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Music / Orbital

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Orbital is a techno / electronica duo from England, consisting of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll. Within techno, their style ranged from acid to ambient to hardcore, with influences from jungle and soundtrack music.

Their first single, 1989's "Chime", became a huge rave hit. Not long afterwards, Orbital started gaining fans outside the dance scene (they were one of the first techno bands to do so) due to the strength of their live shows and their emphasis on their albums as cohesive units rather than merely collections of songs. Their output through the '90s is commonly cited as among the best of the UK's techno scene. Unfortunately, after 2000 they released two albums that were respectively divisive and just okay. On that disappointing note, Orbital called it quits in 2004.

However, the brothers Hartnoll did not leave music altogether. Phil teamed up with Nick Smith to make the techno band Long Range, while Paul composed music fusing electronic and orchestral styles.

Then in 2009, Orbital reunited for a string of live shows, and in 2011 they returned to the studio to work on a new album. The result, 2012's Wonky, was surprisingly well-received, both by the critics and the fans. In 2014, they disbanded again, but with the promise that neither of them intended to stop making music yet. In summer 2017, they reunited again, playing more live shows and putting out a new single, and then a new studio album the following year. Time will tell where they go next.

  • Orbital aka the Green Album (1991)
  • Orbital 2 aka the Brown Album (1992)
  • Snivilisation (1994)
  • In Sides (1996)
  • Event Horizon (OST) (1997)
  • The Middle of Nowhere (1999)
  • The Altogether (2001)
  • Octane (OST) (2003)
  • Blue Album (2004)
  • Wonky (2012)
  • Pusher (OST) (2012)
  • Monsters Exist (2018)
  • The Pentaverate (OST) (2022)
  • Optical Delusion (2023)

For more exhaustive information, see the discography section of their website.

Paul Hartnoll

  • The Ideal Condition (2007)
  • 8:58 (2015)

Long Range

  • Madness and Me (2007)

Not to be confused with the ambient electronic duo The Orb.

Provides examples of:

