How We Made Art of Noise's Close (to the Edit)

‘We sampled a neighbour’s VW Golf and the group saying “money” played backwards. To our amazement it got to No 8’

Anne Dudley, composer

We were a studio team working with Trevor Horn, producing records like ABC’s Lexicon of Love and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock. But we started playing together in our own time. Trevor had got a new synthesiser from Australia, a Fairlight, which fascinated us. It made it relatively easy to put in a sample of, say, a dog barking, and then play it in different pitches.

We wrote a piece of music with lots of different sections and samples. There was a neighbour’s VW Golf stalling, and group members Gary Langan and JJ Jeczalik saying “urgh” , and “money”, which we played backwards.

Gary set about editing it all. This was back in the day when you had to literally slice tape with a razor blade. We ended up with something quite quirky but we certainly didn’t think it had legs as a single. To our amazement, it got to No 8.

Anne Dudley in 1985.
‘To our amazement, it got to No 8’ … Anne Dudley in 1985. Photograph: Colin McConnell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

I never wanted to be a pop star. None of us did. We wanted to be anonymous, and if we’d had our own way we’d never have done any TV appearances, but once the ball starts rolling you have to go with it. Top of the Pops was one of the worst experiences of my life. We’d done so many edits of the single I wasn’t even sure what its final structure was. We just stood there behind three keyboards. The director saved our bacon by cutting away to the animated video the record company had commissioned – they hadn’t liked the original one made by Zbigniew Rybczyński, featuring a punkette girl and three blokes in tails dismantling musical instruments with a chainsaw. It was the polar opposite of Duran Duran on a luxury yacht.

No one knew how to take us. We were described as techno boffins whereas we had a free-ranging jazz sensibility. Steve Reich and Philip Glass were an influence and we loved the absurdist ideas of John Cage. We didn’t have any pretensions to be doing anything other than exploring interesting sounds and trying to have fun.

Watch the video for Close (to the Edit) by Art of Noise

Paul Morley, concepts

I’d been writing for the NME but stopped when I turned 25 as I decided I was too old. Trevor Horn asked me to help him form a record label. He already had a bunch of very good musicians working behind the scenes, so I got to design not only a record label but a band. I wanted none of the cliches that muddied pop music – the band was anonymous and hid behind masks. Another ambition was to put a really unconventional piece of instrumental music in the Top 10. I loved the idea that one of the group’s members was a computer programmer and another a recording engineer. My role was ideas, vision, marketing and spokesman. The label name – Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT) – came from a poem by an Italian futurist; I went back to the Thames and Hudson Guide to Futurism for the band’s name. The Art of Noises was a 1913 manifesto about musical aesthetics, we performed an edit and named the group the Art of Noise.

Close (to the Edit)’s working title was Close to the Edge. We created the music through editing, and so changed the title. Being perverse and provocative I put the brackets in. JJ and Gary would sample whatever was lying around – it all became part of the musical collage. This was before people understood about rights and permissions. For years, every time the phone rang Trevor would freeze, convinced it was someone calling to sue him because we’d sampled them illegally.

People didn’t know where we had come from. We were often labelled radical underground dance artists. We even got an award in the US for best black act of 1984. I think I made my excuses. We should have sent the masks to pick it up.

The band’s appearance on The Tube.
Send in the clowns … the band’s appearance on The Tube. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

A group that made their music in an abstract, mysterious way shouldn’t have been seen actually playing, but we were required to look like a group for TV appearances. We weren’t allowed to have just dancing masks for Channel 4’s The Tube, so we ordered clown suits that were several sizes too small. I did an interview with Jools Holland that consisted of large amounts of silence.

I wanted us to be part of a wider musical story. I think we achieved that, as well as anticipating so many things. Daft Punk and Gorillaz have realised our ideas of anonymity and animated performers more fully, and I love to say that we’re the third most sampled group of all time. The proudest for me was the Prodigy on Firestarter. They wanted our “Hey”, the one on Close (to the Edit) – no other would do. The royalties kept me in coffees for many years.

Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise is on Island Records.


Interviews by Imogen Tilden

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