A Look at Harold Budd
By Wesley Baucom, Chief Editor
One of the music world’s biggest influences on ambient and avante-garde music, Harold Budd, passed away on December 8th of last year due to complications with COVID-19. He’s not popular. None of his music would ever hit the top-twenty charts, but the legacy he’s left behind in his respective genre is noteworthy. You could even say some of his music leans on the weirder side---there’s typically no drums, a bouncing bass, or even a catchy rhythm, but his music glides on contained and sparse melodies that chime when struck by his piano. It’s some of the most relieving music, his atmospheres swirl within themselves, making them wholly singular. He’s an explorer of calm, a pioneer who sought out what music could be, and brought it back for people to listen to and enjoy.
In his younger years in the forties and fifties, he was influenced by Jazz music, first playing the drums in a band. Even when he was drafted into the US Military, he kept with music and played in a band within the service. After his time in the armed forces, he went on to study music composition at California State University, Northridge, and after he obtained his B.A. he furthered his education by obtaining higher degrees at the University of Southern California. He eventually went on to teach composition at the California Institute of the Arts.
He was definitely a learned man in music, and this led him to pursue recording with various artists. His first recording, The Oak of the Golden Dreams, made with fellow composer Richard Maxfield, and released in 1970, showcases early use of synthesizers. His tracks on the album are droning---in a good way, with his trademark spontaneous piano playing accompanying an intense wall of electronic noise. It was an experiment of sorts, but with this, he helped show what synthesizers could do in the realm of the abstract.
Budd didn’t really come into his own until his many collaborations with another famous composer, Brian Eno. Budd went on to say “I owe Eno everything…” in an interview with L.A. Record. They produced a lot of music together, but one of the ones that sticks out the most, The Pearl, solidifies Budd’s vision of sound entirely. Sparse melodies, swirling background textures, even light tones of stretched out bass parts, all weave together to form a tapestry only heard in dreams. It’s masterful stuff, and leaves the listener with the deepest sense of longing and nostalgia.
Another famous and fruitful collaboration for Budd came from working with the Scottish Dream-Pop trio, The Cocteau Twins, who were already famous for their ethereal music. Them working together was originally intended for a BBC documentary, where two artists who didn’t know each other would come together and make an album. Unfortunately the funding for the documentary fell through and the film has been lost in time, but at the end of it, the artists made a finished record and released the music on an album titled The Moon and the Melodies, which of course sounds wonderful. Budd also formed a close friendship with The Cocteau Twins’ guitarist, Robin Guthrie, and this relationship blossomed into many dreamy records.
Budd’s music has been often described as spacey, at times sparse, and dense in others. His harmonies, often bred out of improvisation, give a great sense of melancholy---a deep wanting that everyone feels---often for people, places, and situations that makes you desire something that never quite existed. That being said, it’s wonderful music to study to. His landscape of sound provides an escape for the mind, setting it at ease, preparing it to do something more.
Budd’s latest and last release, Another Flower, made in collaboration with his friend Robin Guthrie, is another example of a certain divine ubiquitousness that’s hard to place, but is easily one of his finest works to date. I highly recommend the album. In fact, if you’re looking for something to relax to, study with, or even just get lost in, give Budd’s work and life’s passion a listen---your ears and mind won’t regret it.