Tag: The Orb

ULTRAMARINE Signals Into Space

Essex duo ULTRAMARINE are probably best known for their 1991 album ‘Every Man & Woman is a Star’.

Arguably Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper pioneered the Folktronica genre including an eventual collaboration with SOFT MACHINE’s Robert Wyatt on their 1993 ‘United Kingdoms’ album. ‘Every Man & Woman Is A Star’ melded a disparate mix of  lo-fi drum machines, electric piano, jazz inflections and squelchy Roland 303s. It was a sound that on paper shouldn’t have really worked, but when it hit its peak, comfortably matched acts like THE ORB at their finest, albeit less self-indulgently.

After a fourteen year hiatus, the duo returned with a pair of singles in 2011 and this has led to ULTRAMARINE’s ‘Signals Into Space’, their first full length album since 2013’s ‘This Time Last Year’. This time around there are collaborations with vocalist Anna Domino who contributes to four tracks, plus percussionist Ric Elsworth and sax player Iain Ballamy from LOOSE TUBES.

Album opener ‘Elsewhere’ provides a dark electronic opener with an eclectic mix of twittering bird song, echoed TANGERINE DREAM-influenced sequencer part and retro analogue drum machine which has its lo-fi congas pitched up and down through the track. Ambient guitar and Juno-style synth layers work brilliantly on the piece; the only criticism is that the track ends too soon and could have quite comfortably been extended by another couple of minutes.

‘Spark from Flint to Clay’ is the first song to feature the vocals of Anna Domino and is the kind of piece that fans of AIR’s ‘Moon Safari’ and ZERO 7 will really get excited by; a Kaoss Pad manipulated 303 makes its first appearance alongside another retro 808-style drum machine and echoed guitars and vibes create a beautiful, drifting and luxuriant soundscape.

‘Breathing’ stretches to an epic 7 minutes and is the first track on the album to feature a combination of trademark off-kilter ULTRAMARINE sounds, improvisation and a far jazzier aesthetic.

‘Breathing’ is not a foreground piece, but it would provide a superb ambient accompaniment to drift along to with Ballamy’s sax providing the main musical content.

‘Arithmetic’ ups the tempo and could quite easily have appeared on ‘Every Man & Woman is a Star’; live percussion, electric piano and another 7 minute running time allows it to ebb and flow with a combo of electronics and live elements drifting in and out. Again, Anna Domino provides the main vocal hook for a song that wonderfully conjures images of far-off beaches and tropical climates.

‘If Not Now When?’ indirectly take its cues from JON & VANGELIS’ ‘State of Independence’ with a modulated Yamaha CS80-style bassline whilst ‘Equatorial Calms’ (could there be a more ULTRAMARINE song title?) evokes some distant arid and dusty landscape with heart-rate slowing sounds and cross delayed drum sounds. The album closer and title track finishes with another Anna Domino vocalled-piece; combining found sound ambience and a heartbeat pulse.

The fact that only a third of ‘Signals into Space’ feature vocals means that the album works best as “put on, zone out” work and it accomplishes that exceedingly well; once you become locked into it, it does a superb job of transporting the listener to a variety of sonic-inspired landscapes.

For those that have previously delved into the world of ULTRAMARINE, there are no radical departures, reinventions or surprises here; over 30 years Hammond and Cooper have carefully cultivated their own sound that combines their source material beautifully.

For this reason there appears no motive to deviate too far from a tried tested template and fans of the duo will welcome ‘Signals into Space’ with open arms.

‘Signals Into Space’ is released by Les Disques du Crépuscule, available in CD, double vinyl LP and download formats from https://www.lesdisquesducrepuscule.com/signals_into_space_twi1236.html




Text by Paul Boddy
Photos by Emily Bowling
29th January 2019

JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise

Jarre-electronica2Released last October, ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ was JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s first album since 2007’s ‘Téo & Téa’.

It was a worldwide collaborative adventure where the French Maestro “had this idea of merging DNA with musicians and artists of different generations, linked, directly or indirectly, to electronic music in a kind of sharing process in a world where we’re more isolated than ever by our smartphones and the Internet”.

During its five year mission, the ‘Electronica’ sessions produced an excess of tracks, thanks to the number of willing contributors who embraced Jarre’s ethic to write in the same room, as opposed to remote working via the web.

“Electronic music is all about connections” he said, both practically and figuratively. ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ featured AIR, TANGERINE DREAM, MOBY, VINCE CLARKE, JOHN CARPENTER, LITTLE BOOTS and LAURIE ANDERSON; so for those who were unaware of any electronic music before AVICII, it came as something of an education.

The second instalment ‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ has no less impressive a cast, with PET SHOP BOYS, GARY NUMAN, HANS ZIMMER, THE ORB, PEACHES, YELLO and SEBASTIEN TELLIER all willing conspirators in one of the ambitious music projects ever undertaken.

JARRE BW2015‘The Heart of Noise, Pt. 1’ featuring French techno kid RONE begins with an almost Morricone aesthetic, as if the Italian composer had used synths.

