most electrifying and captivating bands I've ever encountered. I've been tempted to try to do a megapost about Orbital for a while now, but always retreat once I've started because they're just so huge and confusing to me.

My own fascination (and frustration) with Orbital is that none of their songs ever start out where they end up, and they transmogrify so heavily along the way... I can never actually remember what the title is of a track that I like, and listening to the first bit of a song NEVER is enough to clue me in on whether this is that one that has that section that I think is so amazing.

Also, the 28-minute long version of The Box is one of the best things ever.

Thanks so much for this post. A masterpiece of music journalism and MetaFilter FPP creation. I will be digging through this and referring back to it for years to come.
posted by hippybear at 8:21 AM on August 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Wow. That seems to cover it all, yes.
posted by Artw at 8:22 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

This. Is. AWESOME!

There's a couple of bad links, though, in case you want the mods to fix them:
5 tracks from the album on Soundcloud
an archive of that highly-regarded show
The Ideal Condition
there was a 2009 tour schedule
The Gun is Good
"The brothers started a video diary in February 2011..." Part 2 and Part 3
Six out of dozens is not a bad thing, obvs. I favorited this so hard, my mouse button might have broken.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:24 AM on August 12, 2012

posted by trip and a half at 8:24 AM on August 12, 2012

Fantastic overview. Thank you!
posted by the sobsister at 8:26 AM on August 12, 2012

I always have to consciously separate Orbital in my mental database from The Orb.

"The one I like," I have to remind myself, "is The Orb."

posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ahhh, I see......serotonin systems have 'muscle memory'.......that would explain why my brain is twitching like a gaggle of ornithologists at a dodo show.
posted by lalochezia at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My first real job was after school at a small-town photo-service shop making enlargements on an old-school Kreonite. Just as I started, the owner of the shop got disgusted with the area's only local Internet service provider and decided to open his own. Soon I was mixing chemicals in the dark while infinitely more interesting stuff was going on in the rest of the office—guys in hard hats pulling cables, Windows NT 4.0 install discs, and rack after rack of US Robotics and Cisco gear blinking away.

One day I heard something amazing over the whirr of the Kreonite. Like no music I'd heard before. I secured the roll of paper and went to check on it. The boss man had hooked a new sound system that was driven by the DNS, RADIUS and SMTP server. "Listen now, 'cause you can't hear it like this at home!" he said, grinning.

It was "Out There Somewhere?" from a live recording of In Sides played out of order by Orbital at some festival in Britain, on a very high-quality high-bandwidth RealPlayer stream. My boss and I grooved to that every day for like a month. He was right; it sounded like mush over a 28.8 connection at home. So on the weekends, I started driving fifty miles to the nearest good record store to buy Orbital, Underworld, Chemical Brothers, Renegade Soundwave, Meat Beat Manifesto, Pop Will Eat Itself, and all the other stuff that the owner (who I now called by his DJ name J-Dub) recommended.

Customers called to complain about slow internet every afternoon. I couldn't tell them that we were saturating our pipe listening to electronica, so I would just explain that all our customers shared a big pipe, peak Internet usage was from 3:30 pm to 9:00, and that we were working on getting more bandwidth for everyone. In the meantime, I spent less and less time matching color and breathing in fumes and more and more time figuring out FTP, HTTP, and back-end things to keep our customers loyal in the face of slow service every weekday afternoon.

Thanks, J-Dub. Thanks, Orbital.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:38 AM on August 12, 2012 [22 favorites]

There aren't enough cigarettes in Heaven to finish my afterglow after reading this post.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:50 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

flagged as fantastic only because I couldn't flag it as "abaolutely amazing".
posted by xbonesgt at 8:51 AM on August 12, 2012

Oh, and the new single, Wonky? FANTASTIC.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:09 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The daunting, humbling, impressive effort behind this wonderfully informative post only leaves me with one nagging question...when are you going to do a documentary film on this? :)
posted by trackofalljades at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gah, if only I had nothing to do this morning. At least I have the right soundtrack for my errands now: There is the theory of the Möbius...
posted by mubba at 9:23 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My brain grew up listening to Orbital. Intelligent and yet filled with so much emotion.

