[Interview] The Orb Celebrates 25 Years of Making Music

The Orb is celebrating 25 years of making music and the release of their sixteenth album COW / Chill Out, World!. The album came out last month on Kompakt and the group who created the ambient house genre calls their latest release, “Our most ambient album yet.” Both members, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann, revamped the project from six years ago after the first plan to create it fell through. Thomas took some time to chat with us before their show last month at Atlanta's own revamped masterpiece, the Variety Playhouse.

You've been involved with electronic music since the 1980s, tell me what it means for you to say you've been doing this for over thirty years?

Well, I have no comparison so it's very normal for me. After I left school I went to an art academy and studied art. But within the three or four years I was there I gradually focused more on working with audio material as opposed to visual material. The reason is, I felt with music, or with sound, you have a more immediate connection to your audience. Where as I felt when you do painting, you have it in a museum or a gallery, and you never really interface with your audience. Very early on that was kind of a spontaneous decision for me to work with sound because I felt it's important to have a connection to your audience. 

Do you still paint at all? 

No, my headspace is taking up fully by music but I'm a big lover of art in all formats. I have a great array of friends who are visual artists. 

Is there a moment that stands out to you where your passion for music turned into a career?

It was a gradual development. When I was in art school I was thinking, 'Let's say I make brilliant art, what's going to happen with it?' The options were you find a collector or a gallery where you would be able to make some money off of it. I found with the music you have more down to earth day-to-day affair with your audience. They don't need to invest a huge amount of money into a piece, or into a concert. When you make art you always think, 'Who am I going to make it for, how will I go to show it, and where does my money come in?' On a very practical level, there was a guest professor at our academy in Hamburg he name was Conrad Schnitzler, he was a big guy in the Krautrock scene in Germany. His offering when he was a guest there was that he set up a recording studio in a very, very crude simple form and let people experiment with it. Shortly before I went to see Conrad in his new role as professor, I bought myself my first synthesizer which was a Korg MS-20. He had the same piece of equipment in his studio so that was a very good starting point for me to say, 'I'll bring mine in and see what we can do with it together.' That basically for me was the moment where I "pressed play" and was a definite kind of switch. There was a gradual development and then a practical moment of meeting Conrad Schnitzler.

What is the one piece of advice you have for young producers?

Listen to your inner voice and don't believe the hype. 

Does The Orb tour often in the states or is this a special occasion? 

We have been very busy in the states over the last three or four years. I would not go too far as to say over 100 gigs in the last few years. We're very happy to come back, we've been here already twice this year. We played at Moog Fest in Durham (check out our review of the fest here) in May and then we played at two of our favorite spots, Detroit and Chicago. This time around we are a little busier, it's more like ten gigs in a row almost. It has been very good for us to come to America recently again because it was great for us in the early 90s when we were one of the first bands to actually play electronic music on stage. That still shows very much in the audience because we have some people who are coming out to see us who are not going out that regularly anymore because now they have kids, jobs and stuff like that. We're very happy to see through our continuous releasing of new music we also have quite a nice connection to the younger audience too. 

Is Mark Farina touring with you guys throughout the states or is this a special show?

That is a special show to have Mark there. We met him before in Japan where we played at the same festival. On this tour it's all about surprises!

Tell me about your relationship with Alex.

This is a bit of a wondrous experience to work with someone for over 25 years. Again, there is no comparison. I have not had another working partner for such a long time. I think one of the secrets that helps us click very well together is that we're not necessarily living in the same spot all the time. I'm in Berlin, he's in London, and we really get together to work. We have some simple rules when we make Orb music. We're always together in the studio. It's never that we send each other files and stuff so we are very much trying to base it on our two persons and how we react to each other. Having played so many gigs recently has brought us on to a new kind of good connected level. We almost know each other inside out in terms of what music we like, and what the next move on stage will be when he starts playing. Our live concerts are very improvised. We have this springboard of a tune where we set off on and then Alex comes in with new ideas, then I pick up on them and continue in the direction that we haven't actually done before. This is part of the magic. We don't really analyze too much otherwise the magic will be gone. We just hang in there and just take every day as a nice kind of present, we really enjoy it. 

Liz Peña

Liz is an Atlanta-native and lover of music. She is a freelance marketer who has been creatively writing since she was a child. As the publisher of Bullet Music, she thrives on creating a space for Atlanta artists to showcase their work. Liz enjoys nature, cooking and hanging out with her family. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @pocketsizedpeach