THE ART OF NOISE

Paul Motley Interview

1999

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Cuz: First lets start with the decision behind Art of Noises’ decision to reform.  Was this the result of the influence The Art of Noise has on today’s electronic acts?

Paul: Well it certainly helped.  We looked around and saw certain groups like Daft Punk & Underworld and it certainly reminded us of the spirit that we had when we first started.  The type of pop that they were was the type of pop group we liked to be, abstract instrumental music without a lead singer making interesting videos.  We thought ‘well hang on’, these people seem to be having a good time - we’ll get back and have another go oursellves.  

Cuz: Does it feel flattering to have provided the blueprint for today’s electronic acts?

Paul: Well it’s something I think some people are going to share.  At the time we started in the early eighties that’s how we wanted it to be. We enjoyed making music in a studio with new equipment. Abstract music that didn’t necessarily kind of follow any formula. And I suppose over the years other people have shared this philosophy not necessarily directly influenced by TAON but to share in the philosophy. So looking at the way pop has developed it’s kind of sweet to see that other people share those instincts.  

Cuz: With the members deciding to re-group and having Lol Crème from 10CC joining you does that complete the visual medium now for The Art Of Noise?

Paul: It kind of confirms the fact that we like to think of ourselves as a bit of a multimedia unit. It’s certainly not guitar, bass, drum and voice. It’s a different combination of talents and imaginations and Lol certainly fits into that. All of us do other things outside the group and when we come into the group we kind of bring that energy and stimulus into it. So Lol fits into that network of people. 

Cuz: What sort of artistic movements have influenced The Art Of Noise?   Was Fluxus an influence?

Paul: I think the thing that inspired us was things that inspired them.  If you go back further, dada, surrealism and playing with the possibility of what you can do with sound and visuals. . . . . . I think we're probably not necessarily Fluxus but certainly the things that influenced the same thing. We took our name from a 1920’s Italian art movement ‘The Futurists’ and we’re always very interested in twisting normality a little bit. So again I guess we share a similar spirit in the way of Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers share a similar musical spirit to us. 

Cuz: The Album ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’ is quite an ambitious project. For the unsure who was Claude Debussy?

Paul: He was the leading French composer of the end of the nineteenth century into the first fifteen years of the twentieth century. Musically he made such a difference, in the way he kind of heard music in a way that it had never been heard before. And you can draw lots of interesting parallel lines from where he was through to people like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus then all the way to Brian Eno and The Cocteau Twins. It just seemed like an interesting idea to go back to someone who’d helped create the mood and texture of twentieth century music. To do this little summary of twentieth century music like a little history thing that we decided to do for better or worse.  Debussy seemed to be a good starting point. 

Cuz: So it wasn’t intended to be end of millennium ‘here’s what’s happened to music’ over the years project? 

Paul: There was a little cheeky sense of wanting to do some summary of twentieth century music.The whole combination of interesting melodies, beats and something in our way that was a little souvenir of the way that twentieth century music had developed. When you go back to Debussy and the way he wrote his songs, they still to this day sound very modern.  He was an incredible forward thinker, incredible idealist and was very passionate about music. In that sense he became a very good mascot for modernism and the couple of things we were interested in.  It’s not a Claude Debussy album, sometimes in America they kept calling it a tribute album. In a way we’ve used Claude Debussy as a metaphor for other things, the metaphor for making the record, being an artist trying to do something different. We tell a series of stories on the record and one we tell may or may not be the true story of Debussy’s life. The most important thing is the beauty of the melodies and way it’s an incredible stimulation to the imagination. 

Cuz: Where the record instantly becomes the defacto movie soundtrack without a movie.  

Paul: Yes. That was exactly it. We wanted to make a sort of series of pieces of music that were so vivid you could almost invent your own movie. You add to it rather than being a pacific set of images that already exist. Everyone nowadays is kind of easily lead by images and they’re feed images. We thought it would be good to go back to that idea that you hear an incredibly vivid piece of music sixty-seventy mins long. You can have your own dream, you can create your own movie and that becomes a soundtrack to that.   

Cuz: Did you do the liner notes to the artwork?

Paul: Yes

Cuz: The liner notes seem to go almost hand in hand with the trade The Art Of Noise aura. Does the mystique of The Art Of Noise able you to push certain boundaries further?

