Independent Music Reviews & Music Label

Harold Budd – In The Mist – CD

Darla DRL248 – 2011 http://darla.com/index.php

Track Listing: The Whispers: 1) Haru Spring, 2) The Whispers, 3) The Startled, 4) The Foundry (For Mika Vainio), 5) The Art of Mirrors (after Derek Jarman) Gunfighters: 6) Three-Fingered Jack, 7) Greek George, 8) Black Bart Shadows: 9) Come Back To Me In Dreams, 10) Parallel Night, 11) Sun at 6 Windows, 12) The Panther of Small Favors, 13) Mars and the Artist (after Cy Twombly)

It was an early morning in the studio in late April, 1980 after a long night of drafting with temperamental Rapidiograph pens on mylar.  Black turned to indigo, then to purple, red-orange and finally a golden sun was in through the high studio windows.  It was the first light of the morning and “First Light” from Harold Budd & Brian Eno’s “Ambient 2 – The Plateaux of Mirror” was playing on a stereo belonging to my studio-mate Bill.  This was my introduction to the first of many Harold Budd (born 1936) solo and collaborative works.  I knew Eno’s own work, his collaborations with Robert Fripp and the glam-rock days of Roxy Music.  Budd and Eno’s work together was music of sonorous ambience and while stark, it was broadly spatial and filled our studio as did the rising sun.  Later that morning I went to the college record shop and bought a copy of the LP (and I still have it).  Eno and Budd collaborated again in 1984 on the Editions EG album, “The Pearl”.

Prior to “Ambient 2”, Budd’s early compositions were collected on the 1978 Editions EG release “The Pavilion of Dreams”.  Since then Budd has released nearly forty solo and collaborative works with Robin Guthrie, Elizabeth Fraser, Simon Raymonde, Clive Wright, Eraldo Bernocchi, Hector Lazou, Andy Partridge, Zeitgeist and Daniel Lanois among others.

In 2004, with the release of the double CD “Avalon Sutra/As Long As I Can Hold My Breath” (on Samadhi Sound) it was rumored that Budd had retired, having started his career as a composer in the 1960s and then a teacher of music composition at the California Institute of the Arts from 1970 to 1976.  Curiously, in 2005, his retirement seemed short-lived and work surfaced again: collaborations with Eraldo Bernocchi (“Fragments from the Inside”, recorded live for an art installation) and Robin Guthrie (formerly of the Cocteau Twins), a soundtrack for the film “Mysterious Skin”.  Since then, Budd has been quite prolific with more than twelve recordings released in the last six years.

Budd’s instrumentations vary from stark piano, electronically treated piano, processed synthesizers to string quartets and spoken voice.  One piano piece “The Room” from the 1988 release “The White Arcades” was later expanded to an entire album of “rooms” in 2000, entitled “The Room”.  There is also an album of two Budd improvised piano sessions, produced by Daniel Lanois in 2003 that was secretly recorded at Lanois’ house and released as “La Bella Vista”.  In 2007, Budd released solo and separate collaborative works with guitarists Clive Wright & Robin Guthrie on Darla Records.

“In The Mist” is Budd’s first solo work since 2004.  It is divided into three sections: The Whispers, Gunfighters and Shadows.  Whispers: Starts with the first five notes of “Haru Spring”, the reality of an untreated piano and gradually each piece merges into a dream-state with the subsequent treated piano pieces.  In these, time and sound are gently altered.  The sensation (for me) is that of being in a half-waking state.  There on the edge and lingering in between, suspended.  Budd has a unique way of paring mood, sound, space and atmosphere down to the barest of essentials, yet his pieces never bear the cliché sound or rhythms of so many other artists labeled as producing ambient music.

Gunfighters: These pieces are darker in tone, have more identifiable melodic structures and seem more about telling stories, as the titles might suggest.  They do seem to have American southwestern ambience to them.  Like with Whispers, the opening piece uses the piano as the primary instrument with the latter two pieces having a more altered sound (with electronics and light synthetic percussion).  The pieces have a cinematic quality, with imagined, yet tangible visuals.  The last piece “Black Bart” is marginally sinister, with a pulsing drone throughout and punctuated with untreated piano.

Shadows: Is a departure from the other two sections and a string quartet is used exclusively.  Though the textures and harmonies are broader, the mood is somber and to my ears (and eyes) the colors are varying shades of gray and the feeling is poignant yet abstract.  “Sun At 6 Windows” appears to be about passing time, but here there is no altered sound or bending, it’s straight with a mood that is reflective and sentimental.

I know at some point, it will be inevitable that Harold Budd will retire, but it is my hope that it is still far into the future.  I revisit Harold Budd’s works of the last thirty years often, especially during times where quiet reflection is needed.  I recommend this beautiful and simply packaged CD and also urge a journey to discover Budd’s earlier works, both solo and collaborative; they are enriching on many levels.

Budd Discography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Budd

Appeared in the December, 2011 Hifi Zine: http://www.hifizine.com/2011/12/harold-budd-in-the-mist/

One response

  1. Excellent review to which I’ll append a hearty “Me too!”

    In the Mist is playing right now while I sit outside in the early morning reading your review. You touched upon something interesting about Budd’s music. I find that it is best suited for mornings. When some people think of ambient or minimalist music they think of meager and miserly sounds. Budd’s compositions, on the other hand, are expansive and enveloping, the notes opening vast musical vistas like the rising sun warms and illuminates the intricacies of the coming day.

    January 29, 2012 at 1:39 pm

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