Author: Flan Wilde
Autumn 1999
80s electro-poppers Art Of Noise have made a grand re-entrance with their first album in ten years, Seduction of Claude Debussy. Flan Wilde meets Trevor Horn and Paul Morley to ask how they seduced an 80-year dead composer...
THE ART OF Noise, in its various incarna-tions with different line-ups, has been something of a anonymous influence on electronic music. Their faceless, instrumen-tal manoevrings meant they weren't exactly Top Of The Pops stalwarts, but their sounds reached out to many musicians.
While J J Jeczalik and Gary Langan have moved on, original members Trevor Horn (famously remembered for being in Buggles', they of Video Killed The Radio Star fame), Paul Motley and Anne Dudley have reappeared on the scene. Joined by Lol Creme, The Art Of Noise have brought out their first album in ten years - The Seduction Of Claude Debussy - which is essentially a musing upon various pieces written by the French 'Impressionist' composer. We caught up with Trevor and Paul to find out what the new art of Art Of Noise is all about...
FM: So, why Claude Debussy? What's so special about him?
Trevor Horn: Well, Debussy is my favourite composer of all time. He was the first person to use music and imagery in the way that he did at a point in time where people like Wagner were still backing a very old tradition. Debussy invented ambient music. Harmonically speaking, he was the punk of his time and people got very angry with him. People actually tried to hit him when he played.
Paul Morley: His music was very abstract back then, as some of it still is today. We wanted to find a way to sum up 20th-century music for our own particular desires and Debussy was a good way to do that. If you look at jazz: Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Evans... they were all obsessed with Debussy and some of them even played his music. If you then look at jazz going into pop music, it was a really great way of doing a summary of pop music. We didn't want to make an album of Debussy's music, but use him as a metaphor for The Art of Noise.
FM: How does the album work?
TH: I imagined it as though Debussy was a young writer just signed to a label. He'd just brought in these piano pieces and we were figuring out how to make a commercial record out of them. So, being a record producer, I'd put beats and raps on top of it!
FM: So is Debussy a kindred spirit to Art of Noise?
TH: He was such a wonderful piano player and the way he composed was meticulous. He uses so few notes and none of them are out of place. And that's inspired us.
FM: How much are you attracted to Debussy's personality? Didn't he have a strange personal life?
PM: He suffered from water on the brain which resulted in him having a protuberance on his head; he grew a wonderful Beatles fringe to cover it up. His legendary temper was not just ascetic, he was probably in constant agony.
You can summarise Debussy by looking at how he was portrayed by Oliver Reed in the Ken Russell film: a nutcase. There's a condescending attitude about the past, that if something was in the past, it's seen as quaint. But Debussy was the most modem person around... he was Andy Warhol, he was Stockhausen. He was the man.
FM: Actor John Hurt does an occasional voiceover on the album, why is that?
TH: We wanted a voiceover to explain a few things about Debussy. From my point of view, I was a huge fan of John playing Caligula in I Claudius and I think he has the definitive voiceover voice. We were lucky that he was into the idea enough when he heard it. He was a fan of what we were trying to do.
We weren't buying John Hurt's fame; we just wanted his voice. He thought it was insane and he liked that.
FM: What about the people who might consider this album and all these classical references all monstrously pretentious?
PM: What does that mean? For me, using the word 'pretentious' is pretentious. We are mad so how could we be pretentious as well? We always get called arty and pretentious, and that staggers me.
FM: What about the reaction to the album from the classical world, will they be uppity about what you're doing?
PM: I'm looking forward to being interviewed by Gramophone magazine but as it happens, no one should be offended as we haven't abused Debussy's music at all. It's played musically, it's arranged musically, there's none of that classical nonsense going on here so in that sense, if anybody wants to challenge it we've got some good retorts.
FM: And what would the man himself make of it?
PM: He'd join us on the road, I think. Debussy wanted his music to evolve and continue. When Stravinsky came along he admired him and I think Debussy would have been well into the spirit of what we've tried to do. We enjoyed making the album, that's what matters. There was a lot of vodka involved and a lot of red wine. There are some great red wine moments on there!
