In 1993 a new wave of ambient music was rising high in the hearts and minds of a fresh generation of listeners. The Orb were just coming back from space, having documented it with their seminal classic albums Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F.Orb but nobody had delved deep yet and attempted to explore the ocean. Cue Pete Namlook and Mixmaster Morris (a.k.a The Irresistible Force) with the first of two Dreamfish albums.
From the opening moments of School of Fish it is apparent that Dreamfish is going to be a colourful, kaleidoscopic journey. A magical, hypnotic sequencer pattern weaves around, suggesting hundreds of tiny creatures, darting in curves, like a single organism, as soft-focus washes of sound, lengthy chords and the gentlest of rhythms evoke total submergence in an aquatic world where the normal rules of gravity are suspended. Xylophone-like jangles add extra texture to this slow motion dream sequence.
Hymn is introduced by a tightly coiled, yet playful sequencer pattern that shifts in and out of sharp focus and pans across the stereo spectrum, as liquid pads and a tiptoeing bassline fill out the sound gloriously. Once again, a rather floaty feel gives continuity to the album's aquatic theme. An echoing voice, that of Terence McKenna, an American philosopher, ethnobotanist, philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, writer and teacher, delivering rather a controversial quote adds to the psychedelic atmosphere of a lengthy journey with many sonic additions and subtractions along the way. Hymn has much in common with The Orb's vast, expansive A Huge, Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld (Loving You) and whilst it is an excellent piece of music would it be sacrilegious to suggest that a third could comfortably be shaved off its 28 minute duration? On the other hand, perhaps the length of the piece helps to create a truly immersive experience and it might be argued that there is enough subtle detail to justify the epic run-time. Please feel free to post your thoughts on this in the comments below.
Fishology seems to anticipate the second Dreamfish album, by heading into deeper waters. Dramatic, dark expanses of sound are accompanied by incredibly deep and intensely satisfying unintelligible vocal cut-ups, skipping dub rhythms and skittering, high-pitched, bleeping electronics. Strange fish indeed at this depth!
Finally we come to Under Water and the deal is sealed (pardon the pun) with this piece of musical genius. Sweeps of electronic sound are slowed down, sped-up, treated and seemingly also played backwards, perfectly evoking the muffled sounds and slow movement one experiences beneath the waves. Sunlight dapples the surface of the water, shafts of light break through, clouds of fish pass and the tidal flow gently drags the listener this way and that.
Aye, aye, Captain! All aboard for a landmark album in the history of ambient electronica. Absolutely essential.