Orbital

By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2002
Orbital

A large number of new electronic dance acts emerged out of the techno/rave explosion of the early 90’s, but few have proven to have the staying power as Orbital. With each new release, they’ve managed to give their music a unique edge without straying to far from what listeners come to expect. Now fans old and new can trace the duos evolution with ‘Work: 1989-2002,’ a new 14 song collection. The brothers Hartnoll can also currently be seen and heard in the movie xXx. The following is an interview conducted with Orbital while they were in NY for the premiere of that film.

You’re quoted as saying “our best work comes from trying to copy other people and getting it wrong.” can you elaborate on that?

Paul: “It’s just an observation. People early on would go, ‘oh, you’ve got such an original sound, how did you create your own sound?’ And my answer has always been, ‘well by copying other people and getting it wrong. It’s the simple way of saying ‘oh, my influences are…’. The easy times of writing music are when you can go in and say ‘oh, I want to do something that sounds like that,’ you never run out of ideas. You keep trying to push this thing into that shape, and eventually it takes on a form of its own or becomes something else and then you start following that idea. Either you sit there and say ‘it doesn’t sound like that, but I like it’ or half way through you think ‘actually, that’s quite a bit different, I think I’ll follow that. You don’t always go in there trying to imitate something else, but it definitely happens sometime.”

What are you feelings on the evolution of electronic dance music over years since starting Orbital?

Paul: “It sort of always hangs around, like reggae does. It’s an established are form, whether it’s currently the trendiest thing or not. Over the last sort of decade or so, we’ve seen it come and go. For me, it’s always been at the forefront, because obviously, that’s what we do. If it disappears from media favor, we don’t really notice it. It must have come and gone a few times during our time.”

Phil: “It think the way it’s evolved and the way it’s changed has been the subcategories – jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, break beat, big beat, new school, etc. It’s just really quite interesting to me. And now you’re getting a whole new generation of people making this music who were like 10 when it first started.”

Paul: “There’s a new generation of people who are being influenced by the stuff that influenced us, so it’s now coming around full cycle. We were influenced by people like Depeche Mode and Cabaret Voltaire, Severed Heads, Kraftwerk, Soft Cell. And now young people are being influenced by those people again. They’ve gone beyond the things that first influenced them, to the influences the people that they like. Which is interesting to see.”

Did you think you’d still be doing this, over a decade later?

Paul: “Yeah, well we hoped, I should say. I didn’t imagine I’d give it up and go do something else.”

How do you keep things interesting for yourselves?

Paul: “You’ve always go fresh influences. From a technical standpoint, you’ve always got new equipment and new ideas in sound synthesis. That adds a new flavor. You normally want to do something different, you might have an idea or you might not but you try to steer away from what you previously did.”

Phil: “And new music comes. It becomes inspiring, so that keeps it fresh, hearing other peoples music. When you find yourself not really liking much, it can be disheartening and a bit scary sometimes.”

Has the evolution of musical technology had much of an impact on the way you work?

Has the evolution of musical technology had much of an impact on the way you work?

Paul: “Live-wise, no. I still haven’t found anything that comes close to using an MMT8, which is so ancient that it annoys me. I wish I didn’t have to use it, because they do crash as much as an Apple Mac. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a laptop on stage. I know lots of people use them, but I find that you just don’t get the depth of sound that I want. Of course we use samplers, but even an Emu sampler has a richness that you don’t get out of a like a Pro-tools audio card or something like that. If you’ve got a 909 or a 303, I like to have that actual object there. The sound of those coming out of a PC system unadulterated and pure is such a great sound. And I wouldn’t really want to fit them into a hard drive. So live, no, I haven’t found anything better than my hardware sequencer. Even the more modern ones are too fussy and don’t work in the simple way that I want them to.

But in the studio, things are always changing and developing. Like all the soft synths, things like Absynth, if that were a hardware synthesizer it would be so expensive. When people make big hardware synthesizers, they’re out of the reach of a lot of people. Like that Waldorf Wave, what was that, it was like 6000 pounds or something like that? Now you’ve things like Absynth and Reaktor or less that 500 pounds. They’re mindbogglingly complex and fun, which I think is great. I certainly don’t mind losing a true analog sound for something as complicated and fun.”

Does using those software synths pose a problem when adapting the music for live performance?

Paul: “We haven’t had a problem with that, because we’ve only just started getting into them and most of the songs we play live don’t us those sort of sounds. But I’m not too bothered about recreating, and don’t want to make it exactly how it is in the studio. It’s quite fun to throw in new sounds. So we’re not too concerned about that, really.”

Was it obvious what tracks to include on the new collection?

Phil: “No, we ended up with sort of 2 CDs worth of music, really. It was just a case of honing it down.”

Paul: “It’s also the short single versions, which is interesting in itself. Because we normally record different versions of tracks rather than just edit them down from the album. A 7-inch version, as it would have been called once upon a time. Putting those together on an album is quite nice, because then it forms an album that never was.”

Phil: “It’s good for fans, especially in the US, because a lot of the singles didn’t come out there.”

How did your appearance in ‘xXx’ come about?

Paul: “We were in the right place at the right time, really. We were finishing out tour in LA and were doing the rounds talking to different music supervisors at studios. We just happened to be in someone’s office chatting to them and they said ‘you know what, I’ve got this guy, a director, he’s got film where he’s looking for a very European sounding band for a scene. Who’d look good and sound European, for a rave in Prague, maybe you’re the guys?’ His assistants came to the gig, and sort of went to him and said ‘yep, these are the people for your film.’ And that was it really, we just went from there. It was a great laugh to do it. There was an amazing length of music used, about 4 minutes. Normally, when you get in a film you get 20 seconds if you’re lucky and then someone’s talking over it. But in this, even when people are talking over it, it’s really clear.”

Phil: “We made the track for that particular scene, as well. That turned out well in our opinion.”

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