Great post, now if only there was some sort of competition you could enter it in?
posted by arcticseal at 9:23 AM on August 12, 2012

OMG, Halcyon...

posted by Samizdata at 9:58 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

We are definitely on the same wavelength. I started off my summer MeFiSwap mix with "Halcyon & On & On."
posted by limeonaire at 10:06 AM on August 12, 2012

JHC, that's a post worthy of three sidebars!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Saw Orbital in Tulsa, OK, in 1999, when I had just graduated from high school.

It remains easily the best show I've seen in my life.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by homunculus at 11:02 AM on August 12, 2012

This post should be the model we hold up when newbies ask what a Metafilter FPP should be.
posted by casconed at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Heh. God no. Unless strictly for lulz.

But it is very, very good as an example of a particular kind of FPP.
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on August 12, 2012

I love Orbital and love
this kind of post and would like to nominate it for August best post in the EPIC LENGTH category
posted by Tom-B at 11:20 AM on August 12, 2012

A huge post about Orbital which misses out the transcendent Belfast?
posted by Damienmce at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Input translation.
posted by 256 at 11:26 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I totally went to see Event Horizon just for the Orbital score, which, really, on balance did not have enough Orbital in it. Still, the world needs more space films with Orbital scores. And 60s spy films using multiple versions of the box - version with lyrics over the end credits, of course, and the whistling would go over a clsoing shot of the protagonist walking down a cobblestoned alley lit by streetlights at night).
posted by Artw at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a surprising number of those links were already grey for me when I came to this post. I'm looking forward to turning the rest of them grey.
posted by 256 at 11:38 AM on August 12, 2012

Underworld and Chemical Brothers seem due similar treatment...
posted by Artw at 11:39 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've been eyeing The Chemical Brothers for an epic post for a while now.

I have something in the works already about something entirely different, so I won't be getting to it any time soon. But perhaps someday...
posted by hippybear at 11:41 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My first (and only) exposure was to the remix of the Doctor Who theme, now I know why I've always liked it so much.

I have a musical afternoon ahead of me today. Thank you :)
posted by Sportbilly at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2012

In the universe where Danny Boyle rebooted Doctor Who just after doing Trainspotting that is the actual Doctor Who theme.
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wonky was pretty much the soundtrack to this summer for me, along with Killer Mike's latest. Neither album has anything close to a dud on it.

Saw Orbital at a small club in Madrid around 2001, one of the most memorable shows I've ever seen. Especially impressive since I didn't know all that much about them and just bought a ticket because I figured it would be cheaper to go out all night before my early morning flight back to N.America than to get another hostel room.

Nice post btw!
posted by mannequito at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a fantastic post! So many happy memories in this music... thanks!
posted by ebee at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It took a couple of listens before I realized my gave track on Winky is basically a remix of Satan - a perennial favourite of mine.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on August 12, 2012

Quality quality post, thank you so very much. I have to work right now so I'll consume this magnificence later.

In the meantime I'll put the brown album on and remember lots of good good times.
posted by ivorbuk at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2012

My version of The Box, BTW, was not a single, 28 minute long track - it was the same musi as on the YT linkc but divided into different tracks. I think I like the bit when it goes crazy on the harpsichords the best.
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ha ha! That SOS article on the making of Chime is an absolute vindication of the sloppy DIY stop-overthinking-and-overproducing approach.

People care about ur feelings, not ur tech. Despite de-liberate warnings from mike enthusiasts, mastering engineers, and perfectionists of all stripes. A great tune on a 2x4 oval speaker is a great tune. Throw out those fancy NS-10s! Keep Endtroducing!
posted by Twang at 2:51 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Awesome post, thanks so much. I wasn't aware of Wonky -- sounds great.

(It's killing me though that they're in Seattle on 9/27 and I won't be there until 10/2.)
posted by wallabear at 3:08 PM on August 12, 2012

Wait what? Orbital is going to be in Seattle? Crap.

