Art of Noise makes a new impression with 'Debussy'
The Art of Noise: Trevor Horn, Paul Morley and Anne Dudley
September 27, 1999
Web posted at: 4:11 p.m. EDT (2011 GMT)
From Steve Wright
CNN Worldbeat Correspondent
(CNN) -- In the 1980s, the ensemble called Art of Noise was among Britain's most influential musical groups. Now, almost a decade later, the techno-pop group is back with a short tour in the United States, promoting a late-June release from Universal Records, "The Seduction of Claude Debussy."
Art of Noise -- then comprising Anne Dudley, Paul Morley and Gary Langan -- first drew attention in 1983, with an extended-play release, "Into Battle With the Art of Noise" and then the album "(Who's Afraid of?) The Art of Noise." The musicians were determined to be different, to create an "unusual image." They vowed never to appear in their videos, never to have a lead singer and never to officially finish a track.
"We wanted to be like a group would be in the year 2000," says Morley, "a space age group -- computers, masks, mystery, technology. That's kind of the group we were in 1983."
Looking back now, many might say the song "Beatbox" on their second album, 1984's "Moments in Love," was the original "big beat," well over a decade before the term was popular.
"I don't think we've blazed trails necessarily," Morley says. "But I think the kind of things we were up to in terms of wanting to actually be a different kind of group and using different instrumentation and technology, indirectly and directly, influenced a lot of groups that are now doing particularly well -- Fatboy Slim, that kind of thing."
Norman Cook as Fatboy Slim has broken on the scene with his 1998 big-beat album "You've Come a Long Way, Baby," featuring the hits "The Rockafeller Skank" and "Praise You."
Waiting for the 'Seduction'
The band released several albums in the 1980s, and some compilations. But there was no new Noise for about nine years. "The Art of Noise was in this suspended animation," says the group's central member, Dudley.
"We never really went away," she says. "But I think it was quite an ecologically sound move not to release anything for about nine years because there's far too much stuff out there anyway. Until we thought we had something really good, we didn't want to burden the world with more stuff."
By 1999, they had what they felt was "something really good" -- "The Seduction of Claude Debussy" is dedicated to the French impressionist composer (1862-1918) of such mainstays of the Western symphonic repertoire as "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" (made famous by the dancer Vaslev Nijinsky's erotic choreography) and "Clair de lune." Dudley and producer Trevor Horn say they're ardent fans of Debussy's work.
Horn calls Debussy the father of modern music. "He was the first person, or one of the first people, to play the major seventh chord," Horn says, "which is a very integral part of what we listen to nowadays. (Debussy) sort of invented harmony the way that we're used to it. Before him, music was all kind of a little bit staid."
As the narration for actor John Hurt on the album puts it, Claude Debussy is the man who took the century's music and "sent it on its way."
The CD uses a wide variety of styles including rap, big beat and modern classical French harmonies. Hurt serves as a kind of host, voicing narration most extensively in the first cut, "Il Pleure (At the Turn of the Century)." Classical soprano Sally Bradshaw and rap artist Rakim are featured heavily on the album.
"It seemed like Rakim represented the modern poet," Dudley says, "the poet at the end of the 20th century, rapping about Charles Baudelaire, the poet at the end of the 19th century, and I've never heard those sort of rhymes in a rap."
The result is "Metaforce," a rap work in which Rakim commends the "dynamic in the evening air."
Morley says Debussy "was a good mascot for us to use to summarize 20th-century music. You know how most pop groups, they go back about 20 or 30 years for their source material."
The result is a 1990s treatment of musical references from Debussy's "Nocturnes" to "Danse sacrée et danse profane."
We thought it would be fantastic at the end of this century," Morley says, "to go back to the end of the last century to go into the future."