(This article originally appeared in Melody Maker, a UK-based music magazine, 27 October 1990).


Arabian Nights

by Tony Horkins


It would be difficult to argue that the advance in musical technology in the last few years, particularly in terms of the cost to can-do ratio, has done anything other than increase the creative possibilities open to an ever larger number of people. All the more strange, therefore, to hear Anne Dudley give the reasons for the recent demise of her partnership with JJ Jeczalik, dedicated to the exploitation of said developments under the moniker of The Art Of Noise: "It ground to a halt," she explains, "because we started off when sampling was fun, when it was fresh and new. And as the years progressed, we didn't realise we'd see it taken up with such enthusiasm by people who didn't use it creatively but kind of deconstructively. I mean, you'd start to hear records where the only good thing on the entire record was the original sample, and it began to seem like it was leading up a dead end street.

"With our history and our name, people still expected us to be a sampling band, and we felt the time had come to call a halt to it really. The whole technology thing has become so accessible. It was prohibitively expensive when we started; we used to use Trevor Horn's Fairlight, which cost about 30 or 40 grand and was never exactly going to be a common tool, and now you can spend eight hundred, nine hundred quid and everything technical about the gear is superior.

"In a way, our creativity was forced by the limitations of a machine like the Fairlight. It had a really low quality and could only record really short samples and you had to know quite a lot about what you were doing to get anything in or out of it. Once things cease to have any limitations, it's very difficult to be original. Almost because the technology had become so perfect we kind of lost our creative impulse, and because we were no longer having to overcome the peculiarities of working with it, it was hard to be original anymore."

Or course, it is not just as one half of a duo that so expensively brought us the pop kitsch of "Peter Gunn" with Duane Eddy and "Kiss" with Tom Jones that Anne Dudley is known. As an orchestral arranger, she has been employed by almost every contemporary popster with an ear for a violin. At the same time, her keyboard skills are in fairly constant demand, and outside of the Art Of Noise she has produced MOR giants like Phil Collins and The Moody Blues.

It is to orchestral composition and arrangement of instruments that she has returned in continuing her own career. The various string and wind instruments featured on her collaboration with former Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman, "Songs From The Victorious City", are not so much your usual violin, viola, cello, piccolo, flute and bassoon variety, but more of your Nai, Quanun and Kowala, traditional Egyptian variety, blended with the programmed drum and bass techniques of up to the moment decadent Western pop.

"Jaz was introduced to me by Derek Green, the director of our record company, to who he'd gone with an orchestral piece he'd written. Jaz showed the score to me and in talking to him I discovered that he had this interest in Arabic music. We were talking about Malcolm McLaren and how he was so ahead of his time in exploring African and Cuban music in the context of highly produced Western pop, and as a result we devised this plan of bringing traditional Arabic playing and Eastern pop ideals together. I didn't want it to be an album of Arabic music because I've heard plenty of that stuff and they do it well enough themselves.

"So, to put it into a more authentic vein, we thought that once we'd written all the melodies and scored them out we should actually record them in Egypt, to see what that might bring out in the music. So we planned this trip to Cairo in April.

"I would have scored and arranged it all less rigidly, had I scored it, because Art Of Noise were always semi-improvisational, but Jaz was quite rigid. He wouldn't leave a piece until he was satisfied that it was finished. Jaz is actually far more conversant with manuscript and musical notation than he is with technology and computers.

"We scored the whole thing, but left a little bit of room for soloing because we found out that the musicians all read western notation, but were also very good improvisers. the two flute players that we used, one played a Nai and the other something called a Kowala, were absolutely phenomenal musicians. They'd read anything we put before them and then we'd say could you do a solo, just over the last eight bars, and it would be brilliant every time. A lot of their mates would hang around in the studio and shout encouragement and instructions while they were playing, which was brilliant to watch.

"Arabic music is, of course, very complex. They work in quarter tones but only in certain scales, and once you start using quarter tones, ideas of harmony get very complicated, and basically a lot of it is monophonic. But the kind of Arabic music we'd had cassettes of was Arabic pop music, where they've taken our 4/4 rhythms and our drum machines and stuck them underneath their traditional melodies. Unfortunately, it tends to lack any real rhythmic drive and the actual structures are very long and wandering. Our pop music is based on a lot of repetition, but theirs doesn't have any at all. It was a definite aim that our structures would be very disciplined. They seemed to appreciate this, and in fact said that they wanted their pop music to sound like this and would we write with them. That's the best compliment you can be paid.

