Music Technology
John Diliberto

Publication Date:
February 1989



Masters of sampling J. Jeczalik and Anne Dudley proudly present their first "Best of" LP... yet the new 'Kiss' is what's topping the charts. Interview by John Diliberto.

ALIEN SONIC LANDSCAPES - trains, horns, street noise and -musical snippets - collide in the textured creations of the Art of Noise. Voices stutter and repeat, and a momentary blast from an unidentified symphony invades the scene as a fleeting glimpse of sanity, viewed through twisted mirrors.

Perhaps things haven't changed much since 1948, when Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer re-contextualized sound in a style called musique concrete. Forty years later, the Art of Noise has taken the style, digitized and synthesized it, locked it into a crunching groove and turned it into dance music for the '80s. While Schaeffer and Henry spun actual phonograph records and, later, tapes, mixing them live, the Art of Noise uses Fairlight CMIs and Akai S1000 samplers and the skyscrapers of multitrack recording to create their updated sound.

According to J. Jeczalik, the Art of Noise began as a technological jam session while they were working on the Yes album, 90125. That album helped launch digital sampling into the forefront of America's consciousness, with its big band sampled break on the hit single 'Owner of a Lonely Heart.' The duo also worked with Malcolm MacLaren on his Duck Rock album and the dance hit, 'Buffalo Gals,' co-written by the other half of AON, Anne Dudley.

The Art of Noise was originally part of Trevor Horn's production team for Zang Tuum Tumb Records, producing the techno-decadence dance music of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda and others. Taking their name from Luigi Russolo's 1913 Futurist music manifesto L’arte dei Rumori, which translates to "the Art of Noises," they launched an avant-garde attack on the dance charts with 'Into the Battle' and 'Close (to the Edit).' The group was faceless, not even appearing in their malevolent videos, which nevertheless became MTV hits.

After the first album, Gary Langan, Anne Dudley and J. Jeczalik split from the Zang Tuum Tumb organization, a fact that Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, ZTT's image shaper, extolled upon bitterly in their liner notes to the CD compilation Daft.

Nevertheless, as JJ. smugly points out, they went on to have hits. 'Legs,' the theme from Dragnet, 'Paranoimia' and most recently, a trance-dance version of Prince's 'Kiss,' sung by Las Vegas belter Tom Jones. The team's framework is set up in such a way that Anne Dudley handles the melodies with her Royal College of Music training, while J.J. holds down the groove and takes care of the technical end.

J.J. lives an hour southwest of London in a house called Laundry Cottage. It's there that he sets up his Monster Rat (as opposed to Montserrat) studio in a dining room, with Series II and III Fairlights, Roland TR Rhythm boxes and other devices. He'll soon be moving Monster Rat into his garage when he builds a serious studio with a DDA console. He's a techno musician to the core, describing his keyboard skills as "Digital, as in one finger."

He leaves the dexterity to Anne Dudley, whose own home studio is about 30 miles away and includes a 24-track Sony MC1 and Soundtracs console with a Roland D50, Akai S 1000 and a Bösendorfer grand piano. Dudley is currently heard on the soundtrack to Buster, starring Phil Collins. She wrote the score and arranged the strings for Collins' UK hit, 'A Groovy Kind of Love.' She'll also be heard on 1989 albums by Boy George and Peter Frampton.

When we spoke, J.J. was at home at Laundry Cottage; Anne was in Los Angeles, cutting another film score for Cameron (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) Crowe's new film, Say Anything. They're currently making some rare press appearances to pump The Best of the Art of Noise, which includes most of their hits, but in radically altered and re-mixed form. Re-contextualizing is what the Art of Noise is all about.

