The revolution will be digitised

Art Of Noise | Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
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The Independent Culture

When you go to see a band like Art of Noise (and I use the word loosely, because there aren't any other bands "like" Art of Noise) part of the appeal is in witnessing, in the flesh, just a clawhammer's throw away, an array of famous achievers on stage.

Collectively and individually, the members, ex-members (JJ Jeczalik and Gary Langan) and guests (Duane Eddy, Tom Jones) of Art of Noise have been responsible for some of the more memorable moments of Eighties pop, etching their distinctive scratchy samples on a generation's audio memory.

You can see an award-winning film composer (Anne Dudley), a hit songwriter and ground-breaking video-maker (Lol Creme) and one of the most successful and influential record producers ever (Trevor Horn), together with a bopping singer (Amanda Boyd), a TV presenter (Paul Morley) plus an American drummer/percussionist and a couple of expert knob-twiddlers to make the sound as close as possible to The Seduction of Claude Debussy and its remixed successor, The Reduction of Claude Debussy.

You don't go to see a great live act, with virtuosity or humour or visuals and you don't expect the unexpected because the art of surprise was in the handful of tracks that emerged around 1983-84 when ZTT, and Horn's other productions, set the agenda. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Malcolm McLaren's Supreme Team, Propaganda, Seal and Grace Jones's "Slave to the Rhythm", were the products of endless recording and mixing, with huge attention to detail and adventurous use and abuse of every new device that audio science could throw up. Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart" ended up sounding more like Art of Noise than Yes.

But the best-loved Art of Noise tracks were never so carefully coiffed. They sounded like a bunch of friends in the studio after hours, an engineer, a programmer and a keyboard player, who together with Horn and Morley, digitally jammed something greater than the sum of its parts - "obsessive moments" and funky "development noise", to employ John White's useful terms.

Though the eight-bit sampling of the once-revolutionary Fairlight CMI (replete with eight-inch floppies) soon felt as old-school as a Farfisa, the graininess and energy of those first samples (rarely identified, though "Into Battle" is dedicated to Buddy Rich) gave Art of Noise a unique selling point, which they managed to sustain with tracks such as "Beatbox", "Close to the Edit" and "Moments in Love", which was that decade's "I'm Not In Love".

Maybe you can't do that on stage anymore. Art Of Noise never played live, though a Horn-less, Morley-less version toured in the late 1980s. And at the Empire, the old hits - even Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" - were the songs where the musicians had least to do. Paul Morley, to his credit, has perfected the difficult trick of leaping into the air at exactly the right moment to hit the ground on the next downbeat.

And he ranted at length the lines that were spoken by John Hurt on the Debussy album.

Further drama was provided by the sight of Morley slamming a hammer into his bandaged hand and earnest pogo-ing from the rather wonderful Boyd, whose solo encore, accompanied by Dudley, was my favourite moment.