In terms of figures operating amongst the global electronic music scene, there’s no doubt that ambient-house pioneers The Orb are worthy subjects of a documentary covering their eventful backhistory – indeed it’s almost surprising that it’s taken until now for someone to take on that task. Couple this with Orb mainstay Dr Alex Paterson’s reputation as a consistently anti-authoritarian prankster, and you’ve certainly got all of the raw ingredients for an intriguing and revealing film.
Originally premiered at last year’s Manchester Film Festival, ‘Lunar Orbit’ sees UK director Patrick Buchanen providing an entry point into The Orb’s ultraworld, spending its seventy minutes exploring the electronic collective’s backhistory as well as current creative core Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann’s working methods and relationship. While it’s certainly an accessible primer for anyone previously unfamiliar with The Orb’s work and trippy live visuals though, for longtime fans there’s surprisingly little in the way of real surprises or revelations.
Indeed, most of the critical points in Alex Paterson’s road to The Orb, such as his early role as Killing Joke’s drum roadie and his stint as a young A&R guy for Brian Eno’s EG label have been well documented by now, though it’s a rare treat to see photos of the young Dr Alex bellowing on the mike with Killing Joke during a session where Jaz Coleman was obviously out of the room (or perhaps hiding in Iceland). We get the usual focus on Paterson’s involvement in the seminal Shoom nights and Paul Oakenfold’s Land Of Oz events, as well as fairly detailed coverage of The Orb’s infamous sampling of Ricki Lee Jones on ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, and the legal dramas that followed (incidentally, Jones claims that she wasn’t stoned on the sampled monologue, rather she simply had a cold).
What’s particularly frustrating about ‘Lunar Orbit’ is that it doesn’t really provide equal share to the albums comprising their backcatalogue, instead focusing mainly upon the early period spanning from early singles like ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain’ through to the ‘Adventures In The Ultraworld’ and ‘U.F.Orb’ albums. While many people would certainly point to the above period as being The Orb’s heyday (and they’d be right), there’s very little coverage of their work from the late nineties onwards. Indeed, there’s no exploration at all of ensuing albums such as ‘Orbus Terrarum’ or ‘Orblivion’, with more recent efforts that would have provided plenty of interesting stories such as their collaborative records with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Lee Perry being reduced to brief conversational mentions and the occasional photo.
Perhaps most worryingly though, other collaborators crucial to the development of The Orb such as Kris Weston and Andy Hughes are completely absent here, their involvement seemingly edited out in favour of a ‘neater’ backhistory that depicts the pairing of Paterson and Fehlmann as being the collective’s powerhouse. It’s something that occasionally smacks of revisionism and adds weight to ex-member Weston’s online comments a couple of years back surrounding the release of The Orb’s ‘History Of The Future’ retrospective compilation, which was credited solely on the sleeve to Paterson and Fehlmann, despite Weston having made critical contributions to much of the earlier material that was included.
On a more positive note, the guest interviewees that make appearances here such as Coldcut’s Matt Black, Mixmaster Morris, Youth and Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt manage to add context and perspective, but it would have been nice to see commentary from more people outside The Orb’s immediate circle of friends and associates. While ‘Lunar Orbit’ certainly provides seventy minutes of diverting viewing, there’s a sense of missed opportunity (as well as missing history) here, something that serves neither longtime Orb fans or relative newcomers well.
‘Lunar Orbit’ is screening on September 16 as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival. For more details, go to https://www.lunarorbitfilm.com/#trailer