Top 5 records of all time : #3 with The Orb : Little fluffy clouds
One of my top 5 favorite records ever was released in 1990. Not talking about Celine Dion but Little fluffy clouds by The british band The Orb, fonded by Alex Patterson (see picture below) and Jimmy Cauty of KLF fame. The Orb’s name comes from Woody Allen’s Sleeper, where The orgasmatron, a fictional electromechanical related device, an orgasmic orb, in the fictive future society of 2173, acts as a large cylinder big enough to contain a single person. Once entered, it contains some future technology that induces orgasms. It’s as if Patterson would suggest The Orb’s music is capable of generating orgasm, which may do so after repeated listening… Little Fluffy Clouds was the first single from The album Adventures beyond the Ultraworld. Back then, their music was classified as ambient house but it was so weird and original. I don’t think people appreciate how much the ORB were geniuses of an era. They updated Brian Eno and Tangerine dream’s soundscapes with the post-rave era, and builded a genre in itself : ambient dub. They were pioneers in bringing slow motion dubby beats with ambient atmosphere, and that was way back in 1989 and 1990, 20 years ago. This was the first “techno” record I heard and I felt totally in love with the genre from the get go. Atmospheric music with beats, a different array of samples, amazing production et above all, a genuine sense of humour. Little fluffy clouds was centered around clips from an interview with Rickie Lee Jones in which she recalls picturesque images of her childhood. Critics and fans sometimes attribute the odd nasal tonality of Jones’ voice to drug use, though Jones later claimed that it was the result of a heavy cold. The sample comes from a conversation between Jones and Levar Burton (who played in the TV series Roots) on the children’s television program Reading Rainbow. The quote taken as the voice sample goes on like this :
Jones: “They went on forever – They – When I w- We lived in Arizona, and the skies always had little fluffy clouds in ’em, and, uh… they were long… and clear and… there were lots of stars at night. And, uh, when it would rain, it would all turn – it- They were beautiful, the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact. Um, the sunsets were purple and red and yellow and on fire, and the clouds would catch the colors everywhere. That’s uh, neat cause I used to look at them all the time, when I was little. You don’t see that. You might still see them in the desert.”
The song also uses a harmonica sample from Ennio Morricone’s The Man With The Harmonica (from the film Once Upon a Time in the West) and parts of Electric Counterpoint, a piece for multitracked guitars composed by Steve Reich and recorded by Pat Metheny. Reich was quite happy with the end result. “Little Fluffy Clouds” was used as the music to a Volkswagen commercial for the New beetle in the late 1990s, accompanied by video of the New Beetle rotating and changing color to the beat of the music. As for the rest of the album, Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld opens with the crowing of a cockerel, the rich tones of a Radio 4 announcer declaring that, “Over the past few years, to the traditional sounds of an English summer – the drone of lawnmowers, the smack of leather on willow – has been added a new noise…”, which could refer either to the fictional testing of The Orb’s spaceship or to the 120bpm music that burst out of warehouses in the late-eighties, before the hazy sounds of Rickie Lee Jones fondly recalling the summer skies of her childhood drifts in. So begins Little Fluffy Clouds, the still wonderful opening track on the album. Although this is often erroneously called ambient house, there is little of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports here – Little Fluffy Clouds is a glorious flashback to the acid house boom of a few years earlier and the familiar burbling of a Roland 303 underpins Jones’ story. Rickie Lee Jones claimed that her suitably influenced tones were the result of a heavy cold and sued Big Life, The Orb’s record company settled out of court with her, but Little Fluffy Cloulds provided Jones with her most memorable song in many years and even after nineteen years, it still sounds fantastic.
The Orb : Little fluffy clouds [1990 : Adventures beyond the Ultraworld]
Steve Reich, Pat Metheny & The Kronos Quartet : Electric counterpoint [Nonesuch : Different trains / Electric counterpoint]
N.B. : Read an interesting article in french by Jozef Siroka of La Presse newspaper regarding the genius of Ennio Morricone