MT (John Diliberto): I always had the feeling that the idea of the group came out of studio experimentation.
JJ (J. Jeczalik): 'From the first day I met a Fairlight, it struck me that the obvious thing to do with it was to actually put non-musical sounds in and play them in a musical way. When I was programming for other people, I always had these noises that I wanted them to use on records and they wouldn't because they were too outrageous; people thought I was mad back in 1980. Now, of course, every record's got them and more; it's become much more in vogue."
MT: It's actually become clichéd in many ways. Did you think there was a danger in that?
JJ: "Oh very much so. The thing that fascinated me quite recently was that 1 had a new library sent over to me from Fairlight and on it was a sound that I know I sampled, that I created in 1983! It had been given someone else's name. The irony of it was that it sounded better on the library disc than when I first did it, which made me laugh. And also, the fact that it had been entirely around the world in the form of digital information was an odd situation. But it didn't bother me at all. It's irrelevant who did it - it's the way you use it and when that makes a difference."
MT: I guess you can wind up with samples of samples of samples to infinity.
JJ: "Yeah, exactly. But until quite recently, whenever you made a sample there was a slight loss. It occurred to me that in a logical extension of that, inevitably things would disappear altogether, and the world's biggest drum sound wouldn't exist at all."
MT: A lot of times your sampling sounds down and dirty. There's not a lot of processing or anything.
JJ: "Oh yeah, very much so. Because, especially with the (Fairlight) Series II, which I still have, the quality is not its great strength, let's face it. But to me, after a while it became horribly apparent that you just have to take things as you heard them. And if you hit the key and it sounded great, that's it, and there was no point in fluffing with it, you know. One of the problems people have gotten into is, in the immortal words of a great keyboard player friend of mine, 'That sounds good, let me change it.' You know that's something that 1 tried to avoid myself., it's so dangerous. Suddenly you wave bye-bye and the sound disappears and the idea is gone and you've lost it.
"A lot of it sounds a bit crude because I may have sampled something, and Anne would play deedle-a, deedle-a, and then we would record and that would be it. And that's when musicians are at their best - fooling around, thinking intuitively, working things out and kind of finding out what's going on, what the possibilities are."
MT: Had you listened to musique concrete?
JJ: "Some, but without knowing it. It didn't have any bearing on what we were doing as such."
MT: I had always thought of the Art of Noise very much as musique concrete with a groove - a sort of 1980's version.
AD (Anne Dudley): "Everything we did with the Fairlight was feasible using the techniques of musique concrete, using pieces of tape and doing what they used to do. But when the Fairlight came along it became easy to experiment quickly and find out whether something was going to work immediately. Musique concrete was so complicated. If you're physically cutting up the tape, slowing it down and turning it around, you're never getting an immediate effect. That's not a very attractive proposition to me because I like to work quickly and I like to be fresh and I like a certain amount of improvisation to be in our music."
MT: Do you think you work less intuitively now?
JJ: "Unfortunately, yes. Because over the past five years I've been exposed to a huge amount of information about song construction and all that business, and necessarily there are things that I had to comply with so that people could come to terms with the music. And, in fact, if I listen back to some of our early creations, it's pretty standardized. There were verses, choruses and bridges, but because there's not a lead vocal they're not as easy to identify. But the essential elements of music are there."
MT: Speaking of vocals, you've just done your first one with Tom Jones.
JJ: “Well, funnily enough, when we first started in 1982, Trevor Horn was always a great fan of Tom's and he said, 'Wouldn't it be great to do a record with Tom Jones?' We all laughed and said, ‘Yeah, Trevor, go and make some tea.' And that was the end of it. He wanted to do it because he thought he had a great voice, which indeed he has. So that idea was forgotten until about six months ago. I was producing some stuff for Nick Kamen, and the A&R chappy was on the phone and said, 'Yeah, it would be great - Tom Jones and the Art of Noise.' It was a laugh and then bells started ringing and I thought back to five years ago. And actually, of all the people who could sing, I couldn't think of the sound of one voice that I wanted to work with more, maybe other than Bob Hope or Bing Crosby, because I think they have such a sound in their voice, and likewise Tom."
MT: What did Tom Jones think of it, playing in this context?
JJ: I don't know what he thought of it initially, because we didn't work together at the same time. The tape we sent to Los Angeles had a different rhythm track than the one that ended up on it."
AD: "That’s why he was great to work with (laughs) - send him a tape, get it back, and you meet on Top Of The Pops."
