Art Of Noise: white kids with toys, or purveyors of the funk?

ammunition--by John Book

Trevor Horn was the musical mind behind Art Of Noise. He, along with Anne Dudley, J.J. Jeczalik, and Gary Langan, were creators of the noise. However, there was one element in this recipe that was needed: the hype. Enter Paul Morley, a journalist for the British musical weekly New Musical Express. Morley was known for his very upfront writing, one who was never afraid to ask an artist an honest question. Morley makes Kurt Loder look like Mother Goose, let's put it that way. Horn and Morley had become friends, and they both talked about creating an independent record label which would be their outlet for some of the most original music England had to offer. Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT) Records was born, and Art Of Noise would become its first "artist". AON would be a studio-only project at first, and if it existed in their minds, it would be recorded on tape. Morley would become an essential part of AON. While not a musician, it is his words in advertisements and on their covers that would create the image of a group with a "non-image". Creating visions to sound. Like a video without a video. Art Of Noise were ready for the attack.

In the summer of 1983, the world was given an EP called Into Battle (ZTT/Island; 1983). In England, it was listened to as a collage of sounds, combined to create something rhythmic and exciting. Later on, it would be viewed as a pre-cursor to new age. In the United States, it was another story. "Beat Box" was aired on MTV no more than three times, if even that. Soonafter, the song became THE song to dance to during a breakdance or pop-lock battle. The beats were cold and mechanical, yet funky at the same time. They were one of the first groups to use a new production technique known as "sampling". "Beat Box" branced out from the cardboard squares of the streets into the neon-lit dance floor of the clubs, where "Beat Box" would soon became a dance hit, even making it to the #1 spot on clubs in Seattle. The British press laughed at this. AON dancable? Nonetheless, "Beat Box" became a major B-Boy anthem on both coasts, a song with massive beats but no words (other than a few "bub do, bubba do"'s, and the word "money" reversed throughout). One U.S. reviewer said "Beat Box" used everything AND the kitchen sink. It The Into Battle EP also featured "Moments In Love", a slow tempo "ballad" which was once compared to "an orgasm in sound" (right down to the chants of "now" and moans from Horn himself.) "Moments In Love" is truly a beautiful song, one which would grow in popularity over the years.

The success of "Beat Box" turned Into Battle into an underground success. AON immediately found the small amount of success "amusing", so they went back into the studio to record a full length album. (Who's Afraid Of?) The Art Of Noise (ZTT/Island; 1984) was released in the U.S. a full month before the British release, unheard of for most British groups. The album was a success through the hit single and video, "Close (To The Edit)". The video, directed by Zbigniew Rbczynski, was a high speed, masterfully edited clip known for its demolishing of instruments, a young girl with heavy make-up, and a weiner dog. "Close (To The Edit)" was more complex in sound than "Beat Box", but it was still dancable, as well as creative. With their debut album, AON branched out and made political statements without singing. The use of sounds and borrowed soundbites would become their voice, and it was first heard in "A Time For Fear (Who's Afraid)", which talked about Great Britain fighting with Grenada. For those who were expecting a "Beat Box Part 2", the album was somewhat of a disappointment, and it would soon place AON into the "alternative" department, back when the term actually meant something.

(Who's Afraid Of?) The Art Of Noise became a success nonetheless in England and the U.S., moreso when "Moments In Love" was released as a single in 1985. The video featured two ice skaters performing to a group of judges, while images of a kid holding his pet turtle popped in and out. The ice skating couple fell on the ice, the turtle opened his mouth, the judges were worried... all while you saw two musicians playing music in the background. With the exception of Trevor Horn, it was the first time fans got to see who were the Art Of Noise (for you trivia hounds, engineer Gary Langan is the judge with the mask who gets a headache and remembers his tale of a turtle.) Weird video, beautiful song, it became a minor hit. It brought AON more attention when it was used in the film Pumping Iron 2: The Women.

Even with success in their hands, the AON empire were at odds with each other. Trevor Horn wanted to continue experimenting and going into new musical territory. Horn's philosophy was that he could (and still can) create a hit song with his eyes closed. With AON, his baby, anything was possible. However, Dudley, Jeczalik, and Langan felt "they" were the musical brain behind the machine, and after tasting success they wanted more. They would part ways with Horn and Langan and branch off into new musical territory, holding the Art Of Noise name. As one "Otto Flake" once said in the liner notes of the AON compilation Daft (ZTT; 1992; UK only): "Art Of Noise, once a most joyous, secretive parody of 'the pop group' and what it might be, will be Art Of Noise the pop group and what it must be." Chapter One of the AON story was complete. A new chapter would begin, and there was no turning back.

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