The Borrowers – The Orb: Little Fluffy Clouds

 

What tune does it use?

The third section of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.

Ask any electronic musician worth their salt who their greatest influences are and the chances are it won’t be long before they come round to mentioning Steve Reich – which our interview with John Tejada has already confirmed!

Reich’s talent for taking pop-friendly melodies and looping them almost to breaking point (a technique often labelled as minimalism) has been one of the single biggest influences on electronic music up to this point, especially in techno, which often uses similar principles of repetition and expansion.

How does it work?

The Orb use a direct sample of the first recording of Reich’s Electronic Counterpoint, a piece written for guitarist Pat Metheny in 1987. He recorded it by setting down seven channels of guitar loops and two of bass guitar, before playing along as a tenth ‘person’. Yet The Orb place this music in context with a beautiful dub bass line and a host of ambient sound effects, most notably a clip of an interview with Rickie Lee Jones. The section of music they lift from Reich comes from the third section of Electric Counterpoint:

The Orb sample it directly here, as the beginning of their ‘chorus’:

and again nearly a minute later:

Here is the whole of the third section from Reich and Metheny, sat in the same key of A major:

 

What else is new?

Little Fluffy Clouds came to symbolize a lot of what was right about the so-called ‘ambient house’ style of the early 1990s, which acted as a springboard for Aphex Twin and a number of today’s leading electronic producers. Reich himself got involved later on, commissioning a remix album from such electronic luminaries as Coldcut, DJ Spooky and Four Tet. Here’s a remix of a section of Reich’s masterpiece Drumming by Mantronik:

The cross-over between Reich and techno goes back a long way too – and one intriguing spot is that Japanese producer Ken Ishii – now a widely respected techno artist – played cello on the first recording of Music for 18 Musicians, made for ECM in 1978. Now if you haven’t heard that particular piece, I suggest you stop what you’re doing right now and watch this!

Or you can go some way to sharing one of the great live experiences in music in this live performance:

Likewise if this is your first encounter with the music of The Orb, I should direct you towards their Top of the Pops performance of the wonderful, peerless Blue Room, heard in edit form below. Definitely the first band to play chess on the program!

John Tejada

john-tejada

John Tejada is a well established and highly respected techno musician – but his roots lie in an upbringing full of classical music. Arcana called him on a break from work in his California studio, where he wrote his tenth album Signs Under Test, released on Kompakt this month.

He spoke about the benefits of a musically open family, how that led him to hone his own approach to music, and why he loves the music of Steve Reich. But first, after a quick listen…

Can you remember your first encounter with classical music?

My first memories were from my parents, with my mother being an opera singer and my father a clarinettist and conductor. I would often get dragged around to gigs! One of my first memories was seeing them practice, and that made it very real. I think that probably that programmed me into the routine of how you get up, have breakfast and then practice, and that has stuck with me right through to this day. It was a big influence in what I do now.

There are often moments in your music where you are subtly very inventive, using unusual rhythms and less conventional harmonic patterns. Does that stem from your upbringing do you think?

I suppose it does, but I couldn’t properly explain it. It’s one of the different ways I got to where I am now. My focus is not on getting played out by DJs but it is an enjoyment of listening to what feels interesting. Getting the fuzzy feeling, that’s what I’m after!

What does classical music mean to you?

I wouldn’t say that ‘classical’ music means a great deal to me, as I tend towards the stuff that the more modern composers did, I would go with my mum to see Steve Reich concerts; we’d go to see that stuff together. I don’t actively listen to the classic stuff, but because opera was always on at full blast in the house I got to hear a lot of it. It gave me an interesting perspective on what music is and what it can do. It has stuck with me the whole way through.

The categorisation of what is classical music has always puzzled me. The early works of Stockhausen are classical but today sound like something like that could be released on Torch Records! Looking back, it’s pretty wild what was going on in the 1950s and 1960s compared to what people do today.

Is Steve Reich a big influence on your work?

Absolutely. One of the biggest goose bumps I have ever had was going to see the Music for 18 Musicians live for the first time:

You start to see that live, and you say “Holy shit, it’s real!” It flared up a real love of the music in me. No-one bothered to notice that on my last album The Predicting Machine there is a strong nod to Reich on the fourth track, Winter Skies:

Reich was so revolutionary in the way he showed people could have ideas of just using tape loops. He was a massive influence on digital music today with the loops and the phase experiments – he laid the fundamentals to what people are still doing now. I would love to see Music for 18 Musicians performed on synths, I think that would be really successful.

What would you say classical music – as you listen to it – and techno have in common?

I think a lot of stuff! I really enjoy making those connections. I think classical music – and the music of Reich – refers to looped and non-looped music that is beatless. The question for techno is ‘Can you do that with a beat?’ For me though the fundamentals of techno and drone are laid down without a beat. Terry Riley and Steve Reich discovered that. It is an interesting connection there, but I find a lot of people won’t give it a chance. It’s like eating a vegetable. There are times when I won’t explore because I just don’t know.

What do you know and like at the moment?

I am a big fan of Terry Riley, because he is one of those great composers who cross into other areas. In his album A Rainbow in Curved Air he used music in a way that would give Autechre a run for their money:

I also think early Art of Noise records are really interesting, you have people trying stuff out – because why not? I remember when I was listening to some of this stuff at home, and being nearly asleep but being scared silly at the same time! We had some really interesting radio in the mid-1980s, and I was absorbing some crazy stuff.

I remember one time when one of my friends came round who was writing some particularly experimental stuff. He was playing that new stuff for me, which was a real risk for him playing it at full blast. Mum came in and said, “What are you playing, it’s really interesting – it sounds like…” and then she named three different composers. It wasn’t the standard request to turn it down at all!

Would you like to try writing more classically based music?

I have done some more experimental things on labels like Plug Research, but yes – I do have an idea to do something that is modern classical. We’ll see how that develops!

John Tejada’s new album Signs Under Test is out now on Kompakt – and you can listen to it on the label’s website here. For more about the artist himself, visit his Facebook page