JJ: It came back to England and I worked on it for a few days, and thought it was boring. His voice sounded so out there and up front that I thought it needed something radical going on in the background. Eventually, after I'd figured out that we had this lead vocal and we could swing things around it, we mixed it and sent it back and he thought we were geniuses, because we had a good sound on his voice essentially. It came down to engineering, but also the fact that we didn't have that modern boom-crash - which I think is there to disguise the fact that a lot of people can't sing - stomping all over his voice."
MT: It has a very trance-like rhythm. How were the drums processed on that?
JJ: In verse one they were from the Fairlight into the room at AIR studios, gated, compressed, miked up and back in again and then fiddled with on the desk. Verse two was just a sample and verse three was a percussion loop with some original drums from verse two, I think, which were taken from a previous track on another album that I had laid together, which was the cabaret bit."
MT: Why did you incorporate snippets from your other songs?
JJ: 'Publishing. We were incorporating bits from other songs because we were defending ourselves, really. It's on a greatest hits compilation. We thought if we didn't it would sound like a Tom Jones record. Also, they're quite good tunes, and there was this bloody hole that needed filling. 'Think I'm gonna dance now,' hmm, so what? 'What are we gonna do here? I know, a medley.”
MT: How do you think using non-instrumental sounds affects the rhythm?
JJ: "For example, take 'A Day at the Races' which is on the previous album, In No Sense? Nonsense! We had a recording of race horses galloping down in the field on a windy day and that sort of thing. And as I heard the tape go by I thought, 'Well, if I take out that bit there and repeat it, it will become its own rhythm,' and that was the origination for the whole track. Everything was built around that because there's an innate rhythm in that, which you can't possibly make up. And as soon as you start cutting it up and repeating it, then it takes on an entirely new character."
MT: From the beginning you've had tracks that are very avant garde, arhythmic tracks.
JJ: "Yeah, I know what you mean. A lot of those were failures, actually. Let’s try this and that and bang them together and see what happens. And they failed. But others had their own momentum and had their own meaning. And so it kind of made sense to leave them as they were."
MT: Are you one of these people who walks into a room and starts banging on things to hear how they sound, or when you hear something your first thought is, 'Let's sample it?'
JJ: "Well, I think if you start going around and tapping things and thumping things, inevitably they end up sounding like things that already exist in music. You can't tap the hooter of a diesel train. It has its own reason for being there, it has its own crazy force. It was designed for a reason, it has a purpose and so you can then capture that rather than forcing it to be something you want. That's much more interesting than going around and tapping things and saying, 'Well, why doesn't this diesel train sound any good?' Because it was never designed to sound any good to you or to anybody else. It's there and you have to take it at face value, which is where the kind of dirty, crude bit comes in, something that's got distortion."
MT: You toured with the Art of Noise in the States, and there wasn't a lot of Pre-sequenced material.
JJ: "No, it was all live. Well, actually with the exception of 'Moments in Love' because it was my job to play the ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba--ba-ba for ten minutes and I just could not do it. I don't mind admitting it was tough. So that was sequenced."
MT: There seemed to be, a "gee whiz, look what we can do" quality to the performance. For instance, I remember the drum solo where Paul Kevin Robinson was just playing samples (from 'Opus 4') and Anne came out and said, "How did he do that?" like it was a parlor trick. And you were kind of miming to some of the things.
JJ: I think the problem came about because I had never played live before. And there was this thing of, 'What do you do?' You can't stand up there and press a key down and have a sound come out and expect people to be excited about it. But I don't think there was any kind of 'gee whiz' attitude about it."
MT: 'Opus 4' is an unlikely track to put on your greatest hits.
AD: "Is it on there?"
MT: Yes, it's the lead track.
AD: "Oh, I didn't know. It was intended to be a sound poem, because I've always liked that Thomas Hook poem 'November' and the girl who sings it is named Camilla, whose voice is magical. The combination of the two seemed to work great."
MT: It seems in the beginning that An of Noise was making social statements and was more politically inclined on pieces like 'A Time for Fear (Who's Afraid)' and 'Instruments of Darkness' with Botha's voice.