  • Album Intro Track: "Time becomes..." on Orbital 2.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • A sketch of electron orbitals around an atomic nucleus. It shows up on the Green Album and Brown Album covers, and the liner notes of Snivilisation and In Sides. The Blue Album cover features a new version of the diagram, redrawn with vector art.
    • Several covers have a circle, or some object forming a circle. These include The Middle of Nowhere, Wonky, and a number of singles. The imagery even shows up in the "Tiny Foldable Cities" music video, which uses aerial videos of a cityscape—with a lot of focus on roundabouts, stadiums, and other circular structures.
  • Artifact Title: Or at least Artifact Fan Nickname. The debut album got the nickname The Green Album because one of the initial pressings had a yellow-green cover. This was actually a misprinting, and every subsequent pressing has a distinctly yellow cover. Nevertheless, The Green Album sticks around to this day as the nickname.
  • Broken Record:
  • Crazy Cat Lady: The "Wonky" music video depicts a male version. The guy has cats, and photos of cats, and T-shirts of cats. And he hears them all talk to him as he goes crazy.
  • Dictionary Opening: Inverted in the "Halcyon" music video, which ends with the definition:
    1) Peaceful, gentle and calm.
    2) Greek myth. A fabulous bird.
    3) Hypnotic sleeping pill. Side effects: a sense of detachment, possible psychosis.
    Halcyon Days
    1) A fortnight of calm during the winter solstice.
    2) A period of peace and happiness.
  • Double-Meaning Title:
    • "Halcyon" can refer either to the concept of idealized "halcyon days", or to the sleeping aid Halcyon, which the Hartnolls' mother was addicted to when they wrote the song. The song itself is blissful with a touch of melancholy, fitting either interpretation of the title.
    • "Vision OnE". The weird capitalization is so it can be read either as "Vision One" or "Vision On E" (as in, ecstasy).
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: Inverted on "One Big Moment", the first track of Wonky. The first 60 seconds are overlapping vocal samples that build up to a crescendo, then the rest of the song is completely instrumental.
  • Epic Rocking: Of course. Among the most drawn-out are "Out There Somewhere" and "Meltdown" (the DVD version), each 24 minutes long, and the 28-minute-long version of "The Box" from the American release of In Sides.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes (and Glam Rock samples): "Bigpipe Style"
  • Evolving Music: Happens a lot due to the nature or Orbital's live performances.
    • The most spectacular example is "Halcyon": nowadays Orbital fans know it as a hands-in-the-air anthem with a heavy use of Belinda Carlisle and Bon Jovi samples, neither of which even appear on the original studio version or the more well-known re-mix "Halcyon + On + On", which was popularized by the 1995 films Mortal Kombat: The Movie and Hackers.
    • "Satan" started off as techno with a bit of industrial flavor. Then it got remixed (with electric guitar by Kirk Hammett) for the Spawn soundtrack. Then it got remixed again as synth-heavy Big Beat and renamed "Beelzebeat". In 2011, it got the dubstep treatment and was renamed "Beelzedub". And for the 2017 reunion shows, it got a retro acid techno remix.
    • "Remind" began life as their remix of a Meat Beat Manifesto track, "Mindstream."
    • In 1992, Paul Hartnoll made a one-off single with Mike Hazell under the name Golden Girls. The single was called "Kinetic". A while later, it was reissued with an Orbital remix, which in turn was eventually reworked into Orbital's own 2002 single, "Frenetic".
    • Their retrospective album Thirty-Something contained versions of "Impact", "Satan", "Chime", "Halcyon + On + On", "Belfast" and "The Box" that are more in line with how they' were being performed live at the time of the album's release.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Stringy Acid"—an acid house song, drenched with synthesized strings.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Lush" / "Remind" / "Impact" from Orbital II. The entirety of Peel Sessions. "Forever / I Wish I Had Duck Feet" on Snivilisation. "Way Out" / "Spare Parts Express" / "Know Where to Run" from The Middle of Nowhere. "Distractions / Stringy Acid / Beelzedub" from Wonky.
  • Fun with Acronyms: "P.H.U.K." officially stands for "Please Help U.K." but even the band themselves sometimes pronounce it phonetically. There's also a remixed version, "Please Help U.K. - Urgent", or "P.H.U.K.U."
  • Foreign Language Title: "Dŵr Budr" (Welsh), "Kein Trink Wasser" (German), "Otoño" (Spanish), "An Fhómhair" (Irish Gaelic). As "An Fhómhair" is a remix of "Otoño" and both mean "Autumn", this may also count as Bilingual Bonus (and perhaps a non-personal example of This Is My Name on Foreign).
  • Gratuitous Panning:
    • "Fahrenheit 3D3" and the Snivilisation album were mixed in 3D. There was also a surround-sound mix of The Altogether.
    • "Time Becomes..." and "Input Out" use this for odd effect. The audio loops slightly faster in one channel than the other, so the left and right sides gradually fall out of sync. Both tracks end when the two channels finally re-sync.
