The 1980’s was a decade of discoveries for me. I had built a small foundation from the music I was introduced to through my parents and relatives, but as a devoted subscriber to Rolling Stone and exploring album and concert reviews, I also explored the classified section, where one was able to not only read up on records not covered in the rest of the mag, but order catalogs featuring a vast world of music I had not been familiar with before. The Rolling Stone classified section was all about taking chances, and sometimes it was the best part of the magazine. I was introduced to MTV during the 1981 holiday season, and with that came an introduction to a lot of British music that didn’t have anything to do with The Police. Madness, Culture Club, Haircut 100, Simple Minds, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Fixx, and countless others were flooding my ears and eyes, and I loved most of it. Even if I didn’t like it, I kept on listening and watching. The focus on what was considered underground music from the UK and Europe also did the same for underground music in the United States, or what was called college rock. At the same time, there was a small and steady stream of music coming out of New York City that was funky and danceable but had people speaking rhythmically over it, opposed to singing. I had become a huge fan of this music that didn’t quite have a proper name, but would become known as rap music. I loved the lyrics, the way a person rhymed, and I enjoyed what was being done with the music and production. Some of it was very funky, while some of it sounded like shades of disco, and at the time I was probably a kid who shunned disco because everyone else said they hated it too. It was a learning process that had to do with the realization that one style of dance music is the same as another style of dance music, but you go through the motions and it would take years before I understood why there shouldn’t be differences.
There was a bit of blending going on when this rap music would mix it up with electro. Add to that the awareness of Kraftwerk to a younger generation who were learning about breakdancing and pop locking, and suddenly Kraftwerk became the theme music for our video arcade adventures. It was the music of the future, but it was happening “now”. We felt like moving like robots because of what we played and what we heard. There was a time when Kraftwerk’s music seemed more exciting because of the strength of the instrumentation, specifically the drums and percussion. I loved Kraftwerk’s snappy electronic drums, where it hit hard but electronically. This sounded incredible, and nothing like the real instrumentation happening in rap music. Jonzun Crew’s “Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)” seemed like the next wave of music, and we all had the moves too, partly because Pac-Man was the video game for years. Then to have songs like Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and Malcolm McLaren & The World Famous Supreme Team’s “Buffalo Gals” out in 1982, and they felt like massive anthems for kids of my generation, or at least I wanted them to be “our” anthems. They were my anthems because the rockin’ did not stop. Ever.
Up until the beginning of fall, 1983 belonged to The Police with their fifth and what would become their final album, Synchronicity (A&M). I hadn’t been aware that there was a small record label in London that had released an EP of new music by a new group on September 26th, but it was the day that the world of music would change forever. It would soon change my world and my life, but it didn’t happen in September. It had to have been sometime in December, when the music world was blessed with the return of progressive rock band Yes and their album, 90125 (Atco). “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” had a very distinct sound that was significantly different from “Roundabout”, “Long Distance Runaround”, and “Starship Trooper”, it seemed more modern, more electronic, more computerized and synthesized, more now. One day, sometime in December 1983, I was watching MTV like I always did and there was a video with random images of people walking on a sidewalk, wearing different types of clothes. A police officer was shown, there were cars on the street, and then what started out as an early morning video turned into the evening, and people were at nightclubs. I only remembered random images from it back then, but what struck me was the sound of this song, where the drums was solid and loud, distorted but strong. I had never quite heard drums like this before in my life, but it wasn’t Kraftwerk’s electronic drums. It sounded real but… nah, it can’t be. The keyboard sounds were human voices, a lot of “bub bub bub” and “doh doh doh”, along with “aaaaah, aaaaah, aaaaaah”, as if it was some choir from an unknown land. Then horns come into the mix, but it’s not a horn section like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, or Osibisa. I didn’t quite understand what was going on, my mind couldn’t comprehend it. I sat there, stunned by every little “doh doh”, “bub bub bub, bub oh”, and it wasn’t some kind of secret code being passed on to me, it felt like it, as if that song was meant for me and only me, but maybe others like me who understood this code. The song ends, and a man is seen on the screen, speaking but nothing is heard. All you hear are the words “The Art Of Noise”. The MTV fonts are shown, and it states that the group is Art Of Noise, the album it is from is called Into Battle With The Art Of Noise, and it was on Island. I don’t remember if Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT) was listed at the bottom, but without a VCR in our house, all I had was the memory of what I just heard. I had to rush to the record store to find these Art Of Noise guys. I asked my mom for a few dollars and we went to Tower Records in Honolulu on Ke’eaumoku Street. I went directly into the cassettes (as tapes were the format of choice) and went to A. There it was. Into Battle With The Art Of Noise. I had to wait until I got home to play the tape. Before my dad died, he had cassette deck, the Panasonic RX-5180. He had a friend who worked at the Panasonic warehouse, and this was considered to be one of the hot AM/FM radio//cassette decks not only because it was small and compact, but it also had a unique audio option. Not only could you switch recordings from stereo to mono and back, but it also had an “ambiance” option, where one was able to hear a broader mix of the audio coming through. Regardless, this cassette deck would become mine where I made some of my own custom mixes, and it was with a cassette deck just like this one that I popped in Into Battle. The first intro song begins, sligtly softer than what came next, but it was like a welcome mat, telling me to sit back, relax, and get ready for your head to be blown. Then the beats came in. My world would never be the same.