JJ: "They may be perceived as being statements but their origination was the sound. In those particular instances, 'Who's Afraid,' the Americans had just gone into Grenada and we were listening to the news and just happened to have a tape recorder lying around and recorded what was going on. I remember seeing this story emerge. There's some chap in a foxhole in Grenada and he doesn't have a clue about what's going on and he's got his radio on to find out why people are bombing him and that's how that started. But yeah, I suppose that was a statement, a reflection of what was going on. "Whereas the one with Botha, that was there because I found the sound of his voice and that of lan Paisley, the Irish gentleman, so fascinating. And Hitler and Churchill might have been on there as well because of the way they sounded rather than what they were saying. The fact that they may have had a message afterwards was coincidental. And from there on it's up to the person listening to it."
AD: "I think it would be a mistake to put too strong a political emphasis on those tracks. I don't personally think pop music is the place to make heavy political statements I know why you're saying that, because they have coherent voices saying coherent statements...
MT: Well, when you put Botha on a track...
AD: "You're saying something. We're just trying to give a general impression. We put the choice there and let people decide for themselves."
MT: Are your songs generated out of the sounds that you have at hand, or do you go looking for sounds to fit the songs that you have?
JJ: "Both. Of course ' there's a large library now. 'Moments in Love' started from an orchestra sting and I just played three notes and Anne said, 'Hang on a second, that's a good idea,' and played a chord and said, 'Play those notes again.' And that's how it started. The chord of the orchestra and the notes I chose to play, quite by chance, evoked what then became the song. And then we started to look for things to put on it. So it was very much a kind of two- or three-way process. Very symbiotic."
MT: 'Eye of the Needle' has a jazzy, hipster kind of groove with that crooning voice.
AD: "The idea came from the particular sound we had for the bass. I remember thinking it has an interesting bass sound, and wouldn't it be interesting to have a walking bass part with this kind of bass sound. So we started with the walking bass sound and the whole piece developed a jazzy kind of vamp around it."
MT: 'Moments in Love' used, I believe, what was called Orch 5 on the Fairlight?
JJ: "Well, there used to be one called Orch 6, but it wasn't that one. That was my own."
MT: That sound became very much a cliché of the early '80s and that was one of the first records to have it. Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome To The Pleasure Dome had the same sound all over it.
JJ: "Similar. Well, it became pervasive after a while. Orch 6 was on the Fairlight library for years before it was 'discovered,' and the Art of Noise and many other people used it at the same time."
AD: "I had a D50 some time before most people had them and I used those wonderful wispy floaty sounds. Then I heard them everywhere else and thought, 'I can't use them anymore.”
MT: The Yes record you worked on, 90125, particularly 'Owner of a Lonely Heart,' was one of the first overt uses of that kind of sampling in the instrumental break to appear in a big way in America.
JJ: "Yeah, absolutely. It was a bit of a milestone actually in terms of shoving up the ears of the listening public as to what was going on. Funnily enough, the stab sound was the sound that came back to me on the Fairlight library. It's everywhere now, but at the time it was exciting and new."
MT: You pull a lot of things off of other records and many people think that's cheating.
JJ: "No, and there's a precedent for it, not that it justifies it in any way. All composers from time immemorial have borrowed from each other, stolen from each other, copied, improved. The only difference with the new technology is that you can actually physically take things from records and recordings by other people, but I defy anyone to listen to our stuff and say, 'I know where that came from.' Because when we have done it, it's been in such a way that we take the essence of what the mood is and not the actual thing itself.
AD: "I must admit that when we did 'Buffalo Gals' in '82, I thought, 'This is amusing. This is the end of it.' Little did I know that six or seven years later I'd be hearing the same ideas. I think it's a shame. Sampling has become an open case of theft. When I hear chunks of songs, usually James Brown - that's never what we did. We would use tiny bits of tiny bits and turn them around, put them upside down and try and do something different with them."
JJ: "What pisses me off is that people take things verbatim, don't change them, don't improve them, don't look at them. They just plunk them on their records and think it's good. Which it obviously isn't. Because I know that when I sit at the Fairlight and I have a snippet of Bach or something else, it's meaningless until I do something with it. And just because one has the Art of Noise drum kit, it doesn't mean you can have a dance hit."
MT: There's a reference aspect to it, a commentary on what the other recording meant.
JJ: "It's a two-edged sword. If you're involved in that sort of creation, then you have to realize that if you keep on doing that, in two or three years time all the people who are not modifying things and not creating things of their own will not have anything left to nick. You have to originate something somewhere, even if it's modified, because after awhile it will cease to be."

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