"We did the backing tracks in the way that one does these things these days, with the added elements of Hossam Ramzy on percussion, who played with Peter Gabriel on 'Passion'. We did the backing on C-Lab running a whole load of different machinery, MPC60, S1000, S900 and all the old synths that I like best, like the Wave 2 and the old Oberheim that Jaz has. We actually played a lot of these, rather than sequencing them, due to the lack of MIDI. This was all done in my home studio, which I had just upgraded to 24-track prior to doing this album, with a Sony/MCI 24-track machine and Sountracs 4400. The backing tracks consisted of bass, both programmed and real, drum machine, percussion and various synth lines, and Jaz playing electric violin, some kind of wooden ethnic flutes that he had and his cobra pipes.

"I'm well known for my caution and it proved very difficult for me to get any technical information about the studio in Cairo before we actually went out there. We arrived with our tapes, which we had recorded at 30 ips non Dolby, which is fairly normal. Not in Cairo though - they only work at 15 ips to save tape! Their machine was about the most basic 24-track that I had ever come across. It had never run at 30 ips, but they did think that it would though, and they ran it with DBX noise reduction. But they reassured us that it would be all right, which it was, but we couldn't know for certain until we got back and could check it.

"We booked some fairly large string sections sometimes - there was one night where we booked 16 violins, four cellos and a flute and we wanted to record them all at the same time. We couldn't understand why the engineer kept insisting that that wouldn't be a good idea and we eventually found out that they only had three mikes. We could have two mikes on the violins and one of the cellos but it would have been nice to have five or six. The desk was a Soundcraft Series 2 and a Lexicon 224 was the only effects unit. No DDLs, no compressors, gates or anything of that kind. The mikes were two U87s and an old valve job of some description.

"I make it sound really dreadful, which is very unfair because the engineer was very, very brilliant and he knew the equipment that he had, and he liaised very closely with the musical director.  He never wiped anything and he was very good with drop-ins and it was very successful, but it wasn't quite what you'd expect in this country - but then we knew it'd be different.

"For some reason our schedule meant that we had to go out there during Ramadan, which meant that the musicians were fasting during the day and didn't eat until six o'clock in the evening, so they worked through the night and slept during the day. I have to say that they were very unreliable - we'd book them to start at seven, and by nine most of them would have turned up. And if anybody suggests we might have been exploiting cheap third world labour, I'll blow my top; they were actually more expensive than British musicians. They are so well paid that most of them turn up in their Mercedes, and that's in one of the poorest cities in the world.

"We recorded the violin section together and mostly that went down onto two tracks and they'd record it one phrase at a time, which was a very slow process, but the solos went down in single takes. Everything was played with a great deal of attack and aggression - the same phrases played by European players would have been more romantic and refined.

"But it was the brilliant creativity of the soloists that knocked me out. We mixed some of it at Nomis and some of it at Air, both on SSL. The mixing was not terribly complex, but the track could have gone either very Eastern or the other way, very Western, depending on just how it was done. This was the only point of contention between Jaz and me, he veered toward it sounding more Eastern and more Western. In the end I think we struck a good balance between the two. For the single mix of 'Minarets And Memories', the intro was more commercial, with more emphasis on the drums and the bass.

"We had to use a lot of reverbs in the mix because the live room in Cairo was very small and very dry. We also did a bit of additional recording with an English orchestra and one or two things that needed finishing. We also found an Egyptian violinist living over here and he played the solo on 'Hannah'. Before we went out there we had also added some acoustic guitar (with an Armenian classical player who is a friend of Jaz's) and some Egyptian accordion playing."

So other than providing Anne with a superb opportunity to visit the Pyramids, were there any concrete musical advantages in recording the ethnic instrumentation in situ, as it were?

"If we'd played with the same musicians if they'd happen to live over here, it would not have been the same. There is so much of what people do and how they do it dependent on their cultural environment, that it couldn't have turned out the same. I think where you live, if you're a creative person, has a direct bearing on the way you perform."

Plans were afoot to actually stage the whole thing as a live event, but current events have put that particular scheme on the back burner for a while.

"We were planning to do a live concert, possibly in the very impressive Cairo Opera House. It is possible to hire a really good PA system from over the border in Israel - a lot of the musicians in Egypt play quite extensively in Israel on the quiet. But that's all on hold for now."

"Songs From The Victorious City" is labelled as "the first in a new Art Of ... series", but Anne insists there are no plans as yet for any similar type of follow up; although she is developing a very keen interest in flamenco music. . . .