I have tickets to see Shpongle that night in Spokane. And doing Seattle -> Missoula would be just too much.
posted by hippybear at 3:11 PM on August 12, 2012

I'm sorry. I really tried to find ways to cut it back, but I wanted to cover every album and some of the stand-out tracks (but not all of them, sorry Damienmce!), and then there were the Glastonbury shows. And there were so many interesting tangents!

I cut out some things, but I didn't even fit in Golden Girls, Paul's one-off collab with a bunch of remixes over the years, most recently from Lone in 2011. And there's the fact that Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin [Sandison], aka Boards of Canada, didn't want to be compared to Orbital, so they sort of hid the fact that they are brothers.

But now I've shared these facts, so I feel a bit better.

Artw: It took a couple of listens before I realized my gave track on Winky is basically a remix of Satan - a perennial favourite of mine.

I didn't realize it until reading an interview. At first listen, I thought "Damn, they had to toss in a dubstep track," but then it got into DnB, and I was happy. After reading about it, I like the progression.

Twang: Ha ha! That SOS article on the making of Chime is an absolute vindication of the sloppy DIY stop-overthinking-and-overproducing approach.

Indeed. I'm impressed they re-made the track for the radio edit! I still wish Paul disclosed what the original instrumental pop track was.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:19 PM on August 12, 2012

wallabear: Awesome post, thanks so much. I wasn't aware of Wonky

That was a major reason for me to make this post. I've been working on compiling info since I heard the new album was coming out, and just got around to putting it all together into a coherent narrative.

Sad fact, and a semi-commercial tangent: the album is ONLY available domestically in the US via iTunes. The two interesting things are the digital booklet, and how they cut Distractions and Stringy Acid, with the last 20 seconds of Distractions cut off and appended onto Stringy Acid as a longer intro. But neither add anything of real substance over the physical editions, only available as overpriced imports in the US.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:33 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sad fact, and a semi-commercial tangent: the album is ONLY available domestically in the US via iTunes.

That's not entirely true. Amazon carries all of these:

Wonky Limited
Wonky vinyl

They're all imports, but they're easily and readily available, and not truly horrible prices either.

(The Jimmy Somerville albums I wrote liner notes for are all more expensive than Wonky.)
posted by hippybear at 4:45 PM on August 12, 2012

Saw them play in mid nineties, supported by pressure of speech. Hands doen the best concert i ever saw. I remember them both wearing the pen-light glasses, and rockingbthe crowd from a tower in the middle of the venue. I was awe struck at the time.
posted by SueDenim at 5:09 PM on August 12, 2012

sorry Damienmce

I was just messing. Tis an epic post.
posted by Damienmce at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2012

Saw them play in mid nineties, supported by pressure of speech. Hands doen the best concert i ever saw. I remember them both wearing the pen-light glasses, and rockingbthe crowd from a tower in the middle of the venue. I was awe struck at the time.

The show I mentioned above was on a tour with Crystal Method and Lo-Fidelity All-Stars, who were both surprisingly great, but Orbital blew them both out of the water.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:27 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

hippybear: They're all imports, but they're easily and readily available, and not truly horrible prices either.

Compared to the £10.99 CD with free shipping from Amazon.co.uk, I was hoping to pay around $16 USD. And considering that three of the seven albums have had US versions with bonus material, even if it's taken from singles or remixes, I was half expecting some similar treatment, even if it was only on iTunes.

Oh, the torments of those with enough to be concerned about album pricing =)
posted by filthy light thief at 6:29 PM on August 12, 2012

Well, the non-bonus version is $20, which is barely a starbucks fancy coffee more than the the $16 price point you were after. And the limited edition bonus material version (which seems to only have live material as a bonus, nothing like the extensive second disk offered for The Altogether, or in fact either of the bonus disks I've encountered for In Sides) is $25, which I think isn't too much more expensive than I paid for the 2-disk version of The Altogether.

