Art of Noise: Noise Annoys

HOT TOWN, it’s summer in the city. Basing Street, West London to be exact, the pleasure dome of ZTT records. The Art Of Noise have yet to get on my tits, though they are about to try.

“Are you the guy from Sounds?” inquires a short man, buggle-eyes magnified by thick glasses. “Yes I am,” I reply sleepily. Framed in the doorway stands an unsmiling Trevor Horn. From behind his back he pulls out what looks like a Smith and Wesson .32 revolver. Slowly he points it at me and…FIRES!

“KEERACK!” goes the gun…LOUDLY! In reality such weapons don’t merely make a polite “bang!” They sound more like a thousand babies’ spines being snapped simultaneously. “Bastard,” I mutter in retort, fully realising the way I am insulting the bastards of this world. So! The Art Of Noise like to play with blank bullets, or at least their producer does. As the explosion fades two other members of the musical unit land back in their seats.

“OH CHRIST!” screams JJ Jeczalik, spectacles twitching a nervous dance on his face.

“He’s mad actually. He’s totally gone, lost his marbles, lost his language,” reckons Anne Dudley in her calmly pedantic, almost matronly, manner. From down the stairs the ugly cackles of Horn can be heard.

At this point in their life, prior to the release of their first album, Art didn’t yet seem like a greedy bunch of bastards. Smug, yes, it’s true. Avaricious? Well they know how to spell the word, but it would be some months before they put it into practice.

As the sun winked at an early autumn, Art’s noise could be heard tantalising ghetto-blasters and clubbers abroad. The unit’s and ZTT’s debut 45 EP Into Battle and its single lift ‘Beatbox’ – ingenious experiments in electro and Eros music – were fixtures in New York’s black dance charts.

Back in Blight(y) – such an aptly archaic name for Britain – however, one had to scan the airwaves with vigour to get an earful of art. Why? Because the Noise’s sound objects didn’t yet fit into the accepted spectrum of pop, being long in duration, musically segmented, ‘lyrically’ cut-up, and loaded with the everyday made strangely rhythmical such as a toilet flushing and a car starting.

So while the company’s next couple of hopefuls, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propaganda, put the feel of se(a)men and murder in our charts, the Noise remained on the shelf with the rest of the cults and success virgins.

“I shot you to hype the new Frankie single, ‘Two Tribes’, which is coming out soon. I was going to put a blood capsule in my mouth and shoot myself but I thought that’d be a bit over the top,” explains Horn.

IT FIGURES. Though they have yet to become a parody, ZTT are already too well-mannered in approach. They do have an expert eye for important details however. Put simply, the company only uses the very best in their fields. The key phrase which captures ZTT atmosphere is “hotly calculated,” as in being amusing and differently trivial, from music to regimented blue and white decor.

In the uppermost office perches Paul Morley, the Noise’s public face. A professional mediacrat and tireless self-promoter, as Rose Rouse astutely figured he’s less a monster of a man than an ostrich. The ostrich clucks fast, in whole sentences, with a slightly pained expression on its clean-shaven face as if it’s laying word-eggs a bit too big for its hole. It could make a fortune selling soap powder should it tire of pop.

Define the roles of Art Of Noise?

“It’s difficult because it’s such an unprecedented arrangement. I don’t think it sounds revolutionary, it’s probably quite feeble in itself. But there’s Trevor Horn who, in his role as producer, has always worked with a team.

“So when he did Lexicon Of Love (ABC’s elpee) he assembled his first team which consisted of Gary Langan, which was his engineer, and JJ Jeczalik who was his Fairlight operator, not necessarily a musician but a new breed of technician who operates this strange, magical computer. The other person involved was Anne Dudley who was the person who contributed some of the more delicious melodies on Lexicon Of Love. She had the straightforward musical background.

“They all went to work on Duck Rock. And it was while working on Duck Rock and whizzing around the world that Horn stumbled on an almost deconstructive mode of making music. A mode which in some ways had parallels with something that was happening in Germany at the end of the 60’s and early 70’s within rock (Faust, Can), which in itself was a carry on of some of the avant garde traditions in music of the 50’s such as (John) Cage and received noise…

And so on. The ostrich clucks, but it doesn’t have sand in its beak. It’s not wounded by the accusations that Into Battle is this decade’s Tubular Bells. Indeed it hopes Art will sell the same mega-amount.

