Nov 02, 2012

Orbital has been wowing audiences & influencing producers for decades. Now after a hiatus, Phil & Paul are ready to expose their music to a new generation. Read our interview with them at Nocturnal Wonderland, where they discuss the art of performing live & some of their favorite synths.

Orbital feat Lady Leshurr - Wonky (Original Mix)
LessThan3: Welcome back to the electronic music scene! How do you feel about coming back?
Paul: It’s nice going away and then coming back. That’s what we needed to do. We had to walk away from it and find some perspective. You feel like you’re leaving it behind, and then as the future comes around, you say “I miss that.” Seeing it from the outside is an interesting take on the whole scene.
LessThan3: What do you think about how the scene has exploded in the United States?
Paul: We’ve seen the scene at Coachella and Miami’s Winter Music Conference, but it’s really taken off even more here in the SoCal area. There was always a scene in America, especially on the West Coast, and we were tapping into it, but it was much more underground compared to what it is now. We’ve been touring America since 1992 and wherever we went there were always pockets of ravers. Now all those pockets have merged. One thing we always say when we’re traveling is that although there’s always a little local flavor, whatever’s going on locally is going on globally. For example, I’m not surprised to see dubstep here; dubstep’s everywhere. You have some clubs that stick a certain style and some countries that prefer it a certain kind of way, but generally speaking, it’s a global thing.
LessThan3: Many top DJs have said they were inspired and hail you as pioneers of electronic music. Would you agree?
Paul: I do often hear some of our influence in today’s music. We also are inspired by other people’s music as well. Music is a game of Chinese whispers; it steals and borrows from itself and slowly develops over time. It’s about hearing something new by someone else and then saying “I like that. I’m going to take that and run with it.” It’s like a relay race of ideas and creativity. Nobody works in a vacuum in music.
LessThan3: Do you have any personal favorites in the electronic scene these days?
Paul: Well The Knife is definitely one of my favorites. Still a big fan of Trent Reznor; I like what he does.
LessThan3: There’s been an explosion of advances in electronic music technology over the years. Have your production techniques changed significantly because of this?
Paul: The only thing we don’t use anymore are hardware sequencers like Akai M8s. We sort of re-build M8s on iPads now using a bit of software called Grid. You can literally play your clips without having to look at Ableton. It has the feel of a hardware sequencer but is much more flexible. I still use loads of analog synths; my current favorite is the MacBeth M5N. I just bought an old AMS analog synthesizer that was used at the Radiophonic workshop at BBC. I haven’t really gotten down to using it yet, though. I really like meddling with physical synths. I’m not quite sold yet on virtual synths on the computer–I like stuff that you can only do on a computer. I’m not an analog or digital snob or anything like that, though. I like analog synths for what they do and I like digital synths too, like Sculpture in Logic. There’s also a new one called Chromophone that’s stunning for what it does. I like it when people bend samples in software like Alchemy, another amazing piece of software. You just can’t do it outside of a computer, so it truly is an advance in technology. I love mixing analog and digital altogether since they compliment each other; the digital synths are sharper and more glossy whereas analog synths are big, fat, and round. They all sit well together.
LessThan3: How would you describe your approach to performing?
Paul: First we get all the individual parts of all the songs that we’re going to play all prepared in Ableton so they can go off at any time. Then we go onstage and improvise the structure of the songs with lots of analog synths and keyboards to twist and manipulate the sounds. When working with limited time slots we try to make our tracks shorter and jigsaw them together so we don’t miss certain tracks. Then something good will happen and it will get incorporated into the next gig and the next gig until you get bored of it or something else happens.
Phil: When we’re not as pressed for time, some tracks we play may even double in size as we discover new ideas while playing.
LessThan3: You’re often cited as creating the first mashups; a great deal of people loved how you mixed in a sample of Heaven Is A Place On Earth into your song Halcyon + On + On.
Paul: We actually just did it as a live joke. We did it during an era when people took their techno very seriously, so it was a bit of fun for us. Many of the purists would say they loved Kraftwerk but even they were full of humor; they’re hilarious, but they do it with a straight face.
LessThan3: If the world were ending in LessThan3 minutes, and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Phil: Sugar Sugar by The Archies. That’s the first bit of music that I can remember, so I might go out with what I came in with.
LessThan3: Describe your sound in LessThan3 words.
Phil: Instrumental Electronic.
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