  • Greatest Hits Album: They have several, none of which include their actual biggest chart hit, "The Saint". The closest to definitive is Orbital 20 but even that has some odd track choices.
  • Green Aesop: In Sides. The liner notes include an essay decrying "dirty electricity" and encouraging the use of solar power (noting that the first track was recorded entirely using solar power). "Dŵr Budr" (Welsh for "Dirty Water") references water pollution. And "P.E.T.R.O.L." was written in response to a recent oil spill.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: "The Girl with the Sun in Her Head" opens with a heartbeat, but it's distorted into more of a low, rumbling sound.
  • Iconic Item: The headlights that Paul and Phil wear for live gigs. So iconic they'll even wear them when it's not necessary, such as during an indoor studio session.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: "P.H.U.K."
  • In the Style of: "New Style", which was "Style" remixed to sound like a Stereolab tune. (Orbital originally wanted Stereolab themselves to remix "Style", but couldn't contact the band in time.)
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: The album version of "Belfast" does this despite not really having a verse-chorus structure in the first place.
  • Living Toys: In the "New France" music video, a stuffed lion doll leaves his owner (a young girl) to hang out with some bros and go clubbing.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • In Sides ends with "Out There Somewhere? Part 2" (13:27).
    • The Altogether ends with "Meltdown" (10:17)
    • Blue Album ends with "One Perfect Sunrise" (8:44).
  • Luck-Based Mission: When In Sides was imported to America, two different versions were made: the only difference was the song selection on the bonus disc. There's no indication of which version you were getting on the outside cover—the only way to know was by checking the disc label.
  • Mushroom Samba: The "Halcyon" music video features a 50's-looking housewife washing dishes, but she gets interrupted by strange sights like dancing children and a bald person emerging from the sink. As everything around her gets more surreal, the wife seems to break down as well, throwing flowers and the contents of her purse into the dishwater. The dictionary definition at the end brings the subtext to the forefront: she's hallucinating from her sleeping pills.
  • Moment Killer: Rewind to Orbital's show at the 2004 Glastonbury Festival. At this point they had already confirmed they would split up after completing the summer tour, so this show was their farewell to a festival they had a very good relationship with (their 1994 set is widely regarded as tearing down the barriers and heralding in an era of electronic dance music headlining rock festivals). To commemorate the occasion, they precede their cover version / remix of the Doctor Who theme (a fan favorite that they'd typically segue into "Chime" as very end of their set) with a suitably dramatic speech from The Doctor himself. Then the song itself begins... the first few synth notes come out as an awkward squawk. The Hartnolls have to stop the song to reconfigure their instruments. (The whole song, including the speech and false start, was included on the live compilation album Live at Glastonbury 1994 - 2004.)
  • Never Trust a Title:
    • The Green Album was nicknamed that because it had a green cover—initially. These days, the reprints look more yellowish than green, but the nickname stuck.
    • "Halcyon + On + On", in spite of its name suggesting longevity, is a minute and a half shorter than the original mix of "Halcyon".
    • Two of their "Style" remixes were named "Old Style" and "New Style". "Old Style" was the newer genre (hardcore techno), while "New Style" was a deliberately retro mix in the vein of Stereolab.
  • New Sound Album:
    • Snivilisation kept the extended compositions and half-ambient-half-rave atmosphere of the early albums, but expanded Orbital's sonic palette with eclectic samples and breakbeats.
    • The Altogether was a slightly darker take on Orbital's sound, and featured more rock samples than before. However, it wasn't received very well, and Orbital didn't pursue this style any further.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Box EP is some of the creepiest music Orbital ever made. This adds an air of menace to the cover artwork, even though it's just a picture of a completely ordinary house.
  • No Title: Their first two albums, commonly known as Orbital and Orbital II or The Green Abum and The Brown Album.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Inverted in "Belfast". It's real Latin (from a 12th century plainsong) and it's disarmingly beautiful.
  • One-Woman Wail / Scatting: Kirsty Hawkshaw in "Halcyon + On + On". Alison Goldfrapp in "Dŵr Budr", "The Box"(vocal reprise), "Out There Somewhere", and portions of "Nothing Left". Barbara Cohen in "Way Out". Lisa Gerrard in "One Perfect Sunrise".
  • Only a Lighter: In an awkwardly dated moment from "The Saint" music video, Paul and Phil whip out pistols as they're passing through an airport security checkpoint. The security officers pull out their own guns, and the situation looks like a Mexican Standoff—then Paul and Phil reveal that their "guns" are really just lighters. Then the security officers laugh and wave them through.
