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  • Thom Holmes

Music from the Dark–In Memory of Harold Budd

Book: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music



I was greatly saddened to hear about the passing on December 8 of composer Harold Budd. He died of Covid-19. He was 84. This episode is dedicated to his music. I have selected a collection of works that I hope will fairly represent his huge output as a composer.


Budd's music is represented by some 30 albums of material spanning 1970 to 2020. Of these, he partnered with Brian Eno on perhaps only four, but these set him on a path to more fully explore his composing and playing futher on down the road. Budd’s early work in the late sixties and early 1970s was an outcropping of the American avant garde. His work in the late seventies and early eighties established Budd as a foremost ambient composer, though he didn’t like that term. The music asked for a new way of listening, invoking a resilient strength that many found soothing or meditative. Record companies weren’t so sure. I talked with Budd about this and he told me:


Ambient music was a completely obscure and oblique idea. I remember taking that into record companies, and them saying, “Nobody wants to listen to music that doesn’t have a beat, doesn’t have a melody, doesn’t have a singer, doesn’t have words.” All they could see were all the things it didn’t have. Well, it turns out they were wrong: people’s tastes have very much drifted in that direction, and people are very able to handle long pieces of music with or without structures and key chord changes.[1]


“Ambient” is not a term Budd used much to describe his work and he strongly disagrees with people who find something “meditative” or “healing” about this music. He remarked that the trouble with most “new age” and “meditative” music was that “it had absolutely no evil in it.”[2] His music comes from a darker corner of the human psyche:


I find that it comes from a rather unpeaceful sort of place. I think an element of danger and a kind of unsettled quality. Unresolved issues. I don’t find it meditative at all, just the opposite. If that were meditation, I for one would give it up immediately.[3]


The haunting afterimages of sound and beautifully engineered works that comprise The Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl were all improvised. For these works, Budd would work things out on the keyboard and Eno added his treatments, delays, and mutational processes to the music in real time.


We will listen to a lot of Harold Budd’s music in this episode. I have organized it chronologically from 1970 through 2013, with the exception of the closing track which is the shorter version of As Long As I Can Hold My Breath, from 2004.

Along the way we will hear some moments of Budd describing his approach to music or reciting a poem from one of his larger works.


And the Archive Mix contains yet two more examples of Budd’s music, played at the same time.


The playlist for this episode described each of the works and lists contributors.


Playlist

1. Harold Budd, “Style Is,” an interview excerpt (with music) (cassette, 1983 Les Disques Du Crépuscule). Part of a longer production by Wim Mertens for the New Musical Festival in Chicago, July 1982, featuring music and interviews (by Mertens). The festival featured performances by Peter Gordon, Jon Gibson, Meredith Monk, Jill Kroesen, Glenn Branca and others. The recording was dedicated to John Cage, and intended to be released on his 70th birthday, 1982.


2. Harold Budd, “Noyo” (1970 unreleased), excerpt. From a late-night electronic music mix produced by the editorial staff of Source Magazine--Music of the Avant Garde. Harold Budd, voice, Buchla Modular synthesizer, jazz ensemble (uncredited).


3. Harold Budd, “The Oak of The Golden Dreams” (1971 Advance), for Buchla modular synthesizer from the California Institute of the Arts, based on the Balinese 'Slendro' scale, a five-note scale and the older of the two most common scales used in Indonesian gamelan music.


4. Harold Budd, “The Plateaux Of Mirror” from Ambient 2 (The Plateaux Of Mirror) (1980 Editions EG). Composed by Harold Budd and Brian Eno; acoustic and electric piano, Harold Budd; other instruments and treatments, produced by Brian Eno.


5. Harold Budd, “The Serpent (In Quicksilver)” from The Serpent (In Quicksilver) (1981 Cantil). Bass, Eugene Bowen; Electric Piano [Yamaha Electric Piano], Grand Piano [Bosendorfer], Organ [Hammond Organ] and producer, Harold Budd.


6. Harold Budd, “On Performing,” an interview excerpt (with music) (cassette, 1983 Les Disques Du Crépuscule).


7. Harold Budd, “A Stream with Bright Fish” from The Pearl (1984 Editions EG). Composed by Harold Budd and Brian Eno. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.


8. Harold Budd, “Against the Sky” from The Pearl (1984 Editions EG). Composed by Harold Budd and Brian Eno. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.


9. Harold Budd, “Abandoned Cities” excerpt from Abandoned Cities (1984 Cantil). Composed, performed and produced by Harold Budd. Guitar Eugene Bowen.


10. Harold Budd, “Flowered Knife Shadows (For Simon Raymonde)” from Lovely Thunder (1986 Editions EG). Composed and performed by Harold Budd. Produced by Harold Budd and Michael Hoenig.


11. Harold Budd, “The White Arcades” from The White Arcades (1988 Opal). Composed, performed and produced by Harold Budd


12. Harold Budd, “Advent” from By The Dawn's Early Light (1991 Opal). Piano, Organ [Hammond B3], Synthesizer, Vocals, Artwork, Written-By [Poems], Composed By, Producer, Harold Budd; Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bill Nelson; Harp, Susan Allen; Steel Guitar, BJ Cole; Viola, Mabel Wong.


13. Harold Budd, “Paul McCarthy” from Luxa (1996 All Saints). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd.


14. Harold Budd, “The Room of Ancillary Dreams” from The Room (2000 Atlantic). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd.


15. Harold Budd, “Arabesque 3” from Avalon Sutra (2004 Samadhisound). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd. Composer and sopranino saxophone, Jon Gibson.


16. Harold Budd, “It’s Steeper Near the Roses (for David Sylvian)” from Avalon Sutra (2004 Samadhisound). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd. Cello,Marston Smith; Viola, James Acevedo; Violins, James Sitterly and Peter Kent.


17. Harold Budd, “Jane 1” from Jane 1-11 (2014 Darla). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd.


18. Harold Budd, “As Long as I can Hold My Breath” from Avalon Sutra (2004 Samadhisound). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd.


Archive Mix (two tracks played at the same time).

  • Harold Budd, “Jane 11” from Jane 1-11 (2014 Darla). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd.

  • Harold Budd, “As Long as I can Hold My Breath” (excerpt of longer version) from Avalon Sutra (2004 Samadhisound). Composer, performer, producer, Harold Budd.

[1] Harold Budd, interview with Thom Holmes, February 19, 2001. [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid.

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