I guess what I'm saying is, if it's worth having physical media to you, then it's not unavailable. It's a bit of money, but it's not THAT much money really. It's not like they've put out a Ultimate Edition rerelease of Achtung Baby or something...
posted by hippybear at 6:34 PM on August 12, 2012

Navel, I saw that same tour in JAX in 1999. It was an intense experience. Orbital blew me away, as I danced, drenched in sweat... bathed in laser light.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 7:26 PM on August 12, 2012

I listened the ever-loving crap out of Orbital 2. Snivilisation and In Sides had their moments (Sad But True, P.E.T.R.O.L., The Box), and then I pretty much lost the Orbital plot completely after that but oh how I loved Orbital 2 from beginning to end in all of its fullness. Loved. It.
posted by the painkiller at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

zombieflanders: There's a couple of bad links, though, in case you want the mods to fix them:
5 tracks from the album on Soundcloud
an archive of that highly-regarded show
The Ideal Condition
there was a 2009 tour schedule
The Gun is Good
"The brothers started a video diary in February 2011..." Part 2 and Part 3
Thanks for catching those. Fixed links:

5 tracks from the album on Soundcloud (Snivilization sampler)
an archive of that highly-regarded show (YT playlist of Glastonbury 1994)
The Ideal Condition (Wikipedia page for Paul's solo album)
there was a 2009 tour schedule
The Gun is Good (video on YouTube)
"The brothers started a video diary in February 2011..." Part 2 and Part 3
posted by filthy light thief at 8:15 PM on August 12, 2012

Mod note: Added links to the original post, thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:30 PM on August 12, 2012

Orbital were one of my and my wife's biggest inspirations when we were first getting into music as more than a weekend hobby. Everybody should hear them. Thanks for this excellent and well-researched post!
posted by saulgoodman at 8:47 PM on August 12, 2012

And don't forget that the Xbox Live Arcade has a musical puzzle game called 'Chime', which features as the main first tune to work with, Paul Hartnoll's song... 'For Silence'. (I guess they wanted something more modern than 'Chime' from an Orbital collab..)
posted by FatherDagon at 9:29 PM on August 12, 2012

Jesus, I'll never get through all this. The most interesting bit of the "Chime" article, though, was the reason they used now-fetishized gear like the TB303, TR909 and DX100: because it was cheap and no one wanted it! The same reason the Detroit guys used it. The TB303 was a failed product that was widely available second hand for like $50 at the time before someone figured out the trick with the filter resonance and accents. Gear fetishism is dumb, kids!
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:32 PM on August 12, 2012

Also, I've messed with those Alesis MMT-8 sequencers (because Orbital used them, incidentally) he talks about: basically, imagine making a track on a pocket calculator. Like a 4-function one, not even a nice TI graphing calculator or whatever.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:35 PM on August 12, 2012

Great post. There are so few electronic bands that can pull it off live in style. My mind was pretty reprogrammed by them when I saw Orbital live at Féile 1995. The main stage was rock and kind of underwhelming with quite a few empty seats, but the smaller electronica tent was absolutely kicking. The dance music lineup included Moby, The Prodigy, Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Tricky, The Orb, David Holmes, Laurent Garnier, Fluke, Carl Cox, Dave Clarke, Andrew Weatherall, DJ Darren Emerson, Mark Kavanagh, Paul Bleasdale and Liquid Wheel. Even in a crowd like that, the Orbital gig stood way out as superlative. I think the only electronica live gig I've seen came close was 1990s-era Leftfield's live shows (but they were much rarer) or maybe Coldcut.
posted by meehawl at 9:51 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I like the bit when it goes crazy on the harpsichords the best.

Yeah, that was great. I had pretty much forgotten about that song, but have recently been really loving harpsichord samples in anything with a beat. (and trying to find more, so if anyone has good examples aside from Dan the Automator let me know.) and I guess that song is probably the reason. Also harpsichords just sound nice.

Anyhow Remembering that song brought back some memories.

In my early 20s I was living in Churl's laundry room, in the last 6 months or so, of a 2 year heartbreak, working a few days a week as a gardener, and selling enough Diablo 2 items on ebay, to stay as drunk as I could manage to be.

The summer before this I had had a little patch of marijuana, and sold a few pounds to buy myself a super shiny new Macintosh Graphite, G4 tower, with a dvd burner and everything.

We had plans for all the great creativity that machine was going to help us with. We had already sort of given up on music, but perhaps animation? I did have a cracked copy of Lightwave, and I sort of know what Inverse Kinematics meant.

