Articles
 
 
 
Source:
Keyboard
 
Author:
Bob Doerschuk

Publication Date:
February 1989

 
 
 
Title:
THE ART OF NOISE

 
 
 

Tucked in a small flat in Marina Del Rey, one of dozens of identical flats stacked like prison cells and decked out by decorators from the Motel 6 school of design, Anne Dudley sits silhouetted by the gritty Southern California light that smokes in through open bay windows. Outside, a motorcycle peels onto Lincoln Avenue, piercing the mantric drone of traffic with an angry whine. We sit in silence as the biker slowly fades into the flow of commuters inching east toward L.A.
 
Maybe if she spend more time in the city, Dudley wouldn't have bothered to wait for the interruption to pass. Life is noisy in urban America; one learns to talk through the nonstop serenade of boom boxes, jackhammers, even the occasional Uzi or two. But Dudley is different. When an interesting sound comes along, she pauses, listens as it runs its course, perhaps thinks about it for a second or two, then waits for a suitable moment before getting back to the subject at hand. To her, noise is more music than Muzak. She treats it with respect. She even looks for ways to use it in her art. Which seems appropriate. After all, she does play with the Art Of Noise.
 
As recounted in their Sept. '86 Keyboard interview, Dudley, Fairlight whiz Jonathan (J.J.) Jeczalik, and award-winning engineer Gary Langan apprenticed with renowned producer Trevor Horn before joining together as the Art Of Noise. Through sessions for Horn, they learned craftsmanship and developed a willingness to take chances. Yet their training -- particularly Dudley's studies at London's Royal College Of Music -- helped focus their work. Never overwhelmed by gimmickry, their best tracks -- many of them available on The Best Of The Art Of Noise [China (dist. by Polygram), 837 367-1] -- testify to the potential of pop music to accommodate daring experimentation.
 
Ordinarily, Dudley and her colleagues work out of London, where the punk movement helped draw her out of the strictly classical confines of her early upbringing. But on this sultry December morning, Dudley is in L.A., taking a break from scoring the new Cameron Crowe film Say Anything, relaxing in what Angelinos might consider a seasonal tennis outfit, and listening carefully as the motorcycle buzz melts into the urban hum like a bee into its hive. Finally, speaking very softly, in the refined cadences of a quality British upbringing, Dudley resumes her discourse on the unlikely collaboration between her band and that notorious Vegas hunk, Tom Jones, on a major dance hit of late last year, the Prince tune "Kiss." "I saw Tom on The Last Resort, which is one of our talk shows," she says. "He was dressed in black leather, and her performed 'Kiss' with the house band. A lot of people who perform live on this show fall flat on their face, because the sound mixing isn't very good -- generally they forget to put reverb on the vocal -- and the band isn't that great. But this was fantastic. The audience went mad. It was exciting even just watching him at home. I thought, 'Wow. This guy can really perform. What a voice! And what a choice of material! He's obviously listening to more stuff than you might imagine. Maybe if he's listening to Prince, he's also aware of the Art Of Noise.'"
 
The label was on the lookout for a fresh single to launch the band's Best Of package. The idea of recruiting Jones to sing on it seemed inspired and weird enough to pique everyone's curiosity. Much to Dudley's surprise, Jones expressed interest in the project too. Once arrangements were made, the group began preparing for a trip to New York to meet the singer, give him a backing track, and go to work on the vocals and the final instrumental touches. But at the last minute, a problem arose.
 
"Two days before we were to leave, he came down with a serious voice problem," Dudley recalls. "There were lots of very nervous people about, because Tom did have to have surgery on his throat. Luckily, he recovered, and was able to sing his part and send it back to us. We still hadn't met him, or even spoken to him over the phone. But his performance was perfect."
 
In fact, it inspired the band to go back into the studio and completely redo their own parts, saving only the live horn section from their first version. "We had a problem in that what we had gotten from Tom was a Tom Jones record, and what we wanted it to be was an Art Of Noise and Tom Jones record," Dudley explains. "So we had to find a way of making a stronger contribution. We did this by changing the backing track on each verse.
 
