The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is the debut studio album by English electronic music group The Orb. Released in April 1991, the double album is a continuous progressive composition consisting of several tracks advancing the "journey" concept. The album's framework is of a two-hour psychedelictrip through music genres and studio electronics, produced to "push the threshold" of live stage performance, and comprising vocal samples and sound effects interspersed with original music.
Three versions of The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld were released: the original, two disc 109:41-minute UK release, also used for the US cassette edition; a 70:41-minute, single disc US release; and a 182:05-minute UK deluxe edition three disc reissue that was released in mid-2006.
The Orb have always primarily been composed of one individual, Alex Paterson, along with numerous and varied individuals assisting throughout the group's recording career. Paterson began his music career in the 1980s as a roadie for the post-punk band Killing Joke before eventually leaving in 1986 to pursue his own musical interests, influenced by the growing popularity of Chicago house music in England during the decade, and shortly thereafter began working with another ambient house pioneer, Jimmy Cauty, who had been involved in the Killing Joke side-project Brilliant. Paterson also performed chillout DJ sets in Paul Oakenfold's Land of Oz night in the club Heaven, which included collaborations with Cauty. Paterson said of these events:
"We'd build melodies up by overdubbing and mixing multiple tracks and then take an eight-track, or was it a twelve-track, into Heaven, just linking it up to three decks, loads of CD players, loads of cassettes... we used to keep it very, very quiet. We never used to play any drums in there. It'd be, just like, you know, BBC sound effects, really... four or five hours playing really early dub reggae... For All Mankind. We had white screens so we could put up visuals as well. We had home movies of ducks in the park. We'd go for everything. It was all layering on top of each other."
In April 1991, the Orb released The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld for an audience familiar with their groundbreaking singles and several John Peel radio sessions. The album was received in the United Kingdom and Europe with critical acclaim, and reached number 29 on the UK Albums Chart. By mid-1991, The Orb had signed a deal to release the album in the United States, but were forced to edit the double-disc 109:41-minute UK release down to one 70:41-minute disc. The full double-disc version and cassette were later released in the US by Island Records.
The cover for The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld was designed by graphic design collective The Designers Republic, who are credited for "orbsonic love deep space & sampling image" in the liner notes. The album booklet features an image of the Battersea Power Station, as photographed by Richard Cheadle and "treated by dr/chromagene", as well as an image of cumulonimbus clouds over the Congo Basin, taken from the Space Shuttle Challenger on 1 April 1983. The Battersea Power Station image was utilized as cover art for the US release of the album.
In a contemporary review of The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, the NME dubbed it "an album sounding like Pink Floyd without all the self-indulgent solos", concluding that "Reality is inside a pair of headphones overflowing with The Orb. Life will never be the same again. The flotation tank beckons."Select's Russell Brown wrote that "long and strange as it is, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is without doubt a good trip." At the end of 1991, Melody Maker ranked it at number 22 on their year-end top albums list, adding that it contained "some of the most unique sounds of the year."
In the years following its release, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld has received continued critical acclaim. A 1993 list of the greatest albums of all-time by NME placed the album at number 45. In 1999, Spin ranked it at number 82 on their list of the best albums of the 1990s, with critic Richard Gehr opining that "Ultraworld is art at its most functional: It works equally well as both acid-peak booster rocket and as Prozac-ian relief from an ecstatic all-nighter." In 2002, Muzik named it the seventh best dance music album of all-time, while Slant Magazine deemed it the fourth greatest electronic music album of the 20th century. The following year, Pitchfork's decade-end list ranked the album at number 100, with Alex Linhardt's accompanying write-up noting that it "managed to make ambient house a perpetual 'next big thing' for the rest of the decade." John Bush of AllMusic cited The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld as "the album that defined the ambient house movement."
A vocal sample of John Waite, presenter of Face the Facts ("Over the past few years to the traditional sounds of an English summer, the droning of lawnmowers, the smack of leather on willow, has been added a new noise.")
"A Conversation with Rickie Lee Jones" by Rickie Lee Jones, an interview from a promotional CD which came with some copies of her album Flying Cowboys. This sample was the subject of litigation.
Hendrick Van Dyke from the Family Bible Reading Fellowship reading Book of Amos 9:13–15
At 6:19 into the track, a sample of a Lithuanian news report: "Jie pasirašė lyg ir sutartį su Azerbaidžiano komunistų partija. [...] Didelį svorį pajuto tautiškai nusiteikę azerbaidžianiečiai, jų populiarusis Laisvės Frontas, kuris būtų tolygus mūsų Sąjudžiui. Jie pasirašė lyg ir sutartį su Azerbaidžiano komunistų partija." ("They seem to have signed the agreement with the Communist Party of Azerbaijan [...] Nationally minded Azerbaijanis felt their big weight, their popular Freedom Front, which would be equivalent to our Sąjūdis movement. They seem to have signed the agreement with the Communist Party of Azerbaijan".)