“bub (bub bub) bub, doh (bub) bub, doh (bub) bub, doh (bub)
bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)”
I had no idea what this was, but the idea that someone was cutting or chopping up the human voice excited me, I had never heard it done this way. I understood what it meant to make homemade tape loops or repeat yourself on cassette to talk like a broken robot, but this was done on time with precision. *On time*. It was mindblowing. Then came the part of the song that, to my ears, it had sounded like it was saying “don’t (give up)”. I then realized that the “give up” was actually the word “money” backwards, so in truth it was “yenom”. This must’ve meant that the “doh” was actually “dough”, as in the slang used for money. Was this song about money? Was it anti-money? Was this just a random song not about money, in the hopes of making money? Unknown.
This would then lead to a section of the song where there were horn stabs. It was just one horn passage repeated over and over, sometimes an octave higher, sometimes a few keys away from the original. How in the world was this done, my 13 year old mind thought. This would lead to a section where voices were cut up and to my ears it sounded as if they were saying “seventy…five days, for seventy…five days (please)” What were these days, and why 75 of them? Or did it come from some recording outtakes, and if so, whose? Was this some studio chatter before an artist was about to record a song? Could these words have been backwards, just as “money” was reversed to create “yenom”? Unknown.
The next sequence would feature a lot of “bub bub bub, bub bo”‘s along with vocals that sounded like a church choir, and with the drums in the background, one couldn’t help but dance. In fact, it seemed less like a background thing and more like the forefront, as if the drums were the center of the song, and why didn’t all my music sound like this? This then leads to a brief part of the song where someone sounds like their hand is on a turntable, slowly moving a record around to cue themselves for a scratch, and then the scratch happens. Was this a clue, a puzzle piece? Why was that scratch there? Unknown.
Up next was where a car ignition was played. Let me say this again for emphasis. A car ignition was played. My dad loved cars, but I had never heard him start a car to where it sounded this funky. Then the horns come back with more stabs, and arranged differently, it sounded special, sounded mighty, sounded majestic, sounded… heavenly> Not only, but as if there were limits in the sky and you wanted to go beyond. That’s what those horns sounded like to me. This in itself would lead to the editing of what sounded like applause, perhaps a sporting event. One would hear a click, then cheering and claps. What was this, where did it come from? Unknown, and unknown.
The “bub” and “boh” sequence returned, arranged slightly different again for what would be the third “verse”, but now there was the inclusion of stereophonic “ch, ch”‘s, used as if it was a bit of Latin percussion, such as the guiro. The effect was beautiful, and if my eyes and ears weren’t on the point of orgasm, the estrus if you will, I don’t know what could have done it. The next passage begins and… what is this sound? It sounds like water bubbling. If everything was thrown into this song, could this be the kitchen sink as well? It *is* a kitchen sink, isn’t it? Unknown.
In the music video, it was an edited version that ran for 2:55. The version on Into Battle was 4:48, so hearing this for the first time was something that I could not described, yet I liked it. I played the song again and again. As I had bought the U.S. cassette on Island, Side 1 also had the luxury of “Beat Box” repeating at the end of the side, so once I made it past the song the first time, I could play it again. Was this done merely to take up time on the cassette? Unknown.
“Donna” was sexy in its own way, a mid-tempo mixture of keyboards and synthesizes and what sounded like another human voice. It was that trigger, that human vocal “stab’ that would become a prominent sound for the remainder of the 80’s. I loved the melodies that were going on, both the primary “aaah” and the other melodies during the section half. Then came an orchestral burst from an unknown source, which didn’t fit in with the “aaah”‘s but the interruption of sound made it sound as if it was meant to be there. The orchestral stabs fit in, partly as if a classical recording was meant to be in there, or something cartoonish, like experiencing a Looney Tunes moment. The 1:44 song was perfection.
The aura of the song lowers itself in volume, and The Andrews Sisters return. The phrase “in the army now” is cut to its essence:
This is then followed by a man moaning “aaaah.”
What’s going on here? The female “now”‘s are interacting with the male “aaaah”, are these sounds in heat? Are they tickling each other’s fancy? Are they turning the lights down, are they lighting a candle to get romantic? I believe this is beyond romantic. Oh my goodness. OH MY GOODNESS. YES, OH MY… OH YES. IT’S… IT’S… IT’S THE ORGASM!!! CUE THE HARPS!
The remainder of “Moments In Love” is the afterglow and finally, the vocal chops of “moments” and “in love” unite and become one. Melody, noise, and rhythm are having an orgy and no one wants to stop. There isn’t a need to stop. Don’t stop. After the 10 minute mark, the word “love” is played in two different keys, signaling the inevitable end of the song and for me with my cassette, the end of the Into Battle EP.
