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Ann Dudley: Art Of Noise

Interview | Artist By Richard Buskin
Published April 1995

Anne Dudley first came to fame as one of the shadowy figures behind the seminal Art of Noise. But she refused to be confined by the boundaries of pop, and has since exercised her considerable talents in album arranging and composing for film and TV. Richard Buskin talked to her about her musial history and forthcoming album.

A composer, musician, arranger and producer, Anne Dudley originally gained a Performer's Diploma, Bachelor of Music Degree and the B Music Prize for the highest marks in her year at the Royal College of Music, before then acquiring her Masters Degree at Kings College.

However, disliking what she viewed as the very narrow approach towards classical composition, Anne felt more drawn towards pop music. Her training had provided her with a diverse understanding of the traditional, the avant‑garde and the popular, and her fascination with the immediacy of pop's creative process led her to become a session keyboard player and arranger. At around the same time, she began the professional relationship with producer Trevor Horn that continues to this day, and it was as part of Horn's 'A Team' that she arranged tracks such as ABC's 'The Look of Love', Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Two Tribes' and Malcolm McLaren's 'Buffalo Gals' (which she also co‑wrote).

Other mid‑'80s arrangements included Wham's 'Everything She Wants', Paul McCartney's 'No More Lonely Nights', and some of the tracks on his Press To Play album, while the association with Trevor Horn also led to the founding of Art of Noise, whose pioneering, innovative use of sampling had a wide‑ranging influence that is still evident in much of today's hi‑tech music. Collaborations with Duane Eddy ('Peter Gunn'), Max Headroom ('Paranoimia') and Tom Jones ('Kiss') all made the charts, while tracks such as 'Moments In Love', 'Beat Box' and 'Crusoe' provided a kind of blueprint for the remixology age, but soon it was time for Anne Dudley to move on once again.

I never have the slightest idea as to who's going to listen to the music or enjoy the music, and so it's always a delight to me when people do like it.

Televison themes and scores for films such as Buster and The Crying Game have won her widespread acclaim, while the album Songs From the Victorious City, her 1990 collaboration with Killing Joke singer Jaz Coleman, won critical plaudits for its ambitious combination of Arabic music with Western pop.

Now comes Ancient and Modern, a project which sees Anne Dudley returning to her classical roots and exploring the English choral tradition by way of a choir and a 50‑piece orchestra, with modern embellishments of traditional hymns courtesy of state‑of‑the‑art recording technology. Anne's husband, Roger, is the engineer on all of her projects, as well as her artistic sounding‑board.

Tools Of The Trade

Composer, musician, arranger, producer; in what order do you see yourself?

"Well, that very much depends on which project I'm working on at any particular time. The balance between those categories has changed throughout the years, really. I suppose nowadays I do more composing than anything else. I think that if you can make your living as a composer you're probably the luckiest person in the world. It's got to be the best thing."

Do you prefer composing to actually making the music?

"No, I consider that to be all part of the same process. What I particularly enjoy about composing is the fact that you see it through from absolutely nothing on the sheet of paper to the finished product. I mean, I don't let go of it at any stage — I perform some of it myself, I conduct it myself, I get involved in the mixing — and it's very satisfying to do that. I think some composers feel that the studio is some sort of unknown quantity and that there will be other people getting in the way, but I don't see it like that."

So the writing is an on‑going process from, as you say, the paper to the studio, but how much do you actually complete on paper? Is it fairly detailed and does that also vary according to different projects?

"Yes, it does vary. During the past year, for example, I did the score for a TV show called Anna Lee, and we did five episodes. Now, some of them were very synth‑orientated and used a lot of samples, and so I was in the studio building up layers of stuff. Then, if I used strings or other instruments, I would use them as a sort of final coating. With Ancient and Modern, on the other hand, it's more a case of the whole thing appearing in your head and then transcribing it onto paper, because the sort of musicians that you're working with are not improvisers. They expect to see absolutely everything written down. That's not to say that there's no room for interpretation — of course there is — and at every session things get changed, but there is a fundamental difference between classical musicians and classical singers, and session keyboard players, session guitarists and session singers."

In terms of the popular music material with which you have been involved, have you tended to write in the studio?

