Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review: The Orb playfully profiled in Lunar Orbit (Canada, 2016)

If you have never heard of The Orb before I would recommend listening to their 1989 hit A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld. Even just reading that title would be enough to vaguely understand what The Orb is about and what they continue to represent.

Mixed in with playful interviews and kitchen rumination, Lunar Orbit, directed by Patrick Buchanan, is an exploration into the past and future of one of the pioneers of ambient music, The Orb. Lunar Orbit, languidly and casually follows the eccentric duo, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann as they discover sounds and samples in their Berlin recording studio for their 2015 album Moonbuilding 2703 AD. A mix between an expositional and observational documentary, Lunar Orbit is like hanging out with old friends, where silence is golden, banter is abundance and nostalgia colours conversation. Mixed it with archival footage, the film is almost conversational and is best watched with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, slice of pizza, or more ideally, a joint.

This documentary is definitely for lovers of the genre and is more accessible to those who are familiar with the ambient evolution and with influencers such as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Pink Floyd. Lunar Orbit also interviews other names in the game and close friends of The Orb such as Guy Pratt, Youth, Toby Marks, Mixmaster Morris and Matt Black. However these name drops don’t function to cement The Orb within the industry, rather they exist as close friends, reiterating the personalities and collaborations behind The Orb.

There is a distinct lack of pretension and celebrity in this documentary which is genuinely surprising given the band’s success and influence across the genre. It appears as though, despite their success in the industry, the duo have remained out of the limelight and as a result ever faithful to the sound. Alex and Thomas are a treat and their dynamic and contrasting personalities shine on the screen; Alex rants about the soccer while Thomas makes a perfectly symmetrical pizza. In this way, Lunar Orbit doesn’t indulge in the canon of ambient music, instead spends its time with Alex and Thomas finding fresh perspective in their stories of how The Orb came to be.

Lunar Orbit, is less about the celebrity of The Orb and more about the personal journey of their music. From air-guitaring in high school halls to mixing in come down ambient tents in clubs, Lunar Orbit reminisces with the duo on memories from childhood that haunted them and found their way back into their sound. However, in saying this, nostalgia thankfully doesn’t drag the band back into the 90s shackling them to their past or to Little Fluffy Clouds. It’s fascinating listening to Alex and Thomas, as they conceptually rift together speculating on what could be their next sound. Alex grooves in his J Dilla T-shirt and Thomas laughs about their secret appreciation of Chic. Everything is spontaneous, organic and not at all contrived.

Lunar Orbit, like the music of The Orb, is probing, inquisitive, nostalgic, playful, conversational and most importantly a lot of fun. It is no doubt that one of the enduring legacies of The Orb is their experimentation and their sound, in many ways a postmodern experience, is still relevant today. As Toby Marks says of The Orb’s presence in the 90s, “do you think we thought in 20 years people would be listening to The Orb? Well no, cause everyone is going to be listening to Sci Fi music then. And I guess, actually, we were making Sci Fi music anyway so it shows that we did something right in the first place.”

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Lunar Orbit is screening at the Melbourne International Documentary Festival, which is happening between July 9th and 16th. For more details head to http://mdff.org.au/.