It’s really getting old—this obsession that so many electronica artists have with sampling and sucking the life out of every blasted beat and rhyme ever spun or rapped by a hip-hop act in the last three decades. Thankfully, electronic music pioneers, Art of Noise are back after a much-too-long-delay to both remind us of what was interesting about electronic music in the first place and to blaze a trail towards fresh and richer frontiers.
Starting from the premise that modern music didn’t really begin in 1955 with the wiggling of Elvis’ hips, Art of Noise look to seminal French composer Claude Debussy as a focal point of a new sensibility and broader dynamic range for 20th century music. The group describes The Seduction of Claude Debussy as “the soundtrack to a film that wasn’t made about the life of Claude Debussy.” Perhaps that explains the narrative strength of the work, the artistic cohesion that binds the seemingly disparate elements of drum’n'bass beats, spoken words bits, rapping vocals, orchestral interludes, and operatic singing into a massively ambitious statement.
Playing like a tone poem or maybe a postmodern symphony in 12 movements, the record begins with mesmerizing narration by actor John Hurt, who anchors the whole piece with brief, almost-cinematic factoids on Debussy’s life throughout the 57-minute excursion. I wouldn’t be surprised if this work gets saddled with accusations of pretension, given the barrier bashing blend of electronica, pop, and classical music. But if anyone can pull it off and push electronica in new directions, it’s the endlessly inventive trio of Trevor Horn, Paul Morley, and Anne Dudley, who thankfully reunited and have given us one of the year’s finest albums.