The Art Of Noise ‘Close (To The Edit)’

Anne Dudley recalls the making of The Art Of Noise’s hugely influential 1985 hit ‘Close (To The Edit)’

“We all first met each other when we were working with Trevor Horn on a Dollar record he was producing. He’d just acquired the Fairlight, and JJ Jeczalik had taken it upon himself to learn how to program this thing. It was a bit of a beast – you had to really work to input the samples. So JJ was doing that, and Gary Langan was engineering. Then we became the Trevor Horn team and worked on ABC’s ‘The Lexicon Of Love’.

“We’d sampled Thereza Bazar’s voice for Dollar and Martin Fry for a couple of things in ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, and we found it a very interesting way of working. In a way, we were doing the same things experimental composers did in the 1950s, but they had to do it all with analogue tape, and it was laborious. It was exciting to find this new sound world, where potentially any noise could attain some sort of musical credibility just by changing the pitch.

“Trevor had just started the label, ZTT, under the auspices of Island Records. JJ, Gary and I had been messing about with a few things, and Chris Blackwell, who ran Island, got to hear it and he said, ‘You should release some records’.

“None of us really wanted to join a group, but hey-ho, we did. Then Paul Morley, who was involved in ZTT on the design and concept side, came up with the name, and it all sort of made sense. He said, ‘Okay, we’ll call ourselves The Art Of Noise. It doesn’t sound like a group, it sounds more like an avant-garde movement’.

“Generally, I did the musical things – played the actual keyboard – JJ did the programming and Gary did the engineering. But sometimes the roles got more fluid. Trevor would come in and give an overview, and get involved in the editing. We’d often end up with 12 minutes of mad improvisations, which Trevor would then edit down to one minute and say, ‘Let’s develop this bit’. There was a lot of tape on the floor.

“Hip hop was the thing at the time. Gary was working on the Yes album ‘90125’, and he sampled some of the drums and looped it – and that’s quite legit, we did pay Alan White for the session. I think there are some other elements in the drum track, but I can’t remember where they came from. It’s funny, because JJ managed to loop it around the wrong way, with the off-beat on one – it’s usually one, two, one, two, but he managed to have it as two, one, two, one.

“Then we thought, ‘Well, let’s build up a track’. It was very improvised. We sampled in a bit of double bass, which I think Trevor played, but we didn’t know quite where to go from there. Then Gary, who never plays the keyboards, played this boogie-woogie 12-bar thing, all out of time, with lots of weird notes in it. When it got quantised and put into the sequencer, it became the bassline.

“Next it was, ‘What should we put on that? Let’s have a bit of a car starting. Let’s play it starting in different pitches’. It was a real car, a Volkswagen – I think it was JJ’s. We had Gary and JJ saying ‘Money’ backwards – which becomes ‘Enom’. It was pretty easy to flip it around on the Fairlight.

“JJ was going out with a teacher at the time, and she taught a couple of girls who were interested in coming to the studio. They were probably only about 14, so they had these really nice young voices. We got them to say a few things like, ‘Hey!’. ‘To be in England / In the summertime / With my love’ is the lovely Karen Clayton, who was the receptionist at Sarm Studios at the time.

“The chords are mostly just C and F. The structure of an instrumental can be anything you want, so we set Trevor the task of listening to the Yes track, ‘Close To The Edge,’ to look at how the bits of melody relate to each other. He came back with this sheet of musical analysis as to how it was constructed.

“We thought, ‘OK, we’ll do that – we’ll have an opening section, then a B-section, then repeat the opening section…’. We didn’t follow their composition very closely after a while, but it gave us a starting point, and that’s how the title came about.

“The Fairlight had many limitations in its early years. The length of the sample you could do was incredibly short – I think it was barely more than a second. It’s to Gary’s great credit that he made it sound anything other than dreadful, because the top on all the sounds would disappear. But Gary was a real geek. There was a rack of effects machines, and he’d have them all going to get something that sounded halfway decent.

“As samplers got more shiny, something gritty went out of it. We had to work very hard to make it sound good, and I think that enhanced the creativity. In the mid-80s, people were trying to make the best-sounding records ever. Then ours came out sounding strange, as if from another era, which I think gave it character.

“When I occasionally hear it, it leaps out of the radio at me. It still has a very original sound, and a lovely spirit – it’s very cheerful, and a bit silly. Humour in music is a rare commodity, and we weren’t afraid to do something completely incongruous and just have fun.

“Looking back, I admire the originality and experimentalism of it. You can do that in your 20s, when you feel fearless. There’s no weight of responsibility. It might be good, it might be bad, but it doesn’t matter really. You can never regain that in a creative life because, as time goes on, you have all that past. We didn’t have any past. We were all now.”

Anne Dudley’s new album of instrumentals, ‘Crossing The Bar’, is out on Absolute

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