Teaser: I’m working on a review of “Winter Garden”, the new instrumental CD by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie on the RareNoiseRecords label.
In a recent broadcast of the American Public Media program “On Being”, Krista Tippett was talking with the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue who noted, “Music is what language would love to be if it could.” It’s a fascinating interview on what O’Donohue explored throughout his short life (he died at the age of 52 in 2008) and called “the invisible world” and ties to spirituality, mysticism, beauty, and ties to his Irish homeland and history.
While I don’t necessarily think written or spoken language is inferior to music, instrumental works can evoke instantaneous memories or emotions that are often indescribable. Certainly, spoken words or sung lyrics can elevate, or make more familiar, the emotion of a piece, but I have always been fascinated by instrumental music, from early to modern as well as current forms (either as pure electronic or combined acoustic, found-sampled sound coupled with electronic music).
I often return to familiar musicians for new work and to revisit their earlier works. Many long-established artists continue to explore and reinvent themselves. Brian Eno and his many collaborators is an example of such an artist. With the demise of so many traditional record shops (especially in rural and suburban areas), I have found it increasingly difficult to find new music. Time was when I could walk into my local record shop and “Bob” who I had known for years knew my tastes in music, but also knew I was open for new explorations. If I was on the hunt for something new, “Bob” always had great ideas, but now he’s gone.
It has taken me some time, but slowly, I am finding new sources for music (in addition to word-of-mouth from friends), whether it’s direct from independent music labels, music related websites, podcasts or referrals from musicians. I have also found the (almost instant) crowd-sourcing aspect of Twitter to be very helpful for finding legal sources for artist’s works when some outlets are out of stock.
Music comes from unlikely sources too. Recently I was listening to an NPR Heavy Metal (not my usual haunt) genre podcast from NPR’s All Songs Considered, and NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich paused between Metal songs to refer to a young electronic/drone musician from the Chicago area named, Nicholas Szczepanik. The piece that Lars sampled was a short excerpt from NS’s mid-2011 release “Please Stop Loving Me”, a single 48 minute track, a portion of which is here:
Certainly, some people will react differently, but my reaction to “PSLM” was instantaneous and visceral. The layering of the sound, the reaching for something and when almost at the point of contact the music shifts slightly to another layered emotion, feeling or color. Yet, I found the piece incredibly relaxing and comforting despite its density. It took me a few tries to find a CD of the work, but thanks to that instant crowd-sourcing at Twitter, I found a copy in France from: http://www.bassesfrequences.org/ Jerome, the owner of the website, could not have gotten me the CD much faster. “PSLM” is a really remarkable work. I look forward to Nicholas’s forthcoming releases.
Nicholas has two LP releases coming soon (that’s right folks, vinyl) : “The Truth of Transience” available at: http://www.isounderscore.com/ and “We Make Life Sad”, soon to be available at: http://www.mewelesite.be/ (and it looks like the LP will be pressed with clear vinyl).
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/