From the moment The Orb’s multi-hued spacecraft careered off the launch-pad, this has been a collision begging to happen: a full collaboration with Lee Scratch Perry, one of reggae’s greatest pioneers and personalities.
Recorded in Berlin over the last few months, The Orbserver in the star house sparks with a rare magic as Dr. Alex Paterson and long-time Orb member Thomas Fehlmann construct a panorama of perfect, stripped-down backdrops for the Upsetter’s inimitable pronouncements, righteous declarations and sweet vocals.
The Orb have long been known for an assimilation of deepest dub into their stratospheric sonic innovations, as evidenced on U.F. Orb’s Towers Of Dub, itself something of a Lee Perry tribute with its sound effects and distinctive underlying eccentricity.
Starting in the late 60s with The Upsetters, Perry wrote the book on Jamaican mixing desk trickery, then constantly ripped it up to create new aural blueprints for the music, via his Black Ark productions of the following decade. He has since then charted a waywardly idiosyncratic path, which has ensured legions of followers absorbing his every move.
As Lee states on the album, he was an instigator of the punky reggae crossover, working with the likes of The Clash and The Slits. With Alex’s punk roots, this was a union which could work just as well on the street as in the stars.
The albums inception can be traced back to 2004 when Dr. Paterson played a DJ and toaster set with Lee in Mexico. 'I had an amazing time being that close to the great man,' enthuses Alex.
'I played a dub set, Earl 16 was Greg Dread’s toaster, Mad Professor had his ladies, then there was the legendary Lee Scratch Perry; he’s a genius who expresses the future within the present times of anguish, hope and unity.'
Meanwhile, Thomas has been at the forefront of Germany’s electronic music scene since his days of avant foraging with Palais Schaumburg in the late 1980s, becoming part of Berlin’s rapidly-evolving techno underground, working with Sun Electric and many of the city’s major artists and operations, including the mighty Kompakt.
Thomas’ immaculate electronic knowledge and intuition now had two disparate lightning rods to bounce between; he recalls, 'I met Lee for the first time during this session and it was pretty touching to see how an unexpected connection and inspirational exchange could so awaken our creative juices.
'Alex and I had never made so much new music on the spot before. It was soon pretty clear that we wouldn't get far with the four backing tracks we pre-produced for the session. Lee was so overwhelmingly creative that it took an afternoon for those to be finished. From then on we were forced to come up with new beats on the spot, to keep him in the flow.'
'He was constantly active, referring to the tunes we were working on and hitting bits of wood or stone to create percussion patterns, so we ended up using field recordings of him banging on bits and pieces,' Fehlman adds.
Scratch’s vocals glide distinctively over bass-heavy monsters such as Soulman and Man In The Moon, the most overt Orb-dub behemoth on the set, while Don’t Rush takes the ridim form then dismantles it in subterranean sonic catacombs.
House grooves inflect H.O.O. and Ashes, while a funky slide bass-line percolates under Thirsty. Hold Me Upsetter sparkles with lovely bass-string interplay and Congo brings in rolling banks of African percussion.
Both parties rework one of their classics; Police And Thieves, the track which Perry produced for Junior Murvin in 1976, is turned into a dubwise vocal vehicle, while The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds is reshaped as the hallucinogenic dancehall clatter of Golden Clouds.
'Looking back now those spontaneous jams we did became the most successful tunes', recalls Thomas, 'in that they were created under the influence of the situation. They all had a powerful, magic drive we felt was owed to a truly inspiring collision of our three planets.'
The mouth-watering prospect of a true master working with long-time acolytes who tuned into his unique wavelength long ago, blossoms and explodes on The Orbserver in the starhouse, which, in the best Scratch and Orb tradition, often takes music to where it’s never been before.