Archive for May, 2007

Modern Classic: Orbital “Middle of Nowhere”


Released in 1999, Orbital’s fifth album hit the shelves just as big beat was breaking internationally with fresh releases from the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and The Prodigy. While not really in the style of big beat, “Middle of Nowhere” was probably overlooked by many American fans of electronica because it wasn’t really danceable, like the house music of the day, and it wasn’t cutting-edge, like the IDM styling of fin de siècle Aphex Twin.

Orbital was formed in the late ‘80s by brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll who took the name from the M25 motorway ringing London. Early Orbital tracks were pure rave acid goodness, but by the mid-nineties, they had begun collaborations w/ singers like Alison Goldfrapp and their tracks started to take on a more textured structure. It was also during this time that Orbital became know for their improvisational live shows featuring the brothers wearing their trademark flashlight eyewear behind racks of synths and sequencers.

Why is “Middle of Nowhere” a modern classic? Because, in my opinion, it represents the high watermark of electronic music in the ‘90s. By the end of the decade, the Hartnoll brothers had refined their craft and had moved away from making “get yo ass on the dance floor” music into something entirely different. Not every track on “Middle of Nowhere” is fantastic, but as a whole, the album represents the best of the genre. Also, it didn’t hurt having artists like Alison Goldfrapp contributing. I also like the fact they used a Stylophone on “Style”, the last track of the disc.

In 2004, the brothers called it quits. Both are still making music on their own, but a hinted at reunion has yet to materialize. Apparently, there is a DVD in the works of their legendary Glastonbury live sets, so that should be cool if it ever comes out. In the meantime, take a look at some of the links below for live clips.

Glastonbury 2004 - Chimes

Glastonbury 2004 - Doctor Who Theme

Official Orbital website

Selected Orbital Synths from the “Middle of Nowhere” Era

1. ARP 2600
2. E-mu E4X Turbo
3. Clavia Nord Rack
4. Dubreq Stylophone
5. E-mu Morpheus
6. E-mu Orbit
7. Kawai K5000R
10. Korg Prophecy
11. Korg Trinity
12. Korg Wavestation
13. Korg Z1
14. Novation BassStation
15. Novation DrumStation
16. Novation SuperNova
17. Oberheim Matrix 6
18. OSC OSCar
19. Oberheim Xpander
20. Roland JP-8000
21. Roland Jupiter 6
22. Roland Jupiter 8
23. Roland SH-09
24. Roland SH-101
25. Roland System 100 Model 101 Synthesizer
26. Roland System 100 Model 102 Expander
27. Roland System 100 Model 104 Sequencer
28. Yamaha DX-7 MKII
29. Yamaha DX100

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