All of this would make me into an obsessed fan of the label that provided the music, Zang Tuum Tumb. Better known under its initials, ZTT created something I loved, the idea of someone creating music though real instrumentation and found/borrowed sounds was something I wanted to do. I wanted to create something with that feel, that timing, that extravagance. I would eventually discover other records on ZTT: Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propaganda, along with Anne Pigalle, Andrew Poppy, and das psych oh rangers. I had to have every record ZTT ever released: the 12″ singles, the alternate 12″ singles, the cassingles, the picture disc, the alternate to the alternates, the promos: everything. For four years, I made an attempt to get everything, all due to the power of what I felt Horn presented on the artists he worked with or approved of.
As I got into buying the records, I also loved the way the records were packaged, designed, and more importantly, how they were examined and promoted. He was the non-musical member of Art Of Noise and yet it is was his liner notes that arguably had a bigger impact on me than the music itself. As a teenager, I not only wanted to be a producer, but a music artist, perhaps making the kind of music groups like Art Of Noise and Kraftwerk were making. As hip-hop music became more exciting in the late 80’s, it was the sounds of the Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, and the Dust Brothers that made it official: I have to be an artist/producer. Yet the writing found on all of ZTT’s records were interesting because it didn’t read like the kind of notes I found myself loving on the Hawaiian and jazz records I grew up listening to and sitting with. The writing were adventures in itself, sometimes taking me outside of the listening experience and leading me elsewhere. It would sometimes feature references I didn’t understand but would want to do research on so I could figure things out. There were random quotes from people I weren’t familiar with, and yet somehow I felt they were pieces of a puzzle, however abstract. When I bought records on ZTT, each side of the record had its own dedicated phrase. One side may say “A To-Day”, the other would be “B To-Morrow” (as shown on Propaganda’s “Dr. Mabuse” 45). Or the “Two Tribes” 45, where the A-side said “cowboys and indians”, the flip said “doctors and nurses”. Sometimes it made sense, where one could not exist without the other, while others they were just goofy riddles that probably mattered only to the person who created it. I was not raised on the New Musical Express, although I would become aware of his work with them through his work during the ZTT era. While some music journalists may site Lester Bangs or Kurt Loder was influences, it was Paul Morley who moved me to become a journalist, who made me realize the concept of words, interpretation, and (re-)definition was something I enjoyed. I may not have been a wizard with puzzles, but writing was and remains my game of choice. It would be years later before I read Morley’s fantastic book, Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, where I learned his puzzle playing, associations, and curiosities have been something that had become a part of my life as well. In the early 1980’s, I wanted to be the Hawaiian Trevor Horn. Yet I ended up being someone influenced by the most silent member of Art Of Noise, yet the most vocal.
Without Into Battle, I do not know if I’d have the same optimism in my teen that I did. My teenage years involved a wealth of music and discoveries. My love of hard rock and heavy metal lead me to thrash, speed, and death metal. My admiration of those styles finally opened me to punk and hardcore, and everything underground. I had already been a fan of rap music and in time, the quality of rap music improved, especially when Def Jam came to be. I found myself going to thrift stores to look for weird records, and i would take a chance on a lot of people and labels I hadn’t heard of. I became a fan of jazz through my dad, but I started to go much deeper with access to my public library, where I borrowed My Favorite Things by John Coltrane and Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock. I had to have more. I wanted all rap music to sound as hard as the beats in an Art Of Noise song, and I felt LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” was the first step in making that happen, which also had vocal stabs scratched into it, not unlike an AoN song.
Into Battle was about beauty, construction, sound, and presence. It was electronic, or at least a new electronic, where sounds could be replayed in four-or-so increments at the time. These sounds had to be triggered live in the studio, and it was done with quality (or at least a 1980’s quality). Yet some of those sounds were very much of the past, and how far into the past, I didn’t know and wouldn’t know until much later. Perhaps it was in the air or that Art Of Noise’s entry into my life was meant to be. I still remember playing “Beat Box” in my old house in Honolulu and my next door neighbor running over to ask me “what is that?” I had Art Of Noise, and he didn’t but he ran over because he had heard the song somewhere else too. It was that important to him, a neighbor whom I would do sound system-style battles with our record players, even if that lead to trying to sync up the same Donna Summer record. We were, in turn, making our own noise.
Whatever it was, the music of Art Of Noise and Into Battle worked on me and I still get excited hearing it from start to finish, just as I did in late 1983. As I had stated a few months ago, The Police’s Synchronicity album was the last music my dad bought for me before he died. I was going through the motions and found myself wondering where the rest of my life would lead me. I had started the 8th grade, and there were already plans for my family to move to the mainland. It was those last months of 1983 that lead to the type of musical discoveries that remain in my mind forever, the type that made me realize that I could perhaps do “this” too, even though I didn’t know how (nor have the means) to do “this”, whatever I felt “this” was. Into Battle opened the door towards greater doors, uncertain of what I’m looking for but knowing that when I find it, I’ll be either satisfied or looking for more doors to open. To the entire Zang Tuum Tumb empire: thank you for the keys and creating a brick road full of Fairlights, Synclaviers, and elephants that are big. I continue to walk on my own path, always in honor of your presence. One day I will be in England, in the summertime or whatever time, with my love, close to the edge, at the very heart of the city.