"Yes, in more or less the same way as everybody else does. I'm sort of famous for always having a piece of manuscript paper handy. I'm very fluent in transcribing things down and I just find it a very convenient shorthand, rather than having to remember what you or somebody else did."

What does your studio setup comprise of here at home?

"We have a [40‑channel] Soundtracs Jade desk, and in terms of multitrack machines we did all of Ancient and Modern on [Alesis] Adats. So we acquired four of those, but we also have a two‑inch Sony 24‑track. It's like an old washing machine but it works fine, and it's still a very convenient format, certainly for the film and television stuff that I do. Then there are the old synthesizers, which I love dearly..."

Which ones?

"Well, my PPG Wave — it's not even a Wave II — is, I think, one of only two or three that were ever made! In those days I had so little work that I was actually able to spend some time working out how to drive it. So I actually know all about this weird synthesizer! It had really terrible presets, you see, whereas what sold later synthesizers, of course, was the presets. I still, however, love the Wave a lot, and the Minimoog — I understand that sort of analogue synthesizer. In fact, there was a very good manual with the Minimoog which provided an excellent introduction to synthesizers in general.

"Then there's my Wurlitzer electric piano, although I don't use that very much, and that's about it for the really old ones. Otherwise, I use the D70 as a master keyboard, together with a C‑Lab Notator for Atari."

How do you get on with the touch sensitivity — or lack of it — of synthesized instruments?

"I always think that synthesizers have no business being touch sensitive, actually. A piano is a piano and the touch sensitivity on a synthesizer is always going to be artificial. It's the physical thing of a piano and it's going to be somebody's interpretation of it on a synthesizer — and different on every synthesizer — which may not suit you. My Wave and my Minimoog have no touch sensitivity and it's almost like they're more real that way. Synthesizers are great but it's no good using them as pianos — they're a thing apart, different."

So do you hold onto the old gear because you actually like what it does or simply because you're used to it?

"Well, the things that I've held onto have certain features that I don't think I could recreate on anything else. I've also grown fond of them, and at the same time they have virtually no re‑sale value, so there'd really be no point in getting rid of them!"

So it's pretty much the same setup as you had in the Art of Noise days.

"Yeah, more or less."

Famous Names

How did you work with Trevor Horn when arranging the likes of Frankie, ABC and Malcolm McLaren? How did that relationship work?

"Very well! Trevor's a very inspiring producer, actually. I've never quite come across anybody who has the ability to get the best out of people like Trevor does, and I don't know what it is about him. I think it's that he's able to trust you while at the same time also pushing you to achieve a little bit more than you would if you were just sort of working on auto‑pilot. He also has a great understanding of music — he knows exactly how a chord structure works and how you can change things to make something better. He has a very acute ear.

"So, our relationship is very open and honest really. There's no sort of pretentiousness or blinding each other with science. He talks a lot... actually, he used to write me letters describing exactly what he wanted. I wish I'd kept them! He'd send me a rough mix of a Dollar track and a note saying, 'I want brass on the chorus — Earth, Wind & Fire; and strings for the verse — Barry Manilow.' It was this sort of shorthand that we'd get into. He doesn't send me letters any more, but he'll always talk in terms that I understand. He knows a great deal of music — classical, jazz and rock — so he's able to make these convenient references."

In terms of the work itself, there was quite a difference between, say, 'The Look of Love' and 'Buffalo Gals.'

"Well, it didn't feel so at the time. It just felt like a progression. I suppose what was different was that ABC had songs, or at least the basis for songs, and Malcolm didn't have anything at all. So, yes, I suppose there is quite a difference when you come to think of it.

"I wasn't involved in the process that they went through with Duck Rock, going around the world collecting various bits and bobs. I was only involved when they started putting them all together, trying to collate it into some sort of sense. Yeah, that was very much ad‑libbed in the studio, really. One never knew what was going to happen from day to day. Half way through it Malcolm lost interest and became interested in Puccini and opera — of course, that was to become his next project, but he hadn't even finished the first one yet! I remember him coming in one day with this score to 'La Boheme' or something and saying, 'I love this bit!' We were working on 'Buffalo Gals' at the time! It was really difficult and I think Trevor managed terribly well. Trying to tie [McLaren] down and get him to concentrate on anything for 10 minutes was impossible."

