“The Art Of Noise as they are” publicity photograph by A.J. Barratt, 1985.
Ahead of Classic Album Sundays’ evening with Art of Noise later this month, we revisit the band’s essential ’84 debut Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise?
Words: Alan Dixon
A manifesto for the future, a blueprint for what was to become, Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise? pushed the boundaries of how albums would be conceived in electronic music. The roles of the artist, songwriter and producer would be blurred by the futuristic approach of the (non) group Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Paul Morley, Gary Langan and J. J. Jeczalik.
Without any recognisable frontman, the sound was not driven by vocal performances but was created from a pallet of samples, field recordings and synthesis, blurring the lines between the traditional genres of new wave, rock, pop and dance music.
The impression the album leaves almost seems to come as much from the art direction of the band and the actual production style as much as the song writing itself. The band’s name was taken from the art and noise manifestos of the Italian Futurists who’s essays contained titles such as “The Art of Noises”, “The Futurist Noise Machines”, “Manifesto of Futurist Musicians” and “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music”. This was no ordinary music, this was the music of the future, the music of the machines, a statement of belief for what music could be.
Created using samplers and the then ultra modern Fairlight synth, the album created a sound which was often tense to listen to, cut and paste sounds and fragments from the past woven with futuristic synths and vocal snippets creating a sonic imprint that was unlike anything else created at the time.
Heavily influential on future artists such as Prodigy (who would share a writing credit with AON on their single ‘Firestarter’ for it’s use of the “Hey!” sample from ‘Close (To The Edit)), The Art Of Noise would inspire a generation of artists to realise an album could be made with nothing more than a selection of sounds and the creativity to re-appropriate those sounds in an original and engaging manner.
Over 30 years later the album is still challenging to listen to. The album has a sparse, spectral ambience to it in places such as ‘Moments in Love’, coupled with the harsh industrial offerings such as ‘A Time For Fear’.
At times it feels like the music of the city, an urban pastiche, haunting soundscapes created by sounds in rhythmical sequence, heavily drawing on tonality rather than traditional melodies and harmony. The album features orchestral qualities, at times uplifting, but almost always jarring, orchestral sounds which feel like they are being displaced by the experimentation of the producers with modern technologies and synthetic sequencing creating a tense listening experience of half-heard vocal snippets and stuttering rhythms.
The album expresses a certain anxiety, but through this anxiety a gentle beauty is narrated: So what happens now? / Lord… where do we get such men?; To be in England in the summertime (Hey) / With my love (Hey) / Close to the edge (Yeah); and of course the charm and warm delicacy of ‘Moments In Love’.
On 21 October Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise? will be played in its entirety on vinyl through hi-fi sound at Classic Album Sundays. Band members Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley and Paul Morley will all be in attendance, talking openly about The Art Of Noise and their classic debut.
Head over to CAS for more info and to buy a ticket.