Paul: Well I hope so, well looking to the way the future will go with the internet and that whole email world and the whole way things are going to change very rapidly in the next few years. TAON were always very interested in way that the future would turn out and wanted to belong to that future. That we like to use every surface we possibly can to just to create some sort of magic or mystery. So that when you buy an TAON product it isn’t coupled together for some mercenary business reasons.  

Cuz: Listed within the liner notes is a alphabetical listing of some great cultural movements of the last 100 years listed by The Art Of Noise. What was the intended purpose behind it’s inclusion on the artwork?

Paul: We were talking earlier (before the interview) about the fact that the album can form a soundtrack to your own dream. One of the things that we thought as we were going along was the album could also form a soundtrack to other things. It forms a soundtrack to what TAON are up to but If you read Kurt Vonnegut, then it forms a soundtrack to Kurt Vonnegut. It‘s another way of saying that record has many different ways of approaching it rather than just being as often is as it is these days, just another release in the market place. So it’s very much about the privacy of people’s imagination of really getting inside and saying ‘Hold on! There’s still room for beauty. There’s still room for the imagination’ in extensively a market driven time. We put those people into the index because I know there’s always the tendency to review records and say ‘If you like this you’ll like this. . ’. Usually they give you a couple of albums that are very similar and it seems very narrow. What we were trying to say was ‘If you like great wine, if you like Kurt Vonnegut and you like great travel you’ll like this record'.  It’s all about having an open mind and the belief in the imagination. So we did this imaginary index of great twentieth century culture to say ‘If you get off on this, then this record will make sense to you’. Because you understand the kind of things we trying to do on both a simple hedonistic basis but also on a quite complex basis about ideas and meaning.  So that’s kind of why we did it. 

Cuz: While recording the project and having so many creative forces within The Art Of Noise. Did it ever get to be a overload of ideas?

Paul: Well, surprisingly enough no. I think mainly because we all come from different areas. So If you think of the group we have Trevor Horn as very much a record producer, Anne Dudley as a great pianist and makes movie soundtracks and myself cultural theorist writer, Lol who’s had 25 – 30 years of pop history. So we all came in to it from different points of view that moulded it perfectly well. So we didn’t really tread on each other’s toes. We all had the things that turned out to be very constructed points to make at the right time, rather than all ‘bizin’ around with one thing. I wouldn’t say ‘I think we need this to happen here in terms of what we’re trying to say…like Trevor would take care of the sound. . .  We’re all at an age when we don’t really have to be in a pop group. It’s not something we would do unless it was this kind of pop group. So obviously it would work or otherwise we would’ve have got to the stage where we could’ve finished it because we have other things to do. So it kind of really works out really well as we were four little sections that fitted together perfectly.  

Cuz: With having Lol in the group did that mean more overdubs?

Paul: Not necessarily, no. In a sort of way Lol is quite a champion for simplification at times. Pulling things back because the music is so rich and full of such beauty. Sometimes Lol was very good on saying ‘Just pull back a little so people can get to that, you’re being a little bit over blown’. Even though with 10CC and some of the other things he’s done there was a tradition of that.  What he tended to do with us was really push us to completion. Sometimes we didn’t know when we’d finish and Lol was very good at saying ‘I think you’ve finished’. 

Cuz: On the recording you could say you’ve used quite an ensemble cast on recording ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’ including actor John Hurt.  Was John your first choice for the narrator on this project?

Paul: Oh God yeah! When we decided that a narrator would be good. . .  for better or worse. . .  to tell this imaginary story. When you think of voices I think of Orson Welles and he’s dead, and then what are you going to think? You think John Hurt. We approached John and he immediately said yes and it was fabulous. I think If John had said no we probably wouldn’t have done it because once you get used to what John Hurt is saying and you know it becomes that very musical. It becomes very abstract, it’s just a great sound and it fits in with the texture of the music.  So were absolutely delighted to have John do it, I don’t think anyone else could have done it.    

Cuz: How about Rakim doing the rhyme for the track Metaforce? How did you get him involved?

