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Friday, October 8, 2010

The Art Of Noise: The Seduction Of Claude Debussy


THE ART OF NOISE: THE SEDUCTION OF CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1999)

1) Il Pleure (At The Turn Of The Century); 2) Born On A Sunday; 3) Dreaming In Colour; 4) On Being Blue; 5) Con­tinued In Colour; 6) Rapt: In The Evening Air; 7) Metaforce; 8) The Holy Egoism Of Genius; 9) La Flute De Pan; 10) Metaphor On The Floor; 11) Approximate Mood Swing No. 2; 12) Pause; 13) Out Of This World (Version 138).

Perhaps The Rape Of Claude Debussy would be a more fitting title. The Art Of Noise disban­ded soon after the critical failure of Below The Waste, either seeing their noisartistic mission as complete or realizing that there was no more mission to speak of in the first place. Then, a decade later, nostalgia kicked in — and some sort of arrogant realization, on the part of several of the founding fathers, that the history of The Art Of Noise would never be enshrined if the ideas that they set out with around 1984 were not brought back to life, one more time, at the turn of the mil­lennium. For that one occasion, at least, The Art Of Noise had to be resurrected — and, if chance would have it, come up with something brilliant.

So Trevor Horn, Paul Morley, and Anne Dudley held hands once again, although Jeczalik and Langan stayed out of the picture (either they were wise enough not to tempt fate, or, perhaps, Horn and Morley never invited them in the first place, putting all the blame for the original cor­ruption of the Art of Noise aesthetics on these guys); instead, Lol Creme of 10CC/Godley & Cre­me fame was brought in full-time to work on the project.

The project's ambitious backbone was to concentrate on the life and art of Debussy, in a highly (and obviously) symbolic manner — Debussy's major art works were also created at the turn of the century, and Debussy's major art purpose was also to shock and revolutionize. Here, then, is a tribute album from pop music's biggest bunch of (self-proclaimed) hooligans to one of classical music's greatest hooligans. And just so that it all don't seem way too primitive, The Seduction must not simply sound as straightforward Debussy sampling set to Art Of Noise's usual rhythmic patterns. It must incorporate everything — from Debussy's piano work to opera to jazz to pop to techno to hip-hop, a celebration of the man's twisted legacy. Yes, there is a curve from Debussy all the way to Rakim, even if takes The Art Of Noise to prove it.

I cannot firmly state that such a concept was, or always will be, doomed to fail; as you understand, the statistical sampling is way low on this. I cannot say, either, if Claude Debussy, wherever he is at the moment, was indeed seduced by the album, or whether he loathed it (as I did when I first listened to it) or simply remained indifferent (as I am now). Quite a few people were seduced, and some not only consider its purpose fulfilled to a tee, but even think of it as the band's grandest and most unforgettable statement. But I would rather join a different school of thought here — I think the purpose of the record may be admirable, yet the way it is realized does little, if any, jus­tice to all parties, including Debussy, The Art Of Noise, and the target audience.

Debussy was, of course, a fearless modernizer, but he was also an idealist, and his impressionistic music was written for the heart of the listener, much like the impressionistic paintings of the era, however strange they might have looked to the conservative eye, were painted for the heart. In that, he succeeded admirably — no matter how different his bitonality and pentatonic experi­ments sound, even for the untrained ear, from the great composers of the XIXth century, today his output is still alarmingly «normal». But The Art Of Noise, at their best, had always preached the postmodern, sneeringly hip attitude, creating sounds that, even now, more than twenty years after their heyday, still sound sneeringly hip, blowing your mind, perhaps, but not your heart. If there is a special telephone line from Debussy to The Art Of Noise, different from the general network that connects all forms of music, I fail to see it, and The Seduction does not help me much. Other than occasional sampled sprinklings from Debussy's work, scattered here and there, The Seduc­tion bears little resemblance to the man's spirit, and pays even less respect to his legacy.

As a typical «Art Of Noise» album, it does not make a great mark, either. There is none of the band's usual sense of humour; steeped in modernistic pretentious reverence, it demands to be ta­ken seriously every step of the way — unless one finds humor in letting Rakim rap on a couple of tracks, or in track titles like 'Metaphor On The Floor' (at least you can always count on these guys to come up with a non-trivial pun). The seriousness is also punctuated by constantly annoying voi­ce­overs from John Hurt, reminding us of the enormous cultural status of Debussy — no shit, Sherlock. The band justified it by dubbing Seduction «the soundtrack to a non-existent movie about Debussy»; we can only thank them for not extending their vision that far.

The grooves, way too often, run for way too long without ha­ving too much to say — and most of them are so inobtrusive (say, a combination of soft percus­sion rolls, deep-buried repetitive piano riffs, and «heavenly» synth-orchestration) that you'd have to qualify them as «ambient» music; but since when have The Art Of Noise, one of the rudest, most hyperactive electronica-based projects of the XXth century, been reclassified as soft, inob­trusive ambient sounds to soothe the soul? And how does that tie in with the bombastic concept?

I cannot even label this as a «grandiose failure», because there is nothing grandiose about it, ex­cept for the original idea, given one of the lamest realizations in the history of grandiose original ideas. If you want Debussy, listen to Debussy; Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune kicks Trevor Horn's ass all the way to high heaven. If you want The Art Of Noise, listen to Who's Afraid?..., or 'Yebo!', at least. If you want a good mixture of both, get yourself a good piece of music soft­ware and revel all you want in your own freaky perversions. If you want to tell me something along the lines of: «Forget about Debussy, forget about the Art Of Noise, just close your eyes and enjoy the musical rapture», well, I tried — but every time I did, a faint whiff of either Debussy or the former Art Of Noise came along, telling me to drop all this shit and go listen to the real thing. In the end, I just had to give up. Thumbs down. Who knows, maybe some day someone will get it right.


Check "The Seduction Of Claude Debussy" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Seduction Of Claude Debussy" (MP3) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. Rape?? Really??! That's a disgusting thing to say and way out of line.

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  2. Apologies. I did consider Non-Consensual Intercourse With Claude Debussy for a moment, but it came out a little clumsy (although, granted, somewhat more accurate).

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  3. Perfect response. And a well-written review, I might add.

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  4. In fact Debussy is like the forefather of practically every musician of the 20th century not because he was "modernist", but for one simple reason: he simply said "to Hell with rigid rules of harmony and voice leading, this chord goes after this chord because it sounds good, and this dissonance goes here without preparation nor resolution because it sounds good". And the only people who complained were stuffy academics, because, you know what? It sounded good.

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