This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Art of Noise July 9, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Was there ever a group that managed to combine chart success with avant-garde experimentation in the way that Art of Noise did? Probably not, is the answer. And were there ever more unlikely roots for a project that would in a way signpost the future of much of mid to late 1980s music to date? Again, probably not. For Art of Noise was born/constructed in the unlikely cradle/crucible of a Yes album – 90125. They share a clear lineage through, Trevor Horn’s crisp production – and 90125 is worth further examination too as a strange musical artefact.
Here’s a group that at the time I had…well no time for, until I actually listened to it and realised what a strange artefact it was. Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley must take responsibility for this. Her aesthetic and his combined in a peerless high gloss production where every sound is absurdly clear, where stereo itself becomes another instrument. Conceived almost as a prank AON rapidly outgrew those intentions turning into something that developed real weight.
And did I mention its pop heart, because that sits at the heart of this endeavour. Great slabs of sound.
Paul Morley became an integral part of the group despite contributing next to nothing musically, his scribbled manifesto’s leaning heavily on Factory records before them, all cod-situationism, but weirdly apposite in Britain in the mid-1980s where facade became more important than reality at certain levels (or perhaps, more accurately, preferable to reality). So they cultivated a New Order like facelessness, and projected themselves with a Peter Saville like retro-classicism. But where New Order was behind the artless anonymity all about emotion AON seemed to offer a very studied detachment from real emotion.
Its very artificiality is probably what repelled me initially and attracted me subsequently. It is in a very real sense post-modern, knowingly winking at the audience while simultaneously dragging them in to engage with something close to a facade of emotion, meaning and so on.
As to the music… from A Time To Fear (Who’s Afraid) with its samples of radio transmissions culled from the invasion of Grenada by US forces in the early 1980s to Moments in Love with its seemingly straightforward romanticism that slowly, slowly turns into something else there’s so much here. Sampled voices, breathing, orchestral stabs, keyboard runs and found snippets of jazz. Beat Box (Diversion One) channels a warped rock and roll riff. Dudley later recounted how the technology of the period itself – unbelievably primitive at this remove – determined much of the sound being only able to utilise very short snippets of sound. In total it’s passing strange. Peter Gunn which somehow manages to bridge surf rock with early 1980s avant garde and works too.
I always think of Propaganda when I listen to them, again for the Trevor Horn connection, and Dollar’s Mirror Mirror (which is an under appreciated classic of its kind) and Frankie Goes to Hollywood – although in the latter instance the sound was grittier – sort of.
I’m never quite sure whether this is music more to be admired than to be loved, and yet, there’s something about that previously mentioned pop heart that still gets me. Genius.
A Time For Fear (Who’s Afraid)
Close (to the Edit)
Moments in Love
Beat Box Version 1
Whose Afraid (Of the Art of Noise)