Almost Hits: The Art of Noise, “Close (to the Edit)” (1984)

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Before Chicago finally joined the cable age, we were stuck with half-hour shows that played music videos. I vividly recall coming home after school and turning on Music Video 50, a short-lived daily program that aired mostly Top 40 artists.

In the midst of typical ’80s fare — Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Madonna, and Culture Club — emerged an incredibly weird video to an incredibly unique song. Years later, the Art of Noise’s “Close (to the Edit)” has become known as a groundbreaking track that used relatively new technology: sampling.

While not a huge hit, “Close (to the Edit)” has earned Art of Noise a place in hip hop history. In addition, the song has a fascinating history — in other words, its existence was enabled by a piece of technology and the group Yes.

In 1979, the Fairlight CMI (computer musical instrument) made its debut. This digital sampling synthesizer enabled musicians to play short digital sound recordings through this piano-like keyboard. Its built-in processor also allowed the user to adjust pitch and timbre to suit his/her needs. British artist/produced Trevor Horn (also known for the hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” with his group the Buggles) became one of the first to purchase the new technology, and began exploring how to compose entire songs with its Page R Sequencer, which enabled the user to sequence the already recorded samples.

Along with his production team — JJ Jeczalik, programmer; Gary Lanagan, engineer; and keyboardist/string arranger Anne Dudley — Horn implemented the Fairlight CMI while helming albums such as ABC’s The Lexicon of Love, Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome. But it was the group’s work on Yes’ hit 1983 album 90125 that took the Fairlight CMI to another level.


While the quartet worked on the album, Jeczalik and Lanagan took a discarded cadence played by Yes drummer Alan White, processed it through the synthesizer, and sequenced it using the Page R Sequencer software. According to the Art of Noise’s website, this incident marked the first time that an entire drum riff had been sampled using this new technology. Jaczalik and Lanagan then added non-musical sounds to the mix, and presented the final track to Horn. Liking what he heard, Horn created the “Red and Blue Mix” of the “Owner of a Lonely Heart” single.

After completing production on 90125, Horn brought back Dudley to develop melodies and recruited ex-NME journalist Paul Morley to craft the group’s image. Morley suggested the band moniker “the Art of Noises,” a name he drew from an English translation of L’arte Dei Rumori, a manifest by Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo. Jaczalik suggested dropping the final “s,” and the Art of Noise was officially born.

The quartet completed their debut EP, Into Battle with the Art of Noise, and released it in September 1983. Its unique sound collages and completely different approach to beats appealed to breakdancers, who adopted “Beat Box” as their unofficial anthem. Due to popular demand, the group issued two more remixes of the single for the US market (titled “Diversions One and Two”) in early 1984. A remix of “Diversion Two,” retitled “Close (to the Edit),” appeared in June 1984, accompanied by an unusually postmodern video. A young girl in full punk regalia led three tuxedo-wearing musicians in destroying traditional instruments.

According to the Art of Noise site, some TV programmers regarded the video as too violent, obviously missing the point: the Art of Noise, a faceless act, was creating music their way. They were shattering conventions and rearranging them as an entirely new sound collage. In this sense, they might be called the forerunners of another “faceless” group: Gorillaz.

“Close (to the Edit)” succeeds on numerous levels: its killer beat pounds throughout, accented by the sound of a car starting up. Next, Horn’s bass injects some funk into the proceedings. To further contrast “high/low” culture, or traditional/digital music, a clearly upper-crust woman reads the line: “To be in England in the summertime, with my love, close to the edge.” In a 2010 interview with Langan, he revealed the voice to be Camilla Pilkington-Smyth, who also contributed the “hey!” exclamations throughout the track.

The sampling and heavy rhythm track proved years ahead of its time, as sampling techniques quickly grew easier and less expensive. Even Art of Noise itself was sampled: the “hey!” graces the Prodigy’s 1996 hit “Firestarter.”

The Art of Noise released another groundbreaking single, the hypnotic “Moments in Love,” but the original lineup split by 1985. Featuring different members, the group continued recording, this time recruiting guest artists such as Tom Jones and even the ’80s performer Max Headroom. By then the Art of Noise veered dangerously toward a novelty act, providing modern spins on the Peter Gunn and Dragnet themes.

Despite their later work, the Art of Noise deserves a place in modern music history. While “Close (to the Edit)” may not have been a tremendous hit — it peaked at number 102 on the U.S. charts — it remains noteworthy for its innovative use of sampling technology. The band took Kraftwerk’s early work and injected it with warmth and R&B sensibility, showing that modern technology could still contain soul.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at
Kit O'Toole
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