"We started with typically big Art Of Noise drums. This takes you through the first verse and chorus. Then, on the second verse, we cut to a very small Prince-like rhythm box sound. Everybody at the record company freaked out when they heard that, but once we explained what we were doing they accepted it. Then, in the middle, when Tom sang, 'Think I'm gonna dance now,' we figured that was our opportunity to do a medley of our dance hits. We put in this old-fashioned James Bond type of brass, quoting some of our old songs: 'Peter Gunn,' 'Dragnet.' We had a guitar solo too, but after the guitarist went home we reorganized what he played into a different order. Finally, on the third verse, we went into a kind of cha-cha. We wondered whether we could get away with all this. I think we did."
 
Attentive listeners will also notice a few witty samples dropped in at strategic places in "Kiss," such as a zipper answering the line "I know how to undress me." Surprisingly, mention of this detail cast a blush across Dudley's face. "The zip was actually a very contentious point," she admits. "J.J. thought, 'Ah. "Undress me"... zip!' I really thought that went a bit too far. But I lost that battle."
 
Perhaps her embarrassment also betrayed a trace of the refined values with which she was raised. In the Dudley household, music was not about zipper jokes. Music was orchestras, pianos, classical repertoire, and initially for Anne, the clarinet. Eventually she abandoned her clarinet lessons and began studying piano, acquiring enough proficiency to complete a challenging three-year advanced course at the Royal College. Though she emerged from the program realizing that she could not reach the level of excellence required for a classical concert career, Dudley did learn enough about what she could do well to map out her future.
 
"I was good at practical harmony: transposition, improvisation, that type of thing," she says. "We did improvise there, but in a very restricted sense. For example, we learned to improvise over a figured bass, which to all intents and purposes is like playing through chord symbols. I became quite good at this, partly because I was playing jazz in dance bands every evening. This still helps me today. I play a lot of solos with Art Of Noise. And a lot of our tunes, like 'Close To The Edit' [from Best of The Art Of Noise], started out as improvisations. And if you want to improvise, you've got to know about jazz."
 
While Dudley enjoyed listening to such artists as Art Tatum, Bill Evans, and Chick Corea, and incorporating what she heard into her own playing, she soon found pop music more compelling. In particular, she was intrigued with the idea of playing with a variety of pop artists, since she admired much of the music being put out in London's restless mid-'70s pop scene. Before long, she realized what she wanted to do: become a session musician.
 
"There were some pretty great pop records around then," Dudley smiles. "I particularly remember the Sound Of Philadelphia records, which were great tunes and wonderfully arranged. I became interested in the people who were playing in the studios on these songs, and that gave me the vague idea of becoming a session musician. It just seemed as if it would be fun to get into the studio with different people, each one doing something to a part. In the days when people would record with rhythm sections together, it was fun to work out what you were going to do in collaboration with what the guitar, the bass, and the drums were going to do. Unfortunately, there are no auditions for that kind of work. You just have to wait for the breaks."
 
To help make these breaks happen, Dudley began expanding her range beyond the piano and trying her hand at electronic instruments. Starting with the Hohner Pianet she picked up in the early '70s, she began gathering keyboards. The Korg 700 was her first synthesizer, but it was the PPG Wave 2 that helped her establish an identity in London's session circles.
 
"I was one of the first people to have the PPG in England," she says. "It did have a unique sound, so I was very lucky that certain things I was able to do with it became associated with me. Such as the famous wretched bells. When in doubt in those days, we brought in the bells. They work so well because they've got an acoustic quality. I played them very prominently on 'The Look Of Love' by ABC [from Lexicon Of Love, Mercury, 822890]. The Wave 2 was my main synthesizer for years, even after they came out with the Wave 2.2, which never sounded as good to me."
 
Dudley still has her PPG, along with her second-hand Minimoog; aside from its MIDI modification and the ribbon controller she installed to replace the pitchbend wheels, it's the same beast she bought more than a decade ago. For about six months she tried her hand at using a DX7. "But programming it distressed me intensely," she says. "I couldn't handle the change in perception required by the DX7. It's like analog synths. I understand how they work. But you couldn't get into the damned DX7 unless you really wanted to very badly. And I didn't."
 