When it came to working with Paul McCartney, did that require a totally different approach in as much as, considering what had already taken place in his career, it was difficult to tell him what to do?


I always think that synthesizers have no business being touch sensitive, actually.

And, despite surface appearances, was he really receptive to your ideas?

"Well, I'm not really sure. He works with new musicians all the time and he is receptive to ideas. He keeps up to date with what's going on and he likes to be part of it, but, as you say, for the people who work with him I think this vast history is rather intimidating and perhaps one gets a bit nervous. Once again, however, he's a great musican and he's got a great ear. He can hear things to a very detailed extent. He's not literate at all, musically, but he sings what he wants very clearly and precisely; it's not vague at all."

But do you like that kind of work, when you're going in with someone who has such a big reputation?

"Well, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to work with McCartney. On the one hand it's intimidating but on the other hand it's stimulating."

TV & Film Work

Do you find your film and TV work to be double‑edged, in that while the pictures provide you with some sort of direction they can also be limiting to your own creativity?

"Yes, they can be. I like the work in that I don't have to start with a blank page, I have a definite job to do. It's all been discussed. Someone will say, 'I want you to heighten the emotion in this scene,' or 'I want you to add to the excitement in this scene. I think it should start approximately there, it should come down there and then it should end around about there.' So you have this crossword, if you like, that you have to fill in, but on the other hand it can be a bit frustrating if the cues are too short and you feel that you want to do something a bit more broad and sweeping. You can get a bit fed up with the sort of '1‑minute‑5‑seconds' syndrome.

"At the same time, the music's only a part of the whole sound of a film. Because once you've done it and mixed it, somebody else takes hold of it and adds sound effects, adds dialogue and sometimes cuts it about in a way that you don't want them to, and you lose your grip on it really. It's not quite the same as making a record. So, yes, it is double‑edged; it's good and it's bad."

How specific are TV producers in telling you what they want?

"Yeah, it can do. It depends on who you're working with. I work with a producer called Brian Eastman, who's produced Jeeves and Wooster, Poirot, Forever Green, Anna Lee — loads of stuff, and he's very competent at telling you what he wants. He understands music and he'll even suggest, if he doesn't like a particular chord, that you substitute a major chord in place of that diminished chord, and you think, 'Eeek!'

"Having said that, we all change our minds from time to time. I mean, we discussed Anna Lee for months and we decided that we were going to have a harmonica theme tune. So, I worked on several theme tunes, but then when we actually cut it together it didn't really work at all. I think we were probably wrong to have started on it before seeing some footage, because the actual visual look of something is something you can't glean from a script, and that should determine what style of music you'll go for.

"So, anyway, you'll get somebody like Brian who's very clear and concise with his music instructions, and then I've just finished Kavanagh QC, on which the producer was Chris Kelly. He gives pretty good instructions as well, but they're not as detailed and technically concise as Brian's. He'll sort of paint with a broad brush. I always like to sketch through things and play them to the director and the producer before we get into the studio with 20 or 30 musicians. Occasionally, when we're trying to spot the music on the episode, we'll do it here at home and I'll be playing around with keyboards, but generally I'll tend to sit in an editing room and just make notes of how something starts at 00:59:57 and finishes at 01:20:00 or whatever."

But when they first come to you and describe what the project is and what they want, will you play something then and there, even if just to convey the feel, and therefore avoid working fully on the material only for them to say that it is not what they want?

"Yes, that sort of thing happens a lot, unfortunately. I do often get a feel for something in my head as we first speak, but then at a pretty early stage, before I've got too far down the line, I'll bring them all over here and run through some stuff. For example, on The Crying Game, the first stuff I wrote was really weird and very intense, and Neil [Jordan, the writer/director] said, 'I don't think that's right. I think we need something more romantic and lightweight.' 'Oh, OK,' I said, and so then I had a slightly different starting point. This sort of thing happens."

Is that due to crossed lines or you being given a fairly broad canvas on which to sketch your own ideas?

