“What were the skies like when you were young?”

I think everyone hears a record in their youth which suddenly reveals a whole new world of possibilities. It could be a three minute punk song, where simplicity and lyrical fervour suddenly make the business of writing your own songs seem possible. Maybe hearing the Aphex Twin opened a world of atonal computer music, bedroom techno that saw no instuments at all. Or think of the kid coming home from yet another tedious trumpet lesson hearing the joyous release of Two Tone and looking in a whole new way at his instrument.

For me it was the Theme To S-Express. I knew drum machines existed, I knew sampling was going on. But hearing the cut and paste of S-Express suddenly suggested that my tape recorder was not just a way of listening to music, it was also a way of making music. I crudely stitched together my own extended version, interpolating bits of Pump Up The Volume, and latterly made a frankly tedious twenty two minute version of Beat Dis which barely held its own beat for twenty seconds. The beat franlly was the annoying bit, if I could get that to match up it sounded fine, but I couldn’t add my own samples over that beat, it would cut out when I tried to add a speech from Ripping Yarns.

But I had seen the future of pop and was insanely excited about this new sound. Then as soon as it happened, this sampladelic revolution got subsumed into Acid House, dance music and the wit and joy of finding vocal samples seemed to vanish into single hooks. The Jigsaw of S-Express had its moment in the sun then vanished. The KLF were doing some things like it off of my radar, but even when they got big, they were inventing their own lunacy.

And then, five years later, when I wasn’t looking for it I heard Little Fluffy Clouds. A song which has a laconic bubbling up beat under the longest strongest intro sample I had heard in ages. And that is before we get on to the frankly astounding Rickie Lee Jones sample.

“They went on for ever and they when I we lived in Arizona and the skies always had little fluffy clouds and .. they were long and clear and there were lots of stars, at night. And when it rained it would all turn, it, they were beautiful, the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact, the sunsets were purple and red and yellow and on fire and the clouds would catch the colours everywhere, that’s, its neat because I used to look at them all the time when I was little. You don’t see that.”

The secret of a good sample is for it to be compelling, fit the song and withstand constant repetition. This one does more than that, for all of its stoner simplicity, its seeming near idiocy, the American pastoral nature contrasts nicely with the previous very English sample. The beat isn’t anything special, the tune is pretty unremarkable, but the playful cut and pasting of the sample yet again shows endless possibilities if you find some interesting content. Compared to much of its parent album (the fantastic Adventure Beyond The Ultraworld) Little Fluffy Clouds is positively stuffed with content. But even by itself it seems laconic, laid back – the very essence of ambient house. I loved it and still do.

And the song is about its own method, Layering different sounds…

Rickie Lee Jones, her of the sample, didn’t love it. Annoyed that the track made her sound, well, stupid and or stoned she sued. And since she makes up the lions share of the song, Bog Life settled out of court. I do feel a little sorry that Rickie Lee Jones’s extensive musical career may have a highpoint represented by sounding a bit. On the other hand, perhaps she should be proud that The Orb found this obscure sample and made it into this track. After all, not many of us could give such a good response to the question.

“What were the skies like when you were young?”
“Mainly grey.”

Every now and then another jigsaw ambient track pops up to impress me. Nothing will ever blow the doors down like The Theme To S-Express, or perfect the form such as Little Fluffy Clouds. And I still believe I could make that brilliant bit of bricolage. And then to get myself in the mood, I listen to the Orb again. Which stops me, I could never beat it. The Theme From S-Express opened that door, Little Fluffy Clouds perhaps closed it. The problem with near perfect art is that it sometimes stops any form of imitation.

“You might still see it in the desert.”