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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Art Of Noise: In Visible Silence


1) Opus 4; 2) Paranoimia; 3) Eye Of A Needle; 4) Legs/Slip Of The Tongue; 5) Backbeat; 6) Instruments Of Dark­ness; 7) Peter Gunn; 8) Camilla: The Old, Old Story; 9) The Chameleon's Dish/Backbeat; 10*) Peter Gunn (extended version).

Since The Art Of Noise could be easily described as electronic punks, it would have made sense if they ceased to exist as a team upon the release of their first album — which, like all true punks, they would never ever manage to beat in terms of freshness, impact, and overall fun. Instead, they tried to show the world that the hooliganish impulse that was Who's Afraid? could be transfor­med into a regular mode of living.

Which is why In Visible Silence, their stylishly titled follow-up, would, by all acounts, be destined to be far more boring. We know the formula now: randomly selected samples, used partly to set up a rhythmic groove, partly to pepper it with oink-oinks to keep the listener intrigued. And how difficult is it to select a random sample? Not difficult at all if you've spent some time in the electronic business. Much more difficult to convince people that this particular collocation of different samples bears that particular symbolic meaning that makes it «art» (of noise or whatever else).

However, In Visible Silence still places the right bet on the right factor: diversity. Where the first album combined elements of the randomizer with those of the contemporary dance floor, the fol­low-up delves into many more types of traditional musical territory, and so, if the shock value has decreased, the basic inventiveness has not. Of the three singles to herald the album, only 'Legs' sounded like an outtake from Who's Afraid? 'Paranoimia', on the other hand, rode an odd stuttery funky bass-dependent groove (the track was specially written for the AI TV character Max Headroom, still somewhat fun to watch even today), and 'Peter Gunn' — well, 'Peter Gunn' is always 'Peter Gunn'; the band even got Duane Eddy in person (probably caught in a tight cash-strapped situation) to guest on the track, reawakening public interest in his old version from 1960 and also making this one of the oddest collaborations of the decade.

In addition, 'Eye Of A Needle' is built upon the foundations of generic lounge jazz / elevator mu­zak, and 'Backbeat' features uplifting classically-oriented sections with synthesizer patterns that al­most seem lifted from The Who's Quadrophenia. Taken together, these five tracks are an impressive collective illustration of the power of tape-tampering, and prove that The Art Of Noise did have something left to prove after having broken the ground two years earlier.

Some other tracks clearly do not work so well. 'Camilla', for instance, is a rather obvious «re-write» of 'Moments In Love', going for the same type of hushed lushness, but it fails to produce a hook that would be nearly as memorable. And 'Instruments Of Darkness' relies too much on voice­overs — today, its value is nearly all historical (e. g., most of the spoken bits come from the mouth of P. W. Botha, stimulating the curious listener into doing research on the recent history of South Africa) and pretty much non-existing otherwise. But with wildly experimental albums like these, particularly from the early days of the sampling craze, inconsistency is to be expected and made mental peace with before one even puts on the record.

The way the initial punch of Who's Afraid? flows so seamlessly into the wider ambitions of Si­lence is somewhat astonishing, considering the band's fluctuations at the time: the three core members (Anne Dudley, J. J. Jeczalik, Gary Langan) had just torn themselves away from creative gurus Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, amd, consequently, away from Horn's ZTT label and away from the «faceless» artistic ideology that required them all wearing masks during promotion. Live activity was increased, too, with a whole show filmed for video at the Hammersmith Odeon — as weird as it is to see the band reproduce parts of their loops and samples in real time, they did this quite convincingly. Eventually, it would be this very tendency to restore a «live» feeling to their music that finally killed the project — nothing surprising about that — but in 1986, it all worked fine, and twenty-plus years after the fact, In Visible Silence still sounds bawdy and fresh, teach­ing us new ways to enjoy common sounds. Thumbs up.

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