Harold Budd - Biography
Harold Budd is a modern American ambient composer who hates the term ambient. He is also called an avant-garde composer, but prides himself on the simple beauty of his works and bristles at being called avant-garde. He composes pieces mainly for piano and keyboards, but only owns a small Casio and a vast collection of shakers and percussion instruments. Though his pieces could be considered modern classical works, he often chooses to collaborate with rock musicians. Harold Budd is a quiet force unto himself, composing music of stark beauty unlike anyone else.
Budd was born in Los Angeles, California on May 24, 1936 to a Yankee salesman father and a much younger, under-educated mother who hailed from the rural hills of West Virginia. The young Harold was sent off to live with family friends in the Mojave Desert when his father died at age 14, and many critics have pointed to that experience as having formed his compositional style later in life, but Budd himself has dismissed this theory. After a few years living in the desert, Budd moved back to Los Angeles to live with his alcoholic mother and brother in what had become in the years of Budd's absence, a crowed ghetto. Feeling isolated, Harold did not excel in school, and instead turned inward, devoting his time to art and music.
The first music that really made an impression on Budd was the cool jazz that was emerging on the West Coast at the time, especially Stan Getz and Lennie Tristano. He gravitated towards playing drums and joined several local jazz combos, but was forced to take a job at a local aircraft plant to help support his family. Desperate to escape a life of wage-slave drudgery, Budd enrolled at Los Angeles Community College and took courses in architecture and harmony. Budd was thrilled with his harmony course and devoured works by Webern, Schoenberg and Krenek and even studied Renaissance harmonic theory. Budd would have continued his dual life of wage earner and music student, but the draft took him away to the Army where he conducted the Army band at Ford Ord and played drums in an Army jazz band that briefly included future avant-garde jazz saxophonist, Albert Ayler.
His Army hitch over, Budd returned to Southern California and resumed his music studies, composing his first work in 1962. Budd continued on and received a degree in musical composition from USC in 1966. He was under the influence of the pervading school of minimalism that was popular at the time, and studied the contemporary works of such peers as LaMonte Young, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Two of his more notable works during this period included two drone-based pieces, “Coeur d'Orr” and “The Oak of the Golden Dreams.” By 1970, after composing a long piece for solo gong called “Lirio,” Budd made the decision he had gone as far as he could with minimalist composition and retired temporarily to teach full-time at the California Institute of the Arts.
After a two-year break, Budd began creating a series of four works that were a blend of his past experiences in both avant-garde composition and jazz. He collectively called these works The Pavilion Of Dreams. The pieces were a conscious attempt to distance himself from what he considered the dour, emotionless corner that minimalism had painted itself into. The works were slow, languid stretches of color and beauty, not ashamed of artifice or emotion. Much of the music was also played by Budd himself, as he preferred his limited skills to the stiffness inherent in many classical interpreters. The British composer and musician, Gavin Briars heard a tape of Budd's new compositions while working in San Francisco. Briars passed the tape on to his friend, Brian Eno, when he got back to England, knowing that Eno was looking for musicians for the Obscure label he was putting together. Harold Budd had no idea who Brian Eno was when Eno contacted him in 1976, wanting him to record his four pieces for an album release.
Budd resigned his teaching position and concentrated on recording with Eno. Budd and Eno were a great match-- Eno was impressed with Budd's economical composition style, and Budd was impressed with Eno's skill in using the recording studio as compositional tool in itself. The Pavilion Of Dreams (EG) was released in 1978, followed by the Eno/Budd collaborations The Plateaux Of Mirror (EG) in 1980 and The Pearl (EG) in 1984. All three albums utilized Eno's knack for building atmospheric electronic soundbeds behind Budd's delicately beautiful piano melodies. Budd also released two albums on his own Cantil imprint during this period of time, The Serpent (In Quicksilver) in 1981 and Abandoned Cities in 1984. Both releases were notable for Budd's collaboration with guitar players on several pieces, most remarkably his collaboration with pedal steel player Chas Smith for the piece “Afar” on The Serpent.
One guitar player who was paying attention to the work Harold Budd was doing was the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, and he and his bandmates invited Budd to work on some material together that resulted in two albums, Budd's own Lovely Thunder (EG) and the collaboration of Budd, Guthrie, Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser and Cocteau Twins bassist/keyboardist Simon Raymonde, called The Moon And The Melodies (4AD), both released in 1986. The Moon And The Melodies was a seamless fusion of all of the parties involved, the Cocteaus favoring many of the same floating, cavernous atmospherics that Budd had become known for in his work with Eno. Budd would work again with Guthrie two more times in the coming years, producing the soundtrack for the Gregg Araki film Mysterious Skin (Commotion) in 2005 and the dual releases After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks (both Darla) in 2007.
By the 90s and early 2000s, Budd was in his 50’s but seemed to be making up for lost time, releasing a whole host of solo and collaborative albums. He released the solo album The White Arcades (Opal) in 1988; a collaboration with former Be Bop Deluxe guitarist Bill Nelson By The Dawn's Early Light (Opal) in 1991 (an album that also featured Budd reading passages of his own poetry over his compositions); an album featuring Budd and the work of two other ambient composers, Daniel Lentz and Ruben Garcia, called Music For 3 Pianos (1992 Hannibal); a collaboration with XTC singer/guitarist Andy Partridge called Through The Hill (Gyroscope) in 1994; and a 1995 album with French composer and producer Hector Zazou called Glyph (Made To Measure). Budd continued on with two more solo albums, Luxa (All Saints) in 1996 and The Room (Atlantic) in 2000. Budd also continued working with other mainly rock musicians, including former Public Image Ltd. bassist Jah Wobble for Jah Wobble's Solaris-Live In Concert (30 Hertz) released in 2002, and former Ultravox leader John Foxx on the album Translucence/Drift Music (Edsel) in 2003.
In 2004, Budd signed to his friend David Sylvian's label Samadhi Sound, and released the album Avalon Sutra. The press release that accompanied the album contained a surprise. It stated: “Avalon Sutra brings to a conclusion thirty years of sustained musical activity.” Asked for his reasons, Budd declared only that he felt he had said what he had to say. With characteristic humility, he concluded, “I don't mind disappearing!” It appeared, at the time, that Budd was serious about walking away from his music career. He stated later on, in an interview with Akira Rabelais, that “I was sincere about it but if I had been more conscious of my real feelings and had explored my inner sanctum more I would have seen that it was a preposterous thing to do...I was dreadfully lonely; I was living alone in the desert and had been for too long, really, and I felt that isolation very severely after a while, and it's probably a version of self-pity, I'm sorry to say, to have publicly said something like that, but there it is, I said it, turns out I wasn't telling the truth-- I didn't know it at the time.”
Harold Budd released a collaboration album with Italian producer/musician Eraldo Bernocchi in 2005 called Music For 'Fragments From The Inside' (Sub Rosa) as well as the previously mentioned Mysterious Skin soundtrack with Robin Guthrie. In early 2007, Samadhi Sound released a live album of an improvised performance Budd gave in December of the previous year in tribute to his late friend and associate teacher James Tenney. The album is called Perhaps and is available only as a digital download from the Samadhi Sound website.