For a while back in the early ’80s Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Gary Langan and J.J. Jeczalik were just another group of musicians messing around with ideas in the studio. When journalist and copywriter Paul Morley (working with their record company ZTT at the time) presented an eight page manifesto defining the band and their guiding principles, The Art of Noise was born. Morley became a critical part of the The Art of Noise, contributing ideas, song titles and taking control the band’s image and the presentation of the records. Considering themselves an art-meets-pop project, a ‘hit’ record was not really on the agenda, but that is what happened in May 1984 when Close (to the Edit) hit the UK top ten…
More than ten years after the Art of Noise left Trevor Horn's ZTT label to record on their own, original members Anne Dudley and Paul Morley reunited with Horn plus 10cc's Lol Creme to record another LP, organized around the work of French modernist composer Claude Debussy. With a guest list including John Hurt as well as Rakim, the album charts the artistic use of sampled breakbeats – pioneered by the Art of Noise themselves – with nods to '80s hip-hop plus their '90s equivalent, drum'n'bass. Though the Art of Noise doesn't sound quite as brash as they did in their '80s prime, The Seduction of Claude Debussy is an interesting showcase of what made the group great.
Discovery Records, just before its demise, did a great and wondrous thing by putting out four, count them, four Art of Noise CDs in one fell swoop. Art of Noise began in the mid-'80s and is now a touchstone to which all electronic music should be compared. While compiling their own collections, Discovery Records was able to take advantage of a excellent compendium ready for reissue. Ambient Collection had long been a jewel in many vinyl collections. These Art of Noise catalog remixes by Youth, bassist for Killing Joke, remain a classic of compositional ambient electronica. One of the themes to this ambient opus is explicitly stated in "Robinson Crusoe" and hinted at elsewhere. Art of Noise's Anne Dudley had mentioned just before the original 1990 release on a GLR Radio U.K. program that French composer Robert Mellin's main theme for "Robinson Crusoe" recalled here was one of her Top Ten favorite pop songs.
The place for Art of Noise neophytes to start, Daft collects (Who's Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise! and Into Battle with the Art of Noise, along with two reworkings of "Moments in Love" from the original U.K. release of that song, to make a fantastic hour's worth of music. If anything, a single or two aside, Daft beats out the official Best Of compilation by a mile. Having aged superbly with time, AON's early works sound all the more advanced and of the moment, a testament especially to Trevor Horn's excellent production and Anne Dudley's gripping arrangements. Further entertainment comes from the liner notes, which aren't merely state-of-the-art 1984 album design but an apparently barbed attack on the further incarnation of the band from one Otto Flake. The exact seriousness of this is up to the reader. As for the "Moments in Love" versions, both are gentler and more elegant than the already lush original, and none the worse for that, though "(Three Fingers Of) Love" does have rather disconcerting sound effects added to it.
AON hit their stride with the release of this record, while showing their colors in the choices of material – while the usual offbeat AON elements were present, so was "Peter Gunn," with Duane Eddy guesting on guitar. Another AON hit, "Legs," was present, as was the original version of "Paranoimia," enhanced in its single versions by the addition of routines from Max Headroom performed by Matt Frewer, who would later play the digital ding-a-ling on a short-lived TV series. The Frewer versions replaced the original on some pressings, including the original CD, but the original version has since been restored, with both Frewer versions now confined to best-of collections.
In No Sense? Nonsense! was the third full-length album by Art of Noise, recorded and released in 1987. By the time of its recording, the group had been reduced to a duo, with engineer Gary Langan leaving the previous year—Langan's mix engineering duties were taken over by Bob Kraushaar and Ted Hayton for this album, but the music was produced entirely by Anne Dudley and J.J. Jeczalik. The album saw the group expanding its sound to include rock and orchestral instrumentation, in addition to its trademark sampling. Many of the album's tracks are seamlessly segued; ambient soundscapes blend into percussive rhythms, dramatic buildups, melodic string arrangements, and vocal choruses and chants. The sounds of various forms of transport are a recurrent theme. Musical motifs from "Dragnet," "Galleons of Stone," and "Ode to Don Jose" recur throughout the album.
Art of Noise's first full album, (Who's Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise!, consolidated the future shock of the earlier EPs and singles in one entertaining and often frightening and screwed-up package. Rarely has something aiming for modern pop status also sought to destroy and disturb so effectively. The most legendary song is still "Close (To the Edit)," benefiting not merely from the innovative video but from its strong funk groove and nutty sense of humor in the mostly lyric-less vocals, not to mention the "hey!" vocal hook the Prodigy would sample for "Firestarter." Its close cousin, the title track, brilliantly blends a nagging bass synth, echoed drum, and percussion fills and constantly shifting vocal cut-ups, random noises, and strange melodies. They're just two highlights on this prescient release, though. Part of the thrill of Who's Afraid is the sense of juxtaposition and playing around, something still not very common in music and even less so in the pop music genre.
The Art of Noise were an avant-garde synthpop group formed in early 1983 by engineer/producer Gary Langan and programmer J. J. Jeczalik, along with arranger Anne Dudley, producer Trevor Horn and music journalist Paul Morley. The group's mostly instrumental compositions were novel melodic sound collages based on digital sampler technology, which was new at the time. Inspired by turn-of-the-20th-century revolutions in music, the Art of Noise were initially packaged as a faceless anti- or non-group, blurring the distinction between the art and its creators. The band is noted for innovative use of electronics and computers in pop music and particularly for innovative use of sampling.