"Well, I don't usually think it's anybody's fault. Sometimes the terms that people use to describe music are a bit too vague, and when they hear what you play they realise that you've produced exactly what they've asked for but it isn't actually what they want!"

What about when you're up against film‑makers who keep changing their minds and throwing in new ideas?

"If that happens you tend to lose the thread, and as a composer you tend to lose your patience and interest. You think, 'If this is what they want I'll do it, but I don't think it's any good' — and that's bad. And then they have these research screenings, where they ask people questions. At that stage it's music written by committee and that's always a disaster."

Ancient & Modern

Thinking about Ancient and Modern, do you feel that in the past, through your use of devices such as sampling, you were rebelling against your classical musical roots, and that you have now returned to them?

"Yes, I think it's a question of increasing confidence. If you study classical music it's very easy to be intimidated by the geniuses who have gone before and think, 'God, I'm average!' That, in turn, can actually make one very reluctant to write anything. It certainly happened to me, but because I've physically written a lot of music during the last two or three years for film and television I've actually got better at it. It's like driving a car. You learn certain techniques, certain ways of writing, and it seemed to me that this all sort of came together at the right time. I wanted to do something which was a bit more challenging, I wanted to make a record rather than just produce music for films — something that I could keep control of all the way through — and this idea had been buzzing around in my head for several years. So, I just met the right people at the right time and made the record.

"I used to love those pieces where Bach uses a hymn tune and does this wonderful counterpoint all around it. The most simple example I can give you would be 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring', which has this wonderful flowing melody and then the hymn tune comes in, the melody comes back and they all fuse together. On one of the Art of Noise albums I attempted to do the same thing: there's a piece called 'Finale', where I used a chorale tune for four clarinets and had this weaving string part around it, and that was the start of this interest that I had in using ancient melodies in a modern context.

"I started messing about with using the tune 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' and I thought, 'Well, suppose I put around it that very repetitive, percussive sort of counterpoint that people like Phillip Glass use.' Because I love that music, I love those 'minimalists', but I just wish occasionally that there'd be a tune and then I would really like it a lot better! So, I thought, well, suppose I start with what you might loosely call a minimalist texture and actually introduce a tune — in the same way that Bach introduces his tune for his contrapuntal textures — what would that be like? So I started messing about with it and I really liked the things that were happening, and so about three or four years ago I started on the first demo of 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'. From there I then found some other tunes that I really liked, and started doing the same sort of thing with them.

"Now, I didn't think it would be any good going into a record company and saying, 'What do you think about an album of hymn tunes?' But I was doing a new publishing deal earlier [in 1994] and I went into Chrysalis Music and met an A&R guy there named Steve Ferrera. He's an extraordinary chap, a classically trained percussionist who is a very good drummer as well, and when I told him about my idea he really grasped it immediately and said he'd like to hear any demos that I'd done. So I sent the demo in to him and he asked for more, and they then had the confidence to go with it."

What were your influences for the different pieces on the album?

"I suppose it's a pretty eclectic mixture. In fact, one of the tracks ['Canticles of the Sun and Moon'] even has some African percussion on it, and that actually was Steve Ferrera's idea. I'd already put in a few tom toms and he said, 'I think this rhythm ought to be more like a rolling African rhythm.' I said, 'Do you think that sort of thing is OK within a classical texture?' and he said, 'Do it!' So I did.

"This album is sort of pop and classical, even in the way that it was conceived and recorded — I did the hymn tune and then I did the percussion loop, and this percussion loop sounded so great that I wanted to use it again. Now, I had a wind band booked for a session in a week's time to do an arrangement of the Prelude, and I definitely had time on the session to do another piece. So I decided to keep this African percussion rolling around and use a very, very straight 4/4 — sort of very English — harmonisation of the tune and score it for the wind band. I wouldn't even play them the African stuff in their cans; I'd just give them a straight click. Now that really is a clash of cultures, but they played it very straight, the African rhythm is running beneath it and I must admit that I like it very, very much, because it's one of those very fresh and spontaneous things that one normally doesn't have a chance to do with classical music. It's usually very cut and dried, and organized months in advance."

