Formed in 1982 by producer Trevor Horn, formerly of the Buggles and Yes, the studio project included keyboardist Anne Dudley and music scribe Paul Morley, members of the creative team behind the hits of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC and Malcolm McLaren. Signed to the Horn-Morley label ZTT, The Art of Noise offered an outlet for their instrumental-based collages, always quirky, often blanketed with beautiful melodies.
Their collaboration yielded several groundbreaking hits, such as “Beat Box,” “Close to the Edit” and “Moments in Love,” the latter of which was played as Madonna walked down the aisle with Sean Penn in 1985.
The group rarely was seen, often hiding behind masks during live shows and the few music videos it did.
“Not having a visual image wasn’t a problem for us,” Dudley said recently. “That was a deliberate plot. We first started making records in the early 1980s when music was dominated by powerful haircuts like Culture Club. Looking back on those times, wasn’t it a good idea you didn’t see what we looked like, because wouldn’t we look stupid? It was an anti-hype situation. Nowadays, it’s quite normal for groups to shun it, but we had a lot of difficulty in those days. People didn’t like the idea that we didn’t want to be in the spotlight.”
Morley recounts how they reluctantly agreed to appear in the “Close to the Edit” video, which featured an agitated young girl going wild alongside band members. (The video got a lot of mileage in the mid-1990s after a thumbs-up rating in an episode of “Beavis & Butt-head.”)
“The male members of the band were slightly disturbed that they were made to come off as Huey Lewis & The News,” he said, “so one of the reasons we tend to hide behind masks or not appear at all is because it opens up more possibilities how The Art of Noise can be presented. Sometimes you had video art directors get excited about how they were going to present The Art of Noise, and in that particular case, he interpreted it as a strange young girl with Huey Lewis & The News. Half of it was fun and half of it was slightly sad.”
“I thought it was a fun video,” Dudley said, “but some people thought it was unnecessarily violent. It was banned in New Zealand as encouraging violence towards children. Nothing could have been further from our minds.”
By mid-1990, The Art of Noise had run its course and disbanded.
Dudley kept plenty busy as a producer, writer, arranger and musician, working with Paul McCartney, Rush, the Moody Blues, k.d. lang, a-ha and Boy George, to name a few. She also won an Academy Award for scoring the film “The Full Monty.” Horn and Morley, meanwhile, had their hands full running ZTT, the first home for Seal.
Then their collective muse struck again two years ago. Inspired by the works of French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918), the three set forth on bridging the gap between the past and modern-day pop music.
They have hit the mark with the June 15 release of “The Seduction of Claude Debussy” (ZTT/Universal), the first Art of Noise studio album in 12 years. Dudley, Morley and Horn are joined by former 10cc guitarist and video vanguard Lol Creme. Among the guest performers are Donna Lewis, rapper Rakim and actor John Hurt.
“We had a very powerful idea and feeling we wanted to do something that was a reflection of us as individuals and as a group,” Dudley said. “The four of us, between us, have had a lot of experience and lots of interesting musical things have happened to all of us, and I think getting together with such people can be thrilling. The combination of all these elements can make for something interesting and new. We’re all very proud of the album, and it’s very difficult to classify. It’s absolutely an essential Art of Noise album. It feels like The Art of Noise, although in many respects it has very little in common with the older albums.”
“We don’t sound like the other Art of Noise,” Morley said glibly, “but we’re influenced by them.”
In a whirlwind of drum ‘n’ bass beats, hip-hop and electronic rhythms, The Art of Noise effortlessly fuses Debussy’s melodies in a contemporary setting.
“Surprisingly, it wasn’t difficult to do,” Dudley said. “We found in Claude Debussy a true modernist. We found in his harmonic structures, his melodies, such wonderful beauty of music that it just transcended the years. Whatever we did to it still was there and seemed to retain its integrity. A lot of 20th century musicians from Gil Evans, Miles Davis to Duke Ellington acknowledge the influence of Claude Debussy on their music. His music is quite surprisingly jazzy and surprisingly modern. The rhythms sort of give it an extra kick up the ass, really.”
With today’s youth enamored with Ricky Martin, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, the message in The Art of Noise’s music may get lost, but Dudley and Morley say it won’t be for a lack of trying.
“We won’t go on tour,” Morley said, tongue in cheek, “we’ll deliver a series of lectures on music history ….”
”… and there’ll be a test afterwards and you won’t be allowed out until you pass,” Dudley said. “The last thing on our minds is to be didactic in any way, but it depresses me the limited view of music history that so many people have. When you go to a record store, there’s millions of records there from every era, every country, and yet people go to the section of the stuff they like and only buy the stuff they like. I’ve been listening to music more years than I’ve been alive, practically, and I still hear things sometimes that excite me and I have to go out and get them. And it might be an unaccompanied Bulgarian choir or music from Hungary. Everybody should be like that.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: Dudley – “It was ’25 or 6 to 4′ by Chicago.”Morley – “Mine was a bit less embarrassing; it was ‘Ride a White Swan’ by T. Rex. It was genius stuff.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: Dudley – “I have a very vivid memory of seeing Earth, Wind & Fire opening for Santana at the Hammersmith Odeon. I remember Earth, Wind & Fire’s drum kit was levitated and spun around, and Maurice White appeared in a puff of smoke.” Morley – “T. Rex in 1971. Sutherland Brothers and Quiver opened for them. It was an odd pairing. I actually saw Queen support Mott the Hoople; that shows how old I am, but don’t tell anyone.”
BWF (before we forget): Get an earful of The Art of Noise on the Web @www.theartofnoise.com. … The Art of Noise album discography – “(Who’s Afraid of) The Art of Noise” (ZTT, 1985); “In Visible Silence” (1986); “Daft” (1987, compilation of early material); “In-No-Sense? Nonsense!” (1987); “The Best of The Art of Noise” (1989); “The Ambient Collection” (China, 1990); “Fon Mixes” (1991); “The Drum & Bass Collection” (China/Discovery, 1996, early tracks interpreted by underground mixers); “The Seduction of Claude Debussy” (ZTT/Universal, 1999).
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