ONE doesn't usually sit on the floor at the Brixton Academy. For the Orb, however, the sticky black slope that stretches from the bar to the stage was chocca with Lotus-eaters, happy-looking fans even more laid-back than the 'ambient' music they had come to hear. A level platform had been erected down the centre for those who wanted to dance, but since the first half hour passed off without bass or percussion being used rhythmically, the flanks looked like the best position. From there, you couldn't see the band, who lurked in the gloom amid stacks of black boxes and little lights, but you could see 'the visuals'.
The first track, 'Hidden In Heaven', lasted 25 minutes. It was being tried out on the live audience before it comes out on an album. As their 40 minute hit single 'The Blue Room' showed last year, normal time does not apply in Orbland. An incredibly slow build up of Robert Fripp guitar and trusty whale noises is all part of the show. In the meantime, one could focus on the backdrop and the white spherical screens, onto which were projected images of sea monsters, mushroom clouds, footage of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol taken by chief Orbist Alex Paterson . . . you know, ambient stuff.
Beneath this blanket of passivity, however, the Orb were actually ferreting away to produce a show far more 'live' than anything ever done by serious synthesiser artists such as Klaus Schulze. Normally, Paterson and his cohort Youth play keyboards, spin vinyl and hit samples (aeroplanes, rainfall, movie speech, and lately, a rare South American otter, which sounds like someone using a nutmeg grater), all on top of a pre-set rhythm recorded on to DAT. Using a new toy called ADAT, which can be linked to make a studio on stage, their performance now is to remix their entire show differently every night - dropping the drums, adding echo, etc. Also involved was a bassist and a live percussionist, and what you got were versions of 'Majestic', 'Spanish Castles In Space', and their classic 'Little Fluffy Clouds', all slipping in and out of their original forms.
Another new track, 'Valley', showed they are still in their dub reggae period, as on last year's UFOrb album. But, to end, they brought people to their feet with a hard and heavy version of 'Assassin', played so loud that the sound leaked out and the Academy had its first noise complaints for years. Now that's what you call ambient.
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