Tracks such as 'Canticles of the Sun and Moon' and 'Veni Emmanuel' comprise gentle choral music complemented by the modern, whereas 'The Holly and the Ivy', for example, is more a case of the modern complemented by the ancient. How did you formulate the composition of each piece?

"Interestingly enough, the chord sequence that I used for 'The Holly and the Ivy' had originally been intended for another piece, but in the end 'The Holly and the Ivy' seemed to be a tune that was better suited. There are some pretty strange changes in the chords, and the tune of 'The Holly and the Ivy' is such a strong melody that I just let it ride over these rather weird chord changes.

"So that started from a modern viewpoint and I imposed the ancient melody on top of it, and I suppose that was my closest homage to John Adams and the minimalists. But, as you quite rightly point out, the others start from the ancient melodies and weave the counterpoint around them."

How do you formulate musical compositions in your head?

"Well, it's always difficult to discuss and actually try to analyse how you compose something. I once read a very good book by a composer called Hindemith in which he described how, when you start a piece, you do have this very strong picture in your head as to how it should be. He said that if you're outdoors, there's a thunderstorm and you see a portion of the landscape lit up by the lightning, you see it all very clearly, this sort of abnormally bright aspect, and that's how it is with a composition. You see it very clearly, very unusually bright, and then you sort of work towards the detail of getting that right.

"That's the closest I can come to describing how I compose, and that doesn't mean to say that I don't take some false turns and do a lot of crossing‑out, but generally you start and you finish and you hope that what goes on in the middle makes some sort of sense!"

Sampling & The ART Of Noise

The Art of Noise pioneered the innovative use of sampling. Do you now think it's been done to death?

"Yes. Precisely. What did we start? I like to think that we did do different things with sampling, and we had no idea really that it would become as hackneyed as it is now."

Maybe you were using it as just one device, whereas now it has become all‑dominating.

"Yes, that's right. It was just one element of the sound that we were creating."

In the beginning the use of samplers was an innovation, but do you not feel that much of the technology which is now being utilised is, in fact, cutting down on innovation? You know, people with moderate or no talent fiddling around with a sequencer until they come up with something...

"Yes, that's right. What I think has happened is that it's become much easier to do something. Everybody's son and daughter has got a synthesizer and a sequencer and everybody's instantly a 'composer'. Before the advent of these sequencers you actually had to learn to play something well. Now, it's very hard to play the guitar well and it's very hard to play the piano well, and if you spend years learning how to do it you're sort of exploring your own individuality as well. If, on the other hand, you just use a sample or a preset on the synthesizer and let a machine do all of the difficult stuff for you, where's your own personality in that? I hear so much music which is completely devoid of personality, and I think that's probably the reason. It is easy, and once you start doing it how are you going to take that backwards step to actually ask yourself, 'How do I put my own personality into the music?'"

Aside from the serious side of what you did with Art of Noise, was there also a jokey element?

"That was one of the things that I think distinguished us in our heyday. There was so much seriousness and po‑facedness about rock in those days that nobody was really having fun, but music is fun, it should be fun. It should be a lot of other things as well, but we did have a lot of in‑jokes with what we were doing. There's a lovely quote, which no one has ever really picked up on, on one of our tracks called 'Who's Afraid Of', a militaristic‑type piece. We sampled parts of the news broadcasts from when America invaded Grenada, and just in the middle there's this crazy little quote from The Theme From M.A.S.H. Nobody's ever noticed it, but it all seemed appropriate at the time. There was the sound of helicopters coming in and we said, 'What we need here is The Theme From M.A.S.H.' 'OK, stick it in. Wait for the publishers to sue us!' What have I said!... It was a tiny quote! A jazz quote, you know! Anyway, those were the things that we liked to do, to have fun."

Aside from the fun, what else do you think music should do? Inspire?

"Inspire... Challenge. It's like somebody once said; 'There would be life without music, but it wouldn't actually be worth living,' and that's how I feel about it. I mean, when you think about it, what would be the point? If music hadn't been invented it would just be like this [silence] all the time, yet, if you think about it, why should human beings have invented music? We don't need it — well, apparently we don't need it — but every culture, even primitive cultures, have discovered music and it's become very important to them. So, maybe we do need it as much as we need food and warmth and shelter."

