Newts. We want to be with them. Harold is now with them. DUNCAN1890 / GETTYIMAGES.COM
Added to the rubble of the first year of the second decade of the 21st century is the death of American composer Harold Budd. Sure, he lived a long life (he was in his eighties at the time of his death), but nothing stopped him from living another year (to 85) and composing another song. COVID-19 has made him one of nearly 300,000 Americans who have lost their lives in a pandemic the US government has failed to manage.
But Harold Budd. What made him great?
In my opinion, that was his no place in music. Budd was classically trained, worked with jazz musicians, and dove into pop with the ease of a duck dipping its head in water.
His first major work is The pavilion of dreams, which was the last and by far the best of 10 albums released on Brian Eno’s label, Obscure Records. (Second, Eno’s revolutionary ambiance record, Discreet music, and the third was that of Michael Nyman Decomposition music, an album that deconstructed jazz and classical elements into discrete packages that jumped through the silence of space from moment to moment.)
Budd’s record featured some of the finest breaths of experimental jazz saxophonist Marion Brown. The record was too lush and too dreamy in the right way. And Budd’s interpretation of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” in Part Two of “Two Rooms” deserves to be heard at the opening of any religious service dedicated to the works and beatitude of Saint Coltrane.
Harold Budd also has a Proustian side that I love. It is heard on albums such as May be, a work of pieces for solo piano released only seven years ago. May be is really the second part of the equally Proustian La Bella Vista, which was recorded in Budd’s living room in 2003 by Daniel Lanois, and is part of his classically oriented work which includes the 2013 album Bandits of stature. (This album contains 14 pieces composed by Budd and performed by the Formalist Quartet).
The peculiarