"In a way, we're very keen to point out that this isn't a Debussy record. Debussy's used as a metaphor
for the Art of Noise, for an artist, for a musician, for a dreamer...the whole process of making a work in
itself. Hopefully, people won't go on too much about Debussy as such but will see that we've used him
as a way in to tell a story about certain things. In a way, we've done a soundtrack to that idea of what
it is to make something out of nothing."
- Paul Morley / Art of Noise
In this 1999 offering by the Art of Noise, we're presented with a bizarre and dynamic admixture of Debussy soundscapes, operatic soprano, techno and breakbeat rhythm programming, rapping and dramatic monologue. Considering the various references scattered throughout the work as well as the copious liner notes, this production certainly could qualify as exhibiting a heady dose of intellectualism.
Somewhat necessarily pretentious with a heavy dose of the avant-garde and more than occasional moments of brilliant production work, this is unmistakably the Art of Noise -- the works of Debussy are used almost seamlessly with a plethora of material following the underlying chord structures they establish. The album is self-described by AoN as "The soundtrack to a film that wasn't made about the life of Claude Debussy."
The album was not meant to serve as an introduction to Debussy nor was it intended to be a popular retreading of his more-common works (if such a thing were possible). Critics' reactions to this work by the established group known for being avant-garde and somewhat experimentalist in their approach to musici were extremely varied, generally on one or the other extreme.
The opinions of some critics notwithstanding, it seems that creating the album required a great deal of research and effort. Art of Noise worked with a classically-trained opera singer, Sally Bradshaw, recording various vocal works by Debussy, and ended up using only a small portion of those recordings on the final pieces. They employed unmodified piano parts taken directly from recordings of his works or played from the scores - there is no original piano work on the entire album.
To say the least, "The Seduction of Claude Debussy" is complex, musically dense and multilayered, and eclectic in all respects. The technical production and sound engineering is fantastic. Underlying thematic material containing the unmistakable sounds of Debussy is smoothly layered with impressive drum'n'bass programming, a powerful dramatic monologue giving a biographical account of the eccentric and brilliant composer (who is not the theme of this production), operatic arias, synthesizers and various other instrumentation. It's an extremely ambitious work, certainly, and the work which went into creating this should be obvious to even the casual listener upon listening, whether or not it appeals musically and stylistically to them.
(warning! subjectivity and opinion follow):
As mentioned above, this is complex stuff - but not difficult in the sense of atonalities, deep ambience, or minimalistic sonic experimentation. I find it very surreal, and several of the works are absolutely masterful in their employment of Debussy's work as a foundation to create the unique sound of The Art of Noise. There are moments of exquisite musicality and attention to detail, but also weaker moments and maybe even a bit of "filler" material - and the high points for me are not viscerally emotional experiences so much as of moments of
serene and elevated, ethereal contemplation...
Dreaming in Colour, On Being Blue and The Holy Egoism of Genius are personal favorites. I'm not particularly fond of the more extensive "rap" tracks. Though they're well done, rap is one of the few genres of music that I don't care a great deal about and which I rarely enjoy. But the rap is somewhat interesting and almost humorous, since it is poetry which is being rapped!
"Debussy didn't believe in God.
He didn't belive in the establishment.
He didn't believe in bourgouise conventionalism.
He didn't believe in Beethoven or Wagner.
He believed... in Debussy"
- from the monologue of "The Holy Egoism of Genius"
The Seduction of Claude Debussy (1999)
01. 08:02 Il Pleure (At the Turn of the Century)
02. 04:40 Born on a Sunday
03. 06:43 Dreaming in Colour
04. 04:58 On Being Blue
05. 01:20 Continued in Colour
06. 04:21 Rapt: In the Evening Air
07. 03:44 Metaforce
08. 07:56 Holy Egoism of Genius
09. 02:46 Flute de Pan
10. 02:06 Metaphor on the Floor
11. 02:14 Approximate Mood Swing No. 2
12. 02:30 Pause
13. 05:28 Out of This World (Version 138)
Art of Noise, Rakim (rap vocals), John Hurt (monologue), Sally Bradshaw (operatic vocals), Donna Lewis (pop vocals)
go here for the complete credits.
samples and French text "extracted and distracted literally, metaphorically, romantically, and symbolically" from the works of:
sources and further reading:
(an extensive interview with AoN about the influences and intentions they had for the album.)