Art of Noise - Okayplayer

Art of Noise

by John Book
8 years ago

From hip-hop to electronica; from dubstep to the outer reach of Odd Future’s eclectic side, a lot of it directly or indirectly broke through the Art Of Noise filter to get to the other side and the world is better because of it. (Who’s Afraid Of) The Art Of Noise was meant to be the group’s first full-length exploration and excursion into their controlled box of digitally manipulated sounds, and it was celebrated by fans of electronic, dance, funk, and British pop enthusiasts. People were drawn immediately by the music and only the music, a select few were pulled in by the unique use of images meant to represent a group that chose to represent themselves by not representing themselves at all. It was a curiosity of the familiar unknown, and its influence is still very much felt today.

The debut album by Art Of Noise came to be after the surprise success of their debut EP, Into Battle. It was an EP that featured “Beat Box,” an electronic funk track that was experimental, avant-garde, and abstract, something you would never expect to hear on the radio. It has been said that Kool DJ Red Alert was the first to play the song on American radio in New York City, which was immediately appreciated by his listeners who understood what this British group were trying to do: recreate classic soul and funk by actually using sounds from those records. Before that, hit records for young b-boys and b-girls were recreated, and the practice of using “borrowed sound,” now commonly known as sampling, was unknown to the world. Beat Box would also reach #2 on a dance chart in Seattle, a city that was not on the musical map for most people. The EP also featured “Moments In Love,” which would become a freaky slow jam complete with a sampled sexual interlude, orgasm, and afterglow. All of this was enough to push the group to take themselves to the next level by recording a full length album.

This deluxe edition comes out 27 years after its initial impact, released first in the U.S. in June 1984, five months before the group’s home country would hear it. The album is known for featuring a then-new mix of “Beat Box,” called “Beat Box (Diversion One),” featuring a bit more instrumentation, different arrangements and chops of the drums, some extra samples of semi-unknown origin, and a beautiful jazzy piano solo at the end from Anne Dudley. It also features “Moments In Love,” but the other songs offered a deeper look into what the group were trying to create. This time around, they were social and political with the song “A Time For Fear (Who’s Afraid),” an examination of the 1983 invasion of Grenada through spoken word samples and a rhythm track that felt like war sequenced rhythmically. The keyboard melodies that separate portions of the song were haunting, and with a voice which said “so what happens now?,” it didn’t attempt to make a statement but provoked people to simply question the need for war and conflict. What was originally released as “Beat Box (Diversion 2)” was retitled “Close (To The Edit),” hinting back to Yes and their album and song, Close To The Edge. The song was promoted by a video involving a little gothic girl watching three grown men destroying real instruments to the rhythm of the loud beats blaring out. “Momento” and “How To Skill” may have seemed weird for audiences who enjoyed “Beat Box” and “Moments In Love,” but showed the group’s love of taking any and every sound and creating soundscapes on the spot, cutting it up in post-production and calling it worthy of release. The last song on the album “Realization,” most likely was assembled from portions of what created Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock, and comes off like a thank you to fans of the street music from New York that was an obvious influence on the funkier perspectives of the group.

The deluxe edition is a remaster of the complete album from the original masters, so everything sounds fresh and clean, arguably better than every pressing of the album (and its individual songs). What fans will want to buy this for is the inclusion of radio performances the group did for the BBC in 1984 and 1985. Even if you purchased the AoN box set And What Have You Done With My Body Godand the compilation set Influences, there’s still more from the vaults. Fans will hear live recordings of “Beat Box,” “Close (To The Edit),” and “Moments In Love” from 1984, complete with interview from the group’s non-musical entity, journalist/author Paul Morley, and live recordings of “From Science To Silence” (basically a take of “do Donna do” with live instrumentation), “Beat Box” and “Moments In Love” from 1985, and hearing the way they’re presented here will give DJ’s and remixes more reasons to want to exploit their sounds for future mixes, mash-ups and sets.

The highlight of this deluxe edition is that the DVD that comes with it, as it features the videos the group made during their initial stay on ZTT, plus a number of TV ads (adverts) created to promote their records and cassingles (remember those?). What’s also interesting to note that an animated video created for “Close (To The Edit)” was done specifically for British theaters, but rarely shown on TV in the U.S. The practice of showing music videos in theaters is something that was rarely (if ever) done stateside. There’s also a brief documentary on AoN’s influence, an old documentary on the group that has been shown only in Europe and Japan, plus a few performances from the 21st century. Pay attention to the Easter eggs on the DVD, which can be found by clicking Art Of Noise’s tragedy & comedy masks on the menu pages.

Art Of Noise may seem like a blip in music history, but then again they were explorers of blips, bloops and bleeps alongside the likes of Kraftwerk, Jean Michel-Jarre, and Delia Derbyshire (do a Wiki search to find out who she is). The group simply created sounds out of waiting and not wanting to be bored, and that energy spawned some of the most innovative music of the 1980’s, which helped to inspired thousands of other people to create music on their own, while using and utilizing technology that was still in its infancy when Art Of Noise were putting it together. Case in point: keyboards back then could only sample/replay sounds at less than 2 seconds at a time. What you hear on (Who’s Afraid Of) The Art Of Noise is a mixture of sequenced and arranged sounds, but most of it was played live and in real time, so even though some of the sounds may have been machine-like and bleak as the grey walls and statues shown in the photographs by Anton Corbijn on their covers, there was a human quality which made it work so well on the dance floor. There was a song by Doug E. Fresh where he spoke of the old and new schools, but he also indirectly spoke of what Art Of Noise represented then and today: the “no school rule.” This is a rule book based on burning all of those rules, and a celebration of all of the rule breakers who discovered the freedom in the art of their own noise.

-John Book

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