The music of techno maestros Paul and Phil Hartnoll involves relatively few words, but it has plenty to say. Accomplished entirely with computers or other electronics, the music spoke loud and clearly early Sunday morning at the Shrine Exhibition Hall.
Whether the swift-tempo’d, driving rhythm of “Impact USA” or the ethereal, soaring strains accompanied by Alison Goldfrapp’s recorded voice on “Are We Here?,” the music of Orbital is alive with energy.
Enormously entertaining and relevant at the same time, the British brothers observe the state of the world and the personal and public conflicts between civilization and nature — industrialization vs. humanity — while keeping the audience jumping.
With “Forever,” first cut on the recently released FFRR/London album “Snivilisation,” the duo’s set unfolded at about 1 a.m. Sunday as part of something called “Millennium,” the second in a trilogy of raves (for the uninitiated, these are huge, all-night concert-parties) organized by vet L.A. club promoter Philip Blaine.
Accompanied by the obligatory laser extravaganza and multiple projections juxtaposing images of celluloid color keys, flowers, time-lapse photography of urban activity, butterflies, stylized renderings of household objects, film leaders, traffic signs and the like, Orbital made clear that civilization needs to get its act together — on such matters as recycling and the devastating endurance of disposable plastic — or perish.
A platform erected in the center of the hall (the brothers’ preferred configuration because of its proximity to the audience) had no visible keyboards , and the only instruments appeared to be electronic control panels with buttons , knobs and switches used to manipulate or “play” their music.
Guitar, piano and other keyboard riffs, as well as strings, samples of musical phrases, their own and a sprinkling of other artists’ vocals (Belinda Carlisle phased in for one giddy moment), are multiplied, layered and amplified into propulsive, melodic journeys — with the destinations limited only by the boundaries of listeners’ imaginations.
In addition to material such as “Kein Trink Wasser,””Sad But True” and “Are We Here?” from the new album, the roughly 90-minute set covered “Impact USA” and versions of “Lush” from the “Diversions” disc (their fourth of five for FFRR). Included in the mix were “Belfast” and “Chime,” the U.K. hit that appears on the duo’s first album, and a version of “Halcyon.”
The generous performance seemed to leave the hall-filling crowd still a little hungry, but various DJs picked up the beat when “Millennium” got under way, albeit somewhat unevenly in terms of overall sound quality.
Bass ferocious enough, literally, to rumble your lungs inside your rib cage is one thing — but music distorted beyond audibility is strictly low-fidelity. Orbital managed easily to get it right on the excellent system of speakers set up at the cavernous exhibition hall, adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium.
Dance music, techno or otherwise, is frequently dismissed as mindless, thumping, monotonous nonsense — but Orbital makes smart, fun music that’s underscored with an unheavy-handed message about the potential consequences of our actions, or perhaps more acutely, our inaction.
That message may be nothing new, but Orbital’s spin is nonetheless refreshing and invigorating.