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Soundtrack of her life

Anne Dudley, formerly of Art of Noise and now the BBCs first composer in association, has lots of room in her CD collection for classical, pop and jazz.

Classical music and pop are, frequently, unhappy bedfellows. There have been notable successes, though. What child growing up in the early 1980s didnt thrill to Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds, or John Williams scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

“I love John Williams,” says Anne Dudley, the musician, composer and arranger who has recently been made the BBCs first Composer in Association. “Hes the best soundtrack composer there is. Minority Report is a fantastic piece of music, Catch Me If You Can is bright and jazzy, and Harry Potter is full of the most beautiful sounds. If he werent writing for film, he would be taken seriously. Its snobbery: hes working in a commercial field and hes prolific, so people are suspicious of him.”

Dudley occupies a similar space to Williams. She is also a prolific soundtrack writer — she won an Oscar for The Full Monty and is currently working with Stephen Fry on Bright Young Things, an adaptation of Evelyn Waughs novel Vile Bodies — and she has arranged for Pulp and the Pet Shop Boys. She was trained at the Royal College of Music, made her name with Art of Noise, the 1980s band who pioneered the use of sampling, and has just released Seriously Chilled, an album of chill-out anthems played by the BBC Concert Orchestra that puts the pop-classical crossover to the test. Dudley appears to give the pop idiom as much respect as the classical one she was trained in.

“Chill-out music is selling by the bucket-load, and the BBC wanted to do a concert of it,” says Dudley, sitting by a grand piano in the music room of her home in Hertfordshire. “As is my wont, I said no first of all, then I went into HMV and saw walls of this stuff, and was interested to see that Morricone and Mozart would be next to Moby. So I thought that it was actually quite a good idea. I knew that I didnt want to do classical music with a beat, so I looked at it the other way round: taking music by someone like Groove Armada and transcribing it to orchestra. And most of this music has never been played by musicians before because it has been put together on computer.”

Dudleys daughter Angela comes in with a plate of chocolate biscuits, and her mum has rumbled her plan of using hospitality as an excuse to open the packet and have a few herself. Angela likes Busted and Avril Lavigne.

“Shes not interested in Britney Spears, who she thinks is too girly,” says Dudley, who has also arranged for pure pop acts outfits S Club 7 and Boyzone. “A lot of pop music is bland, and made perfect through technology. Its like baby food — there are no lumps. The surprising exception is Will Young, who is a sweetheart and quite eccentric really. Hes entirely serious about what he does and he has the best voice Ive ever heard. So now I wont hear anything against him.”

Unsurprisingly, Dudleys CD collection consists of a lot of classical music and pop that has borrowed from classical, such as the early disco sound of mid-1970s Philadelphia. “I grew up in a household where there was no pop music, so when I discovered it as a teenager, it was very exciting. Philadelphia soul was perfect for me because it had these wonderful arrangements with great beats. I had an album called The Sound of Philadelphia which I wore out, and I liked the way Barry White would combine orchestra with rich, jazzy chords.”

Classically trained musicians often talk about the liberation offered by jazz, where what is written is merely a starting point for the imagination. As a pianist, Dudley turned to the jazz keyboardists like Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. “When I learnt piano you played every note as it was written; that approach was ingrained. And when I was 16 I found a jazz piano teacher who taught me exactly how jazz related to classical, and how to use a structural education to underlie flights of fancy. It felt like freedom. Im cursed — or blessed — with perfect pitch, so I tend to transcribe music as it plays and that reduces the pleasure of listening to it. But when I do, Ill turn to jazz now, especially classic Miles Davis albums like Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain.”

Art of Noise were one of the first bands to bring classical and the avant garde into pop, and they aimed to emulate the musique concrète composers of the 1950s, who cut up tape to create new sequences, with a machine called the Fairlight, one of the first samplers. “Trevor Horn bought this instrument, which was incredibly expensive, very difficult to operate and sounded dreadful. So thats where our inspiration came from. It could only sample a second or two of music, and I couldnt see its potential at all. Nobody was more surprised than me when our project turned out to be quite commercial.”

Sampling technology has come a long way since Art of Noise. “Now anyone can do anything, cant they?” says Dudley, flicking through CDs of the Estonian composer Arvo Part, Ibiza chill-out compilations, the American composer John Adams and Will Young. “I worked with Malcom McLaren, who was pioneering in the sense that he couldnt sing, write music, or do anything really, but he had all these great ideas. Thats common now, because of computers. I like Lemon Jelly, but theyre not musicians at all. Since Ive now been playing for about, my God, 40 years, I have to conclude that it wasnt like that in my day.”