After a marvellous impressionistic start with an enticing filmic ambience, the more uptempo second part sees Jarre taking classic trance melodies along for the ride, utilising steady beats and percussive mantras without being obtrusive.

‘Brick England’ with PET SHOP BOYS is classic mid-tempo Euro disco, with Tennant and Lowe not breaking ranks with a rockabilly tune or anything. But Jarre’s ribbon controlled lead synth does sound as though it might break into ‘The Final Countdown’!

Following on, ‘These Creatures’ with experimental singer / songwriter JULIA HOLTE takes things downtempo with a gentle blippy soundscape. Holter provides some wonderfully angelic vocals and voice samples, as the dreamy build swims along seductively.

PRIMAL SCREAM are a surprise inclusion although their flirtation with harder electronic forms on ‘Autobahn 66’ and their cover of ‘Some Velvet Morning’ justifies their presence. However the basis of ‘As One’ is a speeded up take on ‘Come Together’ from ‘Screamadelica’ and sees pitch shifted voices alongside vocoder processed tones that could easily be mistaken for GRIMES going happy hardcore.

The unlikely friendship between GARY NUMAN and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE has resulted in ‘Here For You’, possibly the most purely electronic work Numan for many years. Significant in its absence of crunching guitars, Jarre himself amusingly described this stomper as “Oscar Wilde Techno”. Whatever, it is certainly the darkest thing Jarre has ever recorded

‘Electrees’ sees an eagerly awaited collaboration with award winning soundtrack composer HANS ZIMMER epic. Jarre’s father Maurice of course won Oscars for his work on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr Zhivago’ and ‘Passage To India’. Zimmer has a varied CV including BUGGLES, HELDEN and even producing a single for THE DAMNED, but first worked on fusing the traditional orchestral arrangements and electronic instruments in 1980 with English composer Stanley Myers who wrote ‘Cavatina’, the theme to ‘The Deer Hunter’.

With a cinematic sheen, ‘Electrees’ harks back to Zimmer’s synth roots with choral samples and synthesized strings, recalling MOBY’s ‘God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters’.

A non-musician collaboration comes in the form of ‘Exit with National Security Agency whistleblower EDWARD SNOWDEN. Frantic and tense with a stop / start structure, it slows for a monologue by Snowden. The track’s political slant is thematically closer to 1988’s ‘Revolutions’ with a chip tune influence that soundtracks a spy chase and “finding a way out”.

On the other side of the coin, the brilliant ‘Gisele’ with SÉBASTIEN TELLIER is very melodic and unsurprisingly Gallic, the gathering of two French talents sounding not unlike Serge Gainsbourg gone electro. THE ORB’s distinctly spacey textures make their presence felt during ‘Switch On Leon’. They actually first worked with Jarre on a remix of ‘Oxygène 8’ in 1997, but it was said at the time that he was unhappy with the results so the track was subsequently issued as ‘Toxygene’ by THE ORB themselves. Whatever the story, water must have passed under the bridge for the two parties to reunite.

‘What You Want’ has the unmistakeable snarl of PEACHES over an electro hip-hop backbeat. With her characteristic diva humour coupled with some asexual madness, it’s a diversion from Jarre’s usual template that will horrify fans of ‘Oxygene’ with its dubstep and rap elements.

Meanwhile, ‘Circus’ with German producer SIRIUSMO is very dance pop with DAFT PUNK robot voices in abundance; while good fun, it begs the question as to what a collaboration with Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter would sound like. No questions as to how a YELLO versus JEAN-MICHEL JARRE co-write would turn out like as ‘Why This, Why That and Why’ delivers the expected; Dieter Meier gives his distinct droll while Boris Blank and Jarre provide an airy blend of soothing atmospheric backdrops.

‘The Architect’ with house trailblazer JEFF MILLS is hypnotic, orchestrated Detroit techno that provides an accessible entry point to the genre. But more appealing to a handbag filled dancefloor is ‘Swipe To The Right’. Possibly another politically coded piece or the use of Tinder, the brilliant song partners Jarre with CYNDI LAUPER. No stranger to electronic forms, particularly with her under rated ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album of 2007, there are big bass riffs galore for a great poptastic exploration that is both catchy and danceable. A sample from the Minipops rhythm box that appeared on ‘Oxygene’ even drops in for possibly the standout track on this collection.

To close, the album finishes with two solo compositions ‘Falling Down’ and ‘The Heart of Noise (The Origin)’; the former floats a vocodered vocal over a distinctly harder-edged mechanical pulse, while the latter is a third variation on the title track. It would be fair to say with ‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’, the results cannot help but be mixed.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was told by GARY NUMAN that JEAN-MICHEL JARRE “is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life” – so obviously he didn’t want to upset anyone and decided to release everything!

However, such is the method of modern music consumption, the listener can be more brutal and from the two volumes, a great 16 track ‘Best Of Electronica’ playlist can easily be constructed. While Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ is not as consistent as the first instalment, there is something for anyone remotely interested in electronic music. The choice is yours.

Jean-Michel-Jarre-Electronica-uk-Tour-2016‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ is released by Columbia / Sony Music

The ‘Electronica’ World Tour runs from July to December 2016, please check JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s website for more details





Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th May 2016