Paul: Well the same thing. We could only think of one person we particularly wanted. Debussy set a lot of French poetry to music in the nineteenth century. So we thought as part of this one hundred year completion we were trying to do to set up a bracket in the nineteenth century and complete it now so it would be really great to get a modern kind of poet to do a similar thing.  To take some Debussy music and put some poetry to it, to continue that idea. For me the best rap is great poetry. It’s a way a certain kind of people have found a way to maintain contemporary energy of poetry. Even though it gets called rap and it sometimes gets a bad rap. I mean some of the best of it are great poets. And for me the groove for Rakim was very much one we wanted and the same thing happened. We said ‘We’re doing this bizarre piece based on a poem by Charles Baudelaire are you interested?' To our absolute delight he was and he sent us back a rap about Baudelaire. To me it was just an exciting thing, he really got inside of the project, he showed what he was interested in was the energy of a language. And he sent us back something that in the end we split up into making three songs out of one track.  So from out of one little piece of inspiration from Rakim inturn we were inspired. It was a fantastic way how the baton is sometimes handed on.   

Cuz: So he sent a tape over and you sampled from that?

Paul: What we did was send him an original piece of music. Then funnily enough even though we tried to track him down in New York we ended up doing it in our studios over here. He turned out to out to be over here. He came in with his crew and he had a rap all worked out that he’d been working on.     

Cuz: Who made the Metaforce video?

Paul: A guy called John Bland. We decided not to go with Lol at this stage because we were just exploring how to be in videos. In the olden days we always used to be masked when ever we appeared in our videos.  We weren’t quite sure how to do it this time, so we began with a masked video. What was always so interesting in the olden days was that when we got a video director it was very interesting to see how they interpreted us. Because we would say we’re not in the video what do you think we are? Sometimes from telling us what they thought we are we kind of went ‘Oh that’s what we are!’ We’ll make the music video based on that. So even though we had Lol in the group he decided to give it to a different video maker to see what he would give us back. The fact that he interpreted it as a Japanese punk rock group made us think maybe we are a Japanese punk rock group. Sometimes it seems very interesting when you don’t necessary want to be in your video you get to see how other people think of who you are. We obviously have our own views but it’s nice to see what other people think and that in turn inspires us.  

Cuz: In seeing how music has developed over the past number of years. It seems now lot of people who were originally exposed to The Art Of Noise can now look back at you with a degree of renewed fondness. 

Paul: I think it’s what I was saying at the beginning . . .  that you now see that with Fat Boy Slims and the Underworlds.  That they have similar enjoyment about not having to be pinned down about who they are. I think it gives you more scope and more possibilities to be a different kind of pop group rather then having to line up like you’re waiting for a bus. It’s much more interesting to develop the notion of what you are through your video because who knows what you are? You’re not a normal type of pop group and the videos enhance that.  

Cuz: In the sense that people now think that Norman Cook is the fat guy on the cover of ‘You’ve Come a Long Way Baby’. 

Paul: Exactly I love things like that because the sky’s the limit and why not. People are still getting enjoyment out of it and he’s still making his millions. I think it’s more unusual and more unpredictable and non-corporate. It’s not bland and it’s not like the way the record industry tries to control everything. These things seem to be much more kind of energetic and unpredictable.  And that’s definitely where we try and come from.  

Cuz: The Art Of Noise along with James Brown and Kraftwerk have been some of the most sampled artist of all time. Does this make you listen to music a lot closer to hear if your own work is being incorporated? 

Paul: I think it makes lawyers listen more closely, and publishers if you know what I mean. In the end they’re the ones that kind of take care of that kind of thing. When The Prodigy sampled us for ‘Firestarter’ it was interesting because people say what happened? The fact was it all got handled by people in suits which is a rather depressing image when you think about it. In another sense that world is so closely monitored because there’s so much that these days that’s based on that kind of thing. TAON began by sampling things before really the world had closed down. Not necessary sampling records we were sampling the sounds and noises of factories. There was an instance now and again when it came very close to the edge. I remember once Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin, who I was interviewing at a conference. Knowing the kind of reputation that he’s got he fixed a glare at me and said “I’ve heard you’ve sampled John Bottom” for one of TAON tracks. I managed to get out of it because it actually wasn’t the case, but at the time no one really knew how that world was going to develop. He was basically saying give me some cash now! Over the years things have become legal and sorted out. Back when TAON started it was very much a wild west frontier. On this record we’ve only sampled ourselves we thought it was important really not to do that because so many people do it.