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Harold Budd – In The Mist

Harold Budd
In The Mist (CD)
Darla Records DRL248 (2011)

In the Mist - Harold Budd
It was an early morning in the studio in late April, 1980, after a long night of drafting with temperamental Rapidograph 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 and 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.  The 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 an American Southwestern ambience to them. As 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.

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)


6. Three-Fingered Jack
7. Greek George
8. Black Bart


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)

Primary Equipment

  • Bel Canto CD2 with onboard DAC
  • Transcriptors Hydraulic Reference TT w/ Grado Gold
  • Garrard 401 w/ custom aluminum block plinth with
  • Thomas Schick Arm w/ Benz Ace S Cartridge
  • Bottlehead Seduction Phono Preamp w/ C4S Upgrade
  • Yamaha CT-7000 FM Tuner
  • Manley Jumbo Shrimp Preamplifier
  • Manley Mahi Mono Amps
  • ADS L-910 Studio Monitors


Readers' comments

    Excellent review. Ambient 2 by Eno & Budd is fantastic followed closely by The Pearl (my first exposure to Budd). Budd’s music, his use of tone and time and phrase, is like a masterful abstract painting.

    • Thank you, John!

    Great review. Like you, my first exposure to Harold Budd was through “The Plateaux of Mirror”. I’ve followed his work ever since, collecting many of his albums, including this one. Of his recent titles, I recommend “Bordeaux”, another collaboration with Robin Guthrie. A couple of years ago I was lucky to find a copy of “Fenceless Night: Selections for Cinema 1980-1998”, a rare promotional compilation released to solicit film soundtrack work.

    I look forward to your future reviews of this often overlooked genre of music.

    • Thank you, Robert. Yes, Bordeaux is really very nice too!

      I listen to all sorts of music, but recently there are some really wonderful works by a broad range of ambient artists, both veterans of the genre and new-comers. Recently, I have come across the works of a young musician Nicholas Szczepanik, working in Chicago. His work “Please Stop Loving Me” is a 45 minute single piece that explores chordal textures, layers, progressions and colors. I finally got a hold of a copy from France and it’s really a stunning piece. There are elements of others’ works in here (historical context), but it’s also VERY original. Excerpt here: http://soundcloud.com/nszcz/please-stop-loving-me-excerpt

      Another is M Ostermeier’s “The Rules Of Another Small World” Stark, incredible sonics & original: http://www.words-on-music.com/mostermeier/smallworld.html

      Oh lucky you, to have found a copy of Fenceless Night–rare indeed!!

      • There has been a prolific output of music in the ambient genre that generally flies below the radar of most music lovers. “Please Stop Loving Me” is quite a wonderful piece and one that reveals more depth with repeated listening. I’ll have to check out “The Rules Of Another Small World”.

        For those interested, a great source for this type of new music is: http://www.experimedia.net/
        A vast selection and great service. I’m not affiliated with them. Just a satisfied customer sharing a resource.

    Upon reading your article I looked through the “B” section of my album collection therein found The Pavilion of Dreams. Can’t remember the last time listened to this but will be spinning it tonight. Thanks.

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