FM: Paul, you've got a reputation as being a trifle harsh as a music critic.
PM: You know how it is when you're a critic, you get bad days. I gave The Cure an appalling review for their first album because it was the night that Margaret Thatcher got elected. But I have to say, to my credit, that I'm one of the few journalists who changed my mind. I changed my mind about Sting and I put Dollar on the cover of the NME. Debussy was a music critic. He did it because he believed in something and if he criticised something, he did it because he wanted music to be better. I always thought of myself that way.
FM: So, Paul, where do you fit in? In the past you've described yourself as the lead singer of the group that doesn't have a lead singer.
PM: In one sense I'm Ringo Starr... I turn up for tea. But it's like Massive Attack; nobody asks what they do on their records, they just appear and it's a bit like that with The Art of Noise. The idea of guitar, bass and drums was always something we were vehe-mently opposed to. We thought by now that would all be gone. Now it's the return of the painters and decorators from Manchester: Oasis. They did me mum's house actually. The paint peeled, y'know.
FM: The Art of Noise have done very nicely from The Prodigy [they sampled Close to The Edit on Firestarter. You must have made a fortune.
PM: That's what people keep telling us. Someone has made a fortune. I think it's The Prodigy actually.
TH: Yes exactly. We wrote that bit that went 'Hey!' But as with a lot of modern music, it's all played into computers or by computers.

FM: Some would say that you started that... making music with computers.
TH: That's a fair point.
FM: Your music is definitely evolving, but do you ever miss doing things the way it was done in the 80s?
PM: If we had done that kind of thing now, it would have been really corny. To be beautiful and reticent and abstract could be considered to be much more radical than knocking about and making a Ditchchamber Sessions album like Liam Howlett. That to us would have been too obvious.
FM: Do Art of Noise have more relevance now than they had in the 80s?
PM: Well, the philosophy is meant to be as flexible as it possibly can be. It's not meant to get bogged down in the fashion of the time, so it can exist whenever it needs to and it can exist with different members.
FM: All FM readers would acknowledge that Art Of Noise had a huge influence on electronic music - you figured quite prominently in our Top 50 Electronic Artists vote last year - and how do you feel about that?
PM: Our influence was probably more indirect than direct. I love the idea that when we first came out, and it sounds banal now, we weren't in our videos, we weren't in our pictures, we made largely instrumental music and we made dance music that was quite abstract. Over the years we'd like to think that's been followed up by other people, right up to Fatboy Slim via Mantronix.
The pure soul of what we were doing was what pop music would be like in the future. We're always contrary It's good to be back.    FM
Who’s who
The Art Of Noise have seen various members come and go, and here’s a register of who’s who…
Trevor Horn
Paul Morley
Anne Dudley
Gary Langan (left 1986)
JJ Jeczalik (left 1990)
Lol Creme (joined 1998)
The very latest member of AON is Claude Debussy
Into Battle (ZTT, 1983)
Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise? (ZTT, 1984)
In Visible Silence (China, 1986)
In No Sense? Nonsense! (China, 1987)
The Best Of The Art Of Noise (China, 1988, re-issued 1993)
Below The Waste (China, 1989)
The Seduction Of Claude Debussy (ZTT, 1999)
Reworks Of Art Of Noise (China, 1986)
The Ambient Collection (China, 1990)
The FON Remixes – DJ remix CD (China, 1991)
The Drum And Bass Collection – DJ remix CD (China, 1996)

Website Last Updated: 16:00 GMT, Monday 12th March 2018
This website © Copyright K.M. Whitehouse 2008 - 2018
"Will I still be perfect, tomorrow?"
Although authorisation has been given to create this website, it operates completely independent from ZTT Records Limited
and Warner Music UK.  This website, original website content including articles, reviews, artworks and designs are all
the copyright of the website owner and curator, K.M. Whitehouse.
All other images, quoted reviews are the copyright of the respective copyright holders.
POWERED BY Ezee Hosting