A collaboration with The Find Mag, discovering the story behind an iconic sample.
The catalogue of English avant-garde synthpop group The Art Of Noise is quite ambiguous. On the one hand, they had Grammy Award-winning production for Yes’ 90125 (including the earworm-slash-guilty pleasure Owner of a Lonely Heart) and an official cover of Prince’s Kiss featuring Tom Jones, topping charts around the world. On the other hand they have been at the forefront of truly cutting-edge music and pioneering methods of digital sampling, which includes their essential debut album Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise?
The group’s name and concept sprouted from L’arte dei Rumori (The Art of Noises), a futurist manifesto by Luigi Russolo. He was an Italian composer, Futurist painter and builder of experimental music instruments, who was well ahead of his time—we’re talking circa 1913. With the 87-page manifesto (which was in fact a letter to a friend; eat that, social media-era pen pals!), he connected the Second Industrial Revolution to the way new industrial sounds, sonics and energies could enable futurist musicians to shift away from classical compositions and instrumentation, by “reproducing [sounds] with appropriate mechanisms.” However, at that time Russolo’s own concerts with noise-generating devices and his ‘noise orchestra’ led to heavy objection and even violence from the audience. I guess that you can say that they were afraid of the art of noise.
Fast-forward to 1983. After the rise of synthesizers from the late 60s onwards, as well as the first use of drum machines, it was actually something else that laid the groundwork for The Art Of Noise – the Fairlight CMI. Introduced in 1979, the ‘Computer Musical Instrument’ enabled users to play short digital audio recordings through a keyboard. The Art Of Noise weren’t the first to release music using the Fairlight CMI—credits go to Kate Bush with Never for Ever—but they mastered the 8-bit workstation to craft full compositions with it, disrupting the traditional way of working as a band.
‘Moments in Love’ is the cornerstone of their digital sampling based work. So much so, that 18 different versions were released during the 80s—excluding unofficial remixes. Originally released on The Art of Noise’s 1983 EP Into Battle with the Art of Noise, and their subsequent 1984 album Who’s Afraid of The Art Of Noise, the record is a 10-minute dreamy soundscape with dominant synth-leads as well as an angelic voice shimmering through the background. It slowly becomes more structured with the addition of a slow-paced drum pattern.
The main synthy melody on “Moments in Love” was made with a sample from the Fairlight CMI called ARR1, one of its signature sounds. But there’s a major plot twist here – it’s not a synth, it’s actually a human voice. In 1980, a blues singer named Sarah was asked to sing in “a synthy kind of way”, looped with a variety of settings on the Fairlight CMI. As the original creator, Tom Stewart, openly shares on a message board: “After a few hours in the non-air-conditioned studio we must have re-sampled 100 times before finally capturing The Perfect Sample/Loop”, he says. “It sounded fantastic. Sarah was a little hoarse by then—resulting in a better sound perhaps—but still cheerful.”
Fast-forward again to 2007. J Dilla’s posthumous Jay Love Japan album sees daylight, including the track “First Time” featuring Slum Village OG member Baatin (RIP) and The Ruckazoid (on 2006’s Japan-only release known as “Fantasy” featuring Pacific Division, before the tracklist was changed due to legalities for the official global release). A synth-heavy electronic track sampling “Moments in Love”, which would’ve been very fitting for the Dillatronic series a decade later.
Dilla’s sampling of the melodic The Art Of Noise track is in a way symbolic: a synth sample which turns out to be a girl named Sarah singing, used by the producer who made instrumental samples sound human and warm like no one has ever done before.