The Art of Noise’s “Close (to the Edit)” remains one of the more memorable, award-winning music videos of the 80s

By on June 7, 2016

In Night Flight’s “Take Off to Directors in Music Video” — now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — one of the highlighted directors is Polish-born filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczyński, whose incredible award-winning video for The Art of Noise’s “Close (to the Edit)” was one of the more memorable videos of 1984, using a technique called “video scratching.”

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Rybczyński — known to his friends and colleagues as “Zbig” — had studied cinematography at the world-renowned Lodz Film School, but when martial law was declared in Poland, he managed to arrange a job contract that enabled him to leave for Vienna, where he applied for political asylum.

In 1983, he learned that his short film Tango — which also appears in this “Take Off to Directors in Music Video” episode — had won the 1982 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. That same year, Rybczyński and his family emigrated to the U.S., ending up in the New York City area.

For “Close (to the Edit),” Rybczyński found the perfect urban wasteland film location, a section of disused elevated railway that ran through a meatpacking district, between 450-456 West 14th Street (you can also briefly see a stretch it during the opening montage sequence of Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan).

It’s now a 16-block long elevated urban parkway called “The High Line” (or, “High Line Park”). Some of the video’s success is no doubt because of the young girl, dressed up like a cute little punkette. She was possibly the daughter of a friend of the video’s director, named Sylwia.

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“Close (to the Edit)” begins with Trevor Horn, whose influence on pop music in the 80s was so pervasive that some even called him “The Man Who Invented the Eighties.”

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Horn had originally been in the Buggles, and co-wrote their #1 UK hit, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” notable as the first music video to be played on MTV. Horn had also briefly been a member of Yes — for seven months in late 1980/early ’81 — and appears on their album Drama.

He left Yes to concentrate on his production work,  and then ended up as an original member of The Art of Noise, in a somewhat roundabout way, as the group essentially came together as a production team working with a discarded drum riff sample that Horn had recorded for Yes.

Two of Horn’s colleagues– sound engineer/producer Gary Langan, and J.J. Jeczalik, a computer programmer who had assisted electronic music pioneer Richard James Burgess — sampled the riff on a Fairlight C.M.I. sampler, using the then-new Page R sequencer, building it into a repetitive riff. They also began working with keyboardist Anne Dudley, Horn’s orchestral arranger, who collaborated on melody lines.

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It was actually Paul Morley —  a fifth member of the group — who came up their name, The Art of Noises, translating a term used in Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo’s early 20th century art manifesto (Jeczalik recommended that they drop the “s” from Noises). Morley was an ex-NME journalist, and had been working with Langan and Trevor Horn’s wife, Jill Sinclair, to set up a new label for Horn’s productions.

In his new role, Morley wrote liner notes and worked on artwork (with photographer Anton Corbijn), but his main role was to act as their spokesman, as they wanted to remain faceless and work behind the scenes, but realized they needed someone to be the face of the group (which caused occasional problems, like when Morley accepted an award on their behalf as “Best Black Act of 1984″).

Dudley later said she felt the early 80s was dominated by “powerful haircuts like Culture Club,” and none of them looked the part and so decided to hide their identity behind masks, and behind Morley.

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Horn eventually played a demo for Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, who then gave some of the tracks to deejays to spin in New York City clubs, and seeing the response, he signed The Art of Noise as the first act for his new ZTT imprint that Island.

The Art of Noise’s ZTT/Island EP debut, Beat Box, came out  in September 1983, and immediately climbed the dance charts in the U.S.. A second EP, called Beat Box (Diversions One and Two), was issued in March 1984, in the UK, and an edited version of one of the tracks, “(Diversion Two),” was issued in the U.S. in early June ’84, now called “Close (to the Edit),” its title inspired by Yes’s epic title track to their Close to the Edge album.

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The track begins with a short spoken word vocal by Gary Langan’s girlfriend, Karen Clayton, and it contains multiple samples, including part of the track “Leave It” from Yes’s”comeback” album 90125, which Horn produced in 1983.

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It also sampled Jeczalik’s neighbor’s car, a VW Golf, stalling and restarting, and featured a sample of the Andrew Sisters’ “Beer Barrel Polka.” The “Hey!” sample — provided by Camilla Pilkington-Smyth — would later be sampled by both the Prodigy (“Firestarter”) and Christina Aguilera (“Back in the Day).

“Close (to the Edit)” proved to be a huge hit for Art of Noise, reaching #8 in the UK’s Singles Chart. An extended version appeared on Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise?

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Incidentally, Art of Noise weren’t too happy Rybczyński’s video, and Morley, in an interview at the time, said this:

“So one of the reasons we tend to hide behind masks or not appear at all is because it opens up more possibilities how Art of Noise can be presented. Sometimes you had video art directors get excited about how they were going to present Art of Noise, and in that particular case, he interpreted it as a strange young girl with Huey Lewis & The News. Half of it was fun and half of it was slightly sad.”

Rybczyński’s video, despite the band’s own opinion of it, was mostly positive, except in New Zealand, where it was banned because it seemed to encourage violence towards children. It also won two MTV Video Music Awards (VMA’s) — Most Experimental Video and Best Editing — in 1985, and today is considered one of the best of examples of a technique of video editing commonly called “video scratching.”

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • http://uglyradio.wordpress.com/ Richard Vachel Lindsay

    I also loved Rybczyński’s video for German hard-rock, proto industrial band Belfegore. He’s worthy of a retrospective, no?

  • Almostred

    Rybczyński’s Oscar night in 1983 is well-documented and hilarious (now). Presenter Kristy McNichol butchered his name during the nominations and his speech was bizarrely translated, then cut off by the orchestra. Finally, he stepped outside for a smoke afterwards and was refused re-entry by overzealous security due to his sneakers and shabby clothes. Unable to express himself in English, he got into a physical altercation and spent the night in jail. The awards presentation can be seen online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3BDAvM1FqY

  • Bill Cesavice

    Dude, Eat a snickers. You’re not yourself when you are hungry.