“Their sources were scientific, their methods were artistic. They were breaking beats, setting up house, gliding through mental landscapes. They were masked, mechanical and, funnily enough, made up. Their image was daring, anonymous and addictive, and has more than stood the test of time. The music hasn’t just stood the test of time but fed the time that has passed; the Art of Noise are one of the most sampled groups in history” (Salvo Record Label)
“[The Art of Noise track] ‘Moments In Love’ graced a 7″ [single]…Almost ambient, it was addictive” (So Many Records, So Little Time website)
“[The Art of Noise’s record label ZTT] was a record label inspired by books and the addictive property of ideas as much as music” (from Paul Morley’s sleeve notes in the ZTT Box Set book).
The Art of Noise are one of popular music’s most unusual bands ever. The opening quotes claim both their image and their music is “addictive” and that their record label was inspired by the “addictive property” of ideas.That alone is enough ammunition for me to write a blog on them. And as chance would have it, the Art of Noise also happen to be one of my all time favourite bands as mentioned in my previous blog on record collecting as an addiction and my previous blog on my personal (and somewhat obsessive) record collecting behaviour.
Along with Factory Records (home of Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays), the ZTT label was of one of the most iconic record labels of the 1980s and 1990s (and home of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda, Seal, 808 State). ZTT Records was founded by the trio of record producer Trevor Horn (ex-lead singer of The Buggles), businesswoman Jill Sinclair (and Horn’s wife), and music journalist Paul Morley. The initials ZTT stand for Zang Tumb Tuum (although some of the record labels said Zang Tuum Tumb) and come from the poem Zang Tumb Tumb by Italian poet (and founder of the artistic and social Futurist Movement) Filippo Tommoso Marinetti.
The Art of Noise were the so-called ‘house band’ of ZTT and have been described by some an “avant-garde synthpop” band (but I would argue that their earliest releases with their original line-up almost defy categorization. The original (and I would argue ‘classic’) line-up comprised ZTT founders Trevor Horn and Paul Morley along with classically trained musician and musical arranger Anne Dudley, the engineer/producer Gary Langan, and programmer J.J. Jeczalik. Although best known worldwide for their collaborations with Duane Eddy (Peter Gunn) and Tom Jones (Kiss) it was their early (primarily) instrumental compositionsthat were the most novel and groundbreaking. The first time I heard ‘Close To The Edit’ on BBC Radio 1 in May 1984 I rushed straight out to my local record shop and bought the 7” vinyl version. That night I played it again and again. It was one of the most unique sounding songs I had ever heard. If there was ever an ‘addictive record’ this was it.If you’ve never heard the Art of Noise’s early recordings it’s hard to describe them as musical recordings as such. As the Wikipedia entry on them notes:
“[The] compositions were novel melodic sound collages based on digital sampler technology, which was new at the time. Inspired by turn-of-the-20th-century revolutions in music, the Art of Noise were initially packaged as a faceless anti- or non-group, blurring the distinction between the art and its creators. The band is noted for innovative use of electronics and computers in pop music and particularly for innovative use of sampling…The technological impetus for the Art of Noise was the advent of the Fairlight CMI sampler, an electronic musical instrument invented in Australia. With the Fairlight, short digital sound recordings called samples could be ‘played’ through a piano-like keyboard, while a computer processor altered such characteristics as pitch and timbre. Music producer Trevor Horn was among the first people to purchase a Fairlight. While some musicians were using samples as adornment in their works, Horn and his colleagues saw the potential to craft entire compositions with the sampler, disrupting the traditional rock aesthetic”.
Before the Art of Noise officially formed in 1983, four of the five ‘classic’ line-up (i.e., everyone bar Morley) were already working together as the production team behind such records as ABC’s The Lexicon of Love (1982) and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock. However, it was while they were (some would say bizarrely) working on the Yes album 90125 that (while bored) Jeczalik and Langan took a scrapped riff by Yes’ drummer Alan White and sampled it using the Fairlight sequencer (which according to Wikipedia was the first time that an entire drum pattern had been sampled into the machine). Non-musical sounds were then layered on top of the sampled drum riff. Jeczalik and Langan then played their musical creation to Horn and was subsequently released as the ‘Red & Blue Mix’ of Yes’ US No.1 single ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ (which if you’ve never heard it does indeed sound like a Yes-Art of Noise mash-up). Many of the samples originally used on the yes LP ended up on the Art of Noise’s first (9-track) EP in 1983 (Into Battle With The Art of Noise) – a truly wonderful record made even better with the 2011 deluxe reissue expanded into 27 tracks.
Horn loved the new and innovative sound and brought in Morley as the fifth member of the band to develop the concept and marketing strategy, write the press releases, and shape the artistic style of the project’s visual imagery. The Futurism movement not only provided the name of the ZTT record label but also provided the name of the new group. Morley had read Luigi Russolo’s essay (and Futurist manifesto) ‘The Art of Noises’ (dropping the final ‘s’ at the insistence of Jeczalik). In a 2002 article in The Observer Sunday newspaper, Morley wrote:
“I loved the name Art of Noise so much that I forced my way into the group. If over the years people asked me what I did in the group, I replied that I named them, and it was such a great name, that was enough to justify my role. I was the Ringo Starr of Art of Noise. I made the tea. Oh, and I wrote the lyrics to one of the loveliest pieces of pop music ever, Moments in Love”.
One of the things I loved about the Art of Noise was that they were completely faceless and did little promotion outside of the verbose (and arguably pretentious) print advertisements written by Morley. Band photographs never appeared on their records and they never appeared in their own videos. Morley was the “face” of the band but a non-musician. As a teenager still discovering the wonders of music I was transfixed by the group’s [non-]image and the compelling nature of their music. The first album (Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?) was unlike any LP I had ever heard before.
During my first year at university (1985), the original line-up split acrimoniously with Langan, Dudley, and Jeczalik (who kept the Art of Noise name) divorcing themselves from Horn, Morley and the ZTT label. The new Art of Noise line-up made further good albums on the China Records label – In Visible Silence (1986), In No Sense? Nonsense! (1987) and Below The Waste (1989) – but none as compelling as the early recordings. In 1990, the Art of Noise (that since 1987 had been a duo of Dudley and Jeczalik) disbanded.
In 1998, the original line-up (minus Jeczalik and Langan) temporarily reformed (adding the ex-10cc guitarist Lol Crème) and released the critically acclaimed concept LP The Seduction of Claude Debussy back on the ZTT label in 1999. The new line-up then performed some live shows in the UK and US, but disbanded again shortly afterwards. A live CD (Reconstructed) using various performances from these shows was released in 2003.
Despite the group splitting up in the early 2000s, August 2006 saw the release of a 4-CD boxed set of unreleased tracks from the ‘classic’ 1983-1985 period (And What Have You Done with My Body, God?) which was an Art of Noise collector’s Holy Grail. The Art of Noise disciples amongst us lapped it up and it fed our need and obsession for new musical product. Over the last few years more unreleased Art of Noise recordings have surfaced on various compilations and deluxe editions of the early recordings, and there is another boxed set (3CD/1DVD) of unreleased recordings due for issue later this year (Art Of Noise At The End Of A Century). No, I’m not addicted to the Art of Noise, but they’re not a group that I ever want to give up.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Art of Noise (2014). Art of Noise authorized website. Located at: http://theartofnoiseonline.com/Home.php
Wikipedia (2014). Art of Noise. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_Noise
Wikipedia (2014). ZTT Records. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZTT_Records
ZTT records official site (2014). Located at: http://www.ztt.com