The main axe in Dudley's current setup is the D-50. "It's a bum to program too, but the sounds are worth it. And the built-in reverb was a brilliant marketing ploy. Whoever thought of that deserves a medal. Think about it. You go into a keyboard shop to play a few synthesizers, and one of them has built-in reverb. Which one of them will sound best to you?"
 
Dudley also values the D-50 as a MIDI controller. "In the studio where I'm working now, I have the D-50 and an Akai S900 so it's a convenient way of playing the sampler," she reports. "I'm not into linking up tons of instruments around one master keyboard, though, because that's not arranging. That's just doubling. I'd sooner play one part on one keyboard, then slightly alter it and play it on another keyboard. Less is more. The less you have on a track, the bigger the sound you get. That's actually my complaint about the D-50. One sound is great. Then you put another sound on it, and the first one doesn't sound quite so good anymore."
 
This principle carries over into the film work Dudley has been doing lately. "I have done electronic scores, and I find that synthesizers tend to start canceling themselves out after a while. As soon as you introduce something real, the sound seems to sit in a better perspective. For example, when I did the underscore for Buster, the Phil Collins movie, we decided that it should sound like it might have been written in the '60s, since the film is set in the '60s. In other words, synthesizers were right out. I did have bass and guitar on some of the cues. Phil played drums, and he got his friend Eric Clapton to come in and play guitar. But the rest of the score is entirely orchestral. And it sounds very big. An electronic score might have sounded much smaller."
 
Dudley sees a further problem with much of the electronic music that passes for film scores or pop tunes: The temptation to simply duplicate current styles is almost too strong to resist. "I don't feel that many of the dance records we hear these days are very fresh," she says. "I co-wrote, arranged, and played on Malcolm McLaren's 'Buffalo Gals' [from Duck Rock, Island, 90068], which was the first popular example of scratching, rapping, and those kinds of techniques, at least in England. I thought, 'Well, that was fun. Now it's over with.' And here we are, six or seven years later, and I'm still hearing this sort of thing."
 
Even while objecting to the fact that a lot of people are recycling old ideas, Dudley is excited that so many people, including non-musicians, are able to create music of one kind or another, thanks to sampling, sequencing, and other advances in technology. "You no longer have to be a musician to make records," she points out. "Music is no longer the preserve of people like me, who have classical training and ten years' experience. People like certain DJs who hate musos [session musicians] are making records now -- because they can. You can get a sequencer that will play a bass part for you. You can steal a bit of someone else's record. And there you go: You're an artist.
 
"In a way, that's good," Dudley continues. Music should be accessible to lots of people. When synthesizers and sequencers started to become cheaper, they became the natural idiom for people who wanted to make music without going through all the rigors of training. Ironically, some of them have become very good at what they do. Pet Shop Boys were the archetypal duo. Neither one was a musician. But Neil Tennant has a fantastic voice, and they have this gift for writing wonderful melodies."
 
Dudley cites George Michael as another talent liberated by music technology. "Before Wham! were successful, they asked me to do a brass arrangement for 'Young Guns' [from Fantastic, Columbia, 38911]," she says. "I took it to the studio and played it through. Well, George hated it. He's become a very accomplished musician, but in those days he didn't know how to express what he wanted. He could only say, 'I don't know what's wrong, but I don't like the sound of the arrangement.' When I asked why, he finally said, 'Well, when you change key there, you change the position of the chord.' I said, 'No, I don't! It's the same chord!' But then I realized that I had actually transposed two notes in the middle, so that the chord was different, even though it as essentially the same. And this guy noticed it!
 
"The point is that George Michael has had none of the benefits of what I've gone through, but he writes better tunes than I do, and he can sing better than I'll ever be able to. Sure, I'm extraordinarily lucky to have received classical training. It continues to be immensely useful in what I do. Yet I'm also lucky to have worked with brilliant people in the pop world, such as Trevor Horn, who encouraged me to express myself and to be more creative and more daring than I ever would have imagined I could be. So how can I resent people who come from the 'two-finger' school? What they do is plenty hard enough."
 
CAPTION: Anne Dudley balances in front of her (top to bottom) Memorymoog, PPG Wave 2, and Fairlight keyboard. Meanwhile, Jonathan Jeczalik does a one-handed shuffle on one of his two Fairlight keyboards. [Both people are outdoors and wearing sunglasses.]
 

 
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