The ostrich ruffles its feathers a bit but agrees there is a grain of truth in the proposition that Frankie has sold a million and Art hasn’t because the public understand the word “come” as opposed to the ‘quasi-philosophy’ which surrounds the Noise. In point of fact though there are more lucid musical orgasms on Art’s ‘Moments In Love’ than ‘Relax’.

VOICES IN the doorway. The Noise unveils more of its flesh, Anne and JJ – Langan is tanning in Australia. They aren’t pretty pop-Art.

Dudley looks like the kind of woman who as a child brandished a mean hockey stick on some Home Counties playing field. Jeczalik cuts a figure that fits with his history, an ex-Durham University student with a degree in geography who once helped out with Yes. In December it will occur to me that Art makes a noise by and for the school prefects of this world, in Europe anyway.

How are your records put together?

JJ: “In a lot of ways. Much of it is live performance art.”

Anne: “Yes, seriously. A lot of it is related to jazz in that it’s improvised. One can’t say that the machinery was in charge. It’s quite the opposite, though some person in a review said we make music for a Cadbury’s Smash advert.”

What was your background?

Anne: “Well, basically I’m a musician, is that alright for your magazine? (Meeow!) I’ve been trying to hide it but there’s no way I can get round it. I went to the Royal College of Music as a student and then started working in studios as a keyboard player. That’s my story.”

Short, clawed and patronising for sure. So let’s cut an hour of talk equally viciously down to the entertaining segments.

How does your geography degree figure in Art’s noises?

JJ: “Essentially it allows one a certain amount of lateral thinking in terms of doing as little as possible to get by.” (The unintentional truth of this was eventually writ large on the group’s debut album when it surfaced last November).

Anne: “Oh come on, let’s be honest, it also helps you find the studio…” Dudley is sarcastic in the extreme, a bit of a prima donna. For example she doesn’t like Morley’s notion of Noise being a modern progressive rock band like ELP.

“An unfortunate choice of groups, I see us more like Miles Davis.” She could be right.

JJ: “You see, under the influence of hard work and drugs anything can happen.”

Oh, so you take drugs?

JJ: “Uh, well, in case my mother’s reading this – never.”

Anne: “Never.”

JJ: “Anne doesn’t take drugs, certainly not. And the rest of us live off the drug of life.”

Anne: “What a load of rubbish. Don’t ask that question.”

Okay…Who would Art Of Noise most like to f***?

Anne: “As a group or individuals?”

Well, until now I hadn’t thought of Art as individuals.

Anne: “That’s where you are totally wrong. Because any band has to be a group of individuals, even Frankie Goes To Hollywood.”

JJ: “To some extent, anyway.”

Anne: “We have no collective desire to f*** anybody, I don’t think. Is this what your readers want to know?”

A season passes. Now is the winter of my discontent and the Noise have finally got on my tits, not so much their music which still astonishes, it’s the attitude which grates. Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise, their first album, could have been a milestone of creativity but it stinks of petrification. Half of it is remixes of already available tunes. The Noise have become greedy bastards and are shafting the public in the pocket. So I ring Gary Langan.

I’ve never met you before, can you describe yourself?

“Good looking, charming, intelligent, and I like to go to Australia,” he answers flippantly.

Why do you like to go to Australia?

“I like the weather.”

Of course. Art Of Noise performed live for the first time on The Tube recently. Do you think it was a success or are you doomed to be a studio band?

“No, no. It was a great success considering it was our first live gig and also on TV. The odds were stacked against us but I think it worked well. We plan to tour America at the end of 1985.”

Are ZTT and the Art Of Noise a greedy bunch of bastards?

“No more than anybody else in this industry…We have a new single coming out at the end of January. It will not be off the album,” he quickly adds.

Do Art have a New Year’s resolution?

“To raid the 20th Century.” This is Morley-speak in practice.

© Jack BarronSounds, 5 January 1985

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