  • Pop-Star Composer: They've done various soundtrack commissions including a full-length incidental score for Octane and remixing Michael Kamen's score for Event Horizon. Other soundtrack commissions include "Crash And Carry" and "Quality Seconds" for Shopping, "The Saint" for The Saint, a special remake of "Satan" for Spawn and "Beached" for The Beach.
  • Portal Network: In the video for "Funny Breaks (One Is Enough)", the woman is able to travel between the interiors of suitcases.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I Don't Know You People" has a sample of someone shouting "God damn you!", and "You Lot" has a rant with "Cheeky bastards..." smack in the middle. Which goes to show just how inoffensive most of their discography is.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: Most of their songs follow this pattern by introducing loops and samples one at a time until everything builds up to a climax.
  • Protest Song:
    • "Impact (The earth is burning)". The 30th anniversary remix is subtitled "(30 Years Later and the earth is still burning)".
    • The duo protested Britain's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which effectively made raves and house parties illegal and deserving of police raids, with "Are We Here? (Criminal Justice Bill?)", a version of the song that was four minutes of silence to indicate what would become of Orbital if the act was indeed enforced. In fact, 2022's "Smiley" samples the BBC documentary Dance Britannia in which archival footage of a teenage Paul Hartnoll discusses being (allegedly) beaten by uniformed officers at a police raid of a party.
    • The album In Sides features both "Dŵr Budr" (Welsh for "Dirty Water",) and "The Girl with the Sun in Her Head", a song recorded entirely on Greenpeace's portable solar power generator Cyrus.
    • Monsters Exist as a whole is Paul Hartnoll venting about how he thinks the U.K.'s leaders are running the country into the ground. "P.H.U.K." ("Please Help U.K.") in particular is his take on Brexit. Even with no lyrics, the song sounds manic and unhinged, like a riding a roller coaster with a loose wheel—pretty much what Paul thinks the country has become: a wild ride that at any moment might fly off the rails and kill everyone.
  • Real After All: In the "Wonky" music video, the protagonist thinks his cats are talking to him as he loses his mind. At the very end, he runs out of his flat and gets hit by a car... and there's a cat driving it.
  • Revisiting the Roots: Blue Album was a deliberate throwback to the acid techno sound of The Green Album and The Brown Album.
  • Sampling: Par for the course for a techno act from the 1990s.
  • Song Style Shift:
    • The live remix of "Halcyon". It starts off light and ethereal, a lot like the version from The Brown Album, then the "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" and "You Give Love A Bad Name" samples come out of freaking nowhere.
    • "Beelzebeat" starts off heavy, but turns lighter and trance-ier for its second half. The remix "Beelzedub" starts off as dubstep, then turns into a drum-n-bass track in the second half.
    • "Dŵr Budr": It starts of sounding almost like Enya with a drum and bass beat, then about half way through changes to be a lot more techno-y, though the beat remains the same.
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • "The Mobius" and "Time becomes" sample the same episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, with different sections of the line delivery providing each song's title. "Macro Head" samples a different episode, again based around a line with those words in it.
    • "Satan" samples the spoken word intro from the Butthole Surfers' "Sweat Loaf", and various live versions also include clips from The Devil Rides Out.
    • "You Lot" samples a speech by Christopher Eccleston from the The Second Coming.
    • "There Will Come a Time" is basically a monologue from Professor Brian Cox set to music. This one isn't a sample, but was recorded specifically for Orbital to use in their song.
  • Super Title 64 Advance: The debut album was supposed to be simply titled LP, MC or CD depending on the format. But nobody got the joke, so it's just known as Orbital or The Green Album.
  • Take That!:
    • The reason several of their radio edits were labelled "Industry Standard Edit".
    • When the Criminal Justice Act—which gave British police greater legal powers to break up raves—was passed, Orbital responded by releasing the remix "Are We Here? (Criminal Justice Bill?)", consisting of four minutes of silence.
  • Tempting Fate: In 1993, they produced a track called "Lush (Eurotunnel Disaster '94)". Fortunately 1994 subsequently came and went without a disaster on Eurotunnel.
  • Uncommon Time: "Mock Tudor" is in 7/4 time.
  • Under Crank: Used for creepy effect in "The Box" music video. Tilda Swinton moved very slowly during filming; due to the undercranking, the finished film has her moving at normal speed but still looking not completely natural, while everyone around her is a superfast blur.
  • With Lyrics: The vocal mix of "The Box", from the EP. Also, "Belfast/Wasted". Both were collaborations with Grant Fulton.