East Meets West

Let's move onto Songs From the Victorious City, which combines at least three musical heritages: Ancient Egyptian, Islamic, Western pop. Is there a danger when you bring these together that Arabic people will just perceive the end result as being plain Western music and that Westerners, meanwhile, won't hear the Western influence and just think of it as Arabic music?

"There are examples when the combination of two very different sorts of music has really worked very, very well. For instance, Paul Simon throughout his career has taken whatever elements of whatever culture he wants and used them in his own songs, and his songs are so strong that it's always worked, whether it's been the samba music of 'Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard' or the South African sounds on Graceland.

"On the other hand, I think the problem is that once you start getting interested — as Jaz and I did — in Arabic music, it begins to sound quite normal to you. Its weirdness goes away, and so what you might have perceived as quite odd three or four months ago you now think of as quite normal. Therefore, you're not listening to it as a normal Western listener would do, and so I think that in the end the album possibly sounded a bit too Eastern as opposed to Western."

Do you think that it actually did sound too Eastern, or was that just to Western ears?

"Well, I'm led to believe that it's an extremely successful album in Egypt and Morocco and Turkey, although, of course, you can't ever tell because in those countries you sell one copy and bootleg a thousand! Anyway, I think it worked better for Eastern ears than for Western ears, and if I had my life to live again I would do it differently, but I suppose that's true with almost everything that one does.

"It was difficult to mix that album correctly, because there was lots of stuff on the tracks and if it was given just a bit more of this and a bit more of that, its whole perspective would change. So it was a tricky one that perhaps we didn't quite get right."

How do you work together with Roger in terms of recording and mixing?

"He does it, I moan at him! No, he's actually a very severe critic of mine. He doesn't let me get away with anything that's verging on the mediocre. He knows me very well, he knows when I'm coasting and he doesn't let me, so that works quite well."

That's being more than an engineer.

"Yes, well, I think that's being a partner, really!"

That's almost like being your producer.

"Yeah, well I do need somebody else. He produces the film stuff as well, because if I'm out conducting musicians I can't also be in the box, and I'd rather conduct the musicians. But you need somebody in the box who has got a perspective on it, and it's also very useful to have somebody who knows the music already, because we will have worked on the demos together. At the same time, he also brings a lot of his ideas to the mixes, things I haven't thought of, and that's very good. What I dislike about mixing is actually having to sit for three or four hours while it all comes together, because that's when I feel I lose my perspective. So, what I really like is to leave somebody to get on with it and then come in fresh and say, 'This is not right, this is not right, I really like that,' and so on. I just feel it is better that way, rather than me sitting there and losing my sense of judgement."

After Songs From the Victorious City were you tempted to continue along that road, or, in another way, have you done so with Ancient and Modern in terms of continuing to fuse different forms of music? Is that in itself a continuing theme?

"I see the work that I've done as a continuing stream, really. I don't think that I've changed particularly, but I just think that the different things that I've done are perhaps different facets of my musicality."

Is that all part of the fact that you come from a classical background and that, by your own admission, when you were studying you didn't like a lot of what was going on in the classical world and were therefore attracted to pop music?

"I'm what you call an all‑rounder. At college I was never going to be a classical pianist. I was not that good, but I was terribly good at things like keyboard harmony and sight‑reading and all of the things that the concert pianists were hopeless at. I mean, you'd ask them to improvise Happy Birthday and they wouldn't know where to start! And as for reading a chord sequence, well, forget it! So, I was always very competent at that sort of thing whilst not being particularly brilliant as a performer."

More musical but maybe not a virtuoso.

"Yes, I think that the things that I've done have been musical and perhaps not virtuosic. It's interesting what you say, though. I haven't seen it like that. A lot of what I know has been a sort of fusing of different elements, rather than a pure rock or pure jazz or pure anything. Yeah, I think you're right, but I've never seen it in those terms before."

While you feel that your work has evolved in a logical way, are you ever particularly concerned with holding onto an audience from project to project? Does that even enter your mind?

"No, it doesn't, actually. I never have the slightest idea as to who's going to listen to the music or enjoy the music, and so it's always a delight to me when people do like it. I always do it for myself."