So I spent a lot of time hunting down new software, I think there was a version of Maya out by then, and I don't know, Bryce. Bryce cold make you some nice skies or whatever.

So i made a robot arm or whatever, and almost animated it before it got too complicated, I had a well paying job in Silicon Valley for 3 weeks or so, but never got paid.

I did Learn about file sharing though, and specifically about Hotline, and it turned out that as well as getting software, and Simpsons episodes as 40MB realplayer files, there was music in the MP3 format. Downloadable even on dial up, and the community college had an ISDN connection, and I had a zip drive, and then later we had a DSL connection at the house.

I had my amazing shiny Mac tower set up in a corner in the kitchen, with CAT5 running down the hall, and all of a sudden, download speeds of almost 100 KBPS. So it was not long before I had my own super exclusive private hotline music trading server (it had to be pretty private and super exclusive, because we only had something like 20 KBPS upload).

So anyhow, it was not long before I had filled my 10GB hard drive (plus quite a few Zip Disks) with music, also I had software that would rip my CDs to MP3, and my friends CDs, and Napster cam along, and then you could just type in a band and holy shit, that obscure Italian import Tom Waits bootleg, it was just right there. You could listen to it right now.

Also we had a redwood tree in our side yard, not old growth, but probably 70-100 years. a really proper redwood.

Also we ended up inheriting all the gear for a low frequency pirate radio station, through some social mishap.

So we have the entire valley covered, after I monkey my way up to the top of the tree with the antenna, we have the internet to access all the music in the world, we have my mighty Macintosh, that can play preset or randomized playlists with Audion ( hey just looking up Audion I realized that that it was made by Panic, those guys still make the best specialized Macintosh software there is is, if you want to do some Usenet file sharing on your Mac, there is nothing like Unison.)

Anyhow, we have the setup, and we get a few regular shows on. We had Frope its not Saturday, and also my one friend who played bad punk rock music, and the one noise music guy who would come over and be high.

We ended up only being on air at night. and 6 out of 7 nights it was just me, with Diablo 2 muted, setting up a playlist, and cutting in every hour or so to say some awkward thing, and every night when Ii finally went to sleep at four of five, I would put on The Box and set the thing to shut down for morning after it was over, and I would nestle down between the dryer and the wall, and everything was not ok yet, but it was all getting better, and I would listen to that song, I would listen to it through a little radio, from the top of a tree, from my computer in that filthy kitchen, from some guy who traded me that song for my Shane McGowan bootlegs on hotline
posted by St. Sorryass at 11:42 PM on August 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

and then I pressed return to early, so the story is now lacking the poignant ending where last time I was back in town I saw that they had cut down that tree, and some good stories about Streefighter alpha 3 that I was going to tell, also probably a whole lot of editing to try to pretend I am a little less drunk.

But anyhow, what are some good songs with harpsichords in them?
posted by St. Sorryass at 11:48 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Awesome, awesome post. Has made me go and dig out my bootleg Orbital cassettes.

Wonky really is a return to form for the boys too.

As an extra here's a clip from the cheerfully surreal episode of E.R, where they go and see Orbital
posted by brilliantmistake at 1:51 AM on August 13, 2012

wtf to that ER / Orbital clip!?!?

Brings to mind the surreal moment in All My Children where they debate the legacy of Mike Patton...
posted by mannequito at 2:12 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

St. Sorryass: have recently been really loving harpsichord samples in anything with a beat. (and trying to find more...)

Harpsichord 2000 is an album modern "electronic" songs with harpsichords. Been a while since I heard it, but I'll try to dig it up and provide a proper commentary on it. Until then, here's a review.

brilliantmistake: As an extra here's a clip from the cheerfully surreal episode of E.R, where they go and see Orbital

To be fair, it's a DJ playing Orbital (or one of the remixes of Golden Girls), and the cheery Orbital songs can make most people feel that way.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on August 13, 2012

Since I didn't see it linked and it's semi-rare to find: one of my most cherished Orbital tracks is Belfast / Wasted.
posted by naju at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

To be fair, it's a DJ playing Orbital
I think that's really a Hartnoll.
posted by fullerine at 6:19 PM on August 19, 2012

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