The first official album of The Orb is certainly a well-known classic. But it is worth looking closer, both because it is an great piece of design, gathering nearly all the different elements of crime (logotype, photography, packaging, design, etc.) but also because most people only know the CD edition, while the vinyl LP is an amazingly brilliant piece of Art.
Released in fall 1991, this album is the mother of all ambient electronica records of the nineties. In fact, Space's "Space" should have been the first album of the Orb, the band being originally a collaboration between Jimmi Cauty (of KLF) and Alex Paterson, with inputs from Paterson's Childhood friend Youth.
But the band splitted before the final stage of the production of "Ultraworld", and when it was released, Cauty had left the building. Meanwhile, Thomas Fehlmann as long as Steve Hillage had contributed to the final production, and brought a different tone to the ensemble, that clearly contrasts with Cauty's ambient piece, like the famous "Chill Out" LP.
The artwork of this album was done by The Designer's Republic. But it do reflects the influences of Paterson, and first of all, the most obvious : Pink Floyd's "Animals" (designed by Storm Thorgerson) from which they borrowed the image of the famous London factory.
In fact, if you look at the design of "Ultraworld" with an careful eye, the ensemble globally appears as modernization of the psychedelic style of the early 70', and a tribute to the work of Hipgnosis and Roger Dean. The graphic shapes are sharper versions of the liquid forms and typographies that often appeared these era's artworks, and on most of Dean's sleeves. But it has a much more techno feel, thanx to the sharp edges, and the mechanical way they interacts.
On a photographic point of view, the ensemble also has all the usual elements of the 70' artworks : planets, landscapes and complex textures, inspired by Indian and Eastern cultures.
But even the most evidently psychedelic images, like Paterson sitting on the knees of a Buddha, have some originality, and a wicked sense of humor. This perfectly reflects the very nature of The Orb's music : ambient, atmospheric, but also lots of wit.
TDR also did with digital tools what psychedelic artists attempted with the crude analog retouching methods of the 70' : montages of images, and manipulations of the colors, in order to give the artworks some surreal (drug-related?) feels.
(And by there way, if you look closely, the clouds from the front cover, they were the same than on the Little Fluffy Clouds artwork ;-)
In fact, The Orb was clearly looking in both directions : forward of course, with the emerging electronica style, and the way digital tools like samplers where creating the Techno rhetoric. But also backward, to the whole Psychedelic Rock period, as much as to the Dub roots of all modern musics. And TDR perfectly captured that.
The LP design added some more elements to this dialectic between the old and the new : the images of the inner sleeves brought balance to the modern force, with the retro images of the astronaut, the medieval map of the sky, etc.
The back cover of the LP shows a piece of graphic design exclusive to the vinyl edition, that further express the techno nature of the release, through these nested shapes : the small holes clearly evocates the parts of a clockwork. But the way the purple color is placed gives it a stuning dynamic : it feels like it flows from top to bottom.
The Cd edition came in a luxury 3 panels digipack, with a different front and back cover.
The ensemble has all the characteristics of the work of TDR in the early 90', starting with the purple color they were in love then (and that became an integral of the visual identity of Warp Records).
A final note about the logotype : this fat extended typographic piece was used by The Orb until the second single from this album, "Perpetual Dawn", that inaugurated the "classic" Orb logotype.