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Art of Noise – Il Pleure (90s – 69)

August 6, 2013

After mentioning the Art Of Noise’s 1999 concept album, I guess I should write about The Seduction of Claude Debussy. I first heard this when Radio National’s Tim Ritchie, a man whose Sound Quality program had already gotten me into a lot of great music, popped up on another program to do a round up of new releases.

I’d only known of the Art of Noise through their Max Headroom song. I’d also read some who thought the band had invented the breakbeat well before the lead-up to jungle. But the tracks I heard on the radio that day were a winning combination of the floating synth lines I loved from drum ‘n’ bass, suspended over taught beats with the atmosphere made lush with vocal samples and warmly recorded piano and strings. When I heard the album I was not surprised Trever Horn produced, as the lushness reminded me of Tubular Bells II.

Back then I’d never even heard of Rakim, as hip hop was not my forte. Sally Bradshaw had popped up on Tubular Bells II, and fulfilled a similar operatic role here. I’d forgotten John Hurt, these days a missing Doctor, was the narrator. In all the vocals are gloriously captured and woven into the musical mix.

The album had also appealed to me on the conceptual level. I already heard something about the idea Claude Debussy was the start point for modern music. I’d read references to David Toop’s Oceans of Sound book, something I wouldn’t track down for another few years. The central tenet was Debussy introduced into the Western tradition an emphasis on texture over composition, the idea the sounds of the instrumentation could represent place, an atmosphere, ambiance. Of course those was an idea already existing in other music traditions, but Debussy brought it to a classical tradition, whereby it entered into 20th century composition, hopped over to exotica, Henry and Cage and then onto the electronica works of Eno and others. Even the progressive rockers used the ideas.

The Seduction of Claude Debussy firmly nailed this idea into place, coming as it did with the decade known for it’s ambient music. There was a great emphasis on texture in the 90s with the electroncia revolution. The Art of Noise, who predated it all, used their skills to see the movement out, by giving a brilliant summing up of the previous ten years. Sensuousness, beats, atmospheres, raps, spoken words: all were part of the 90s mix, none possible without Debussy. And at the hands of some of the best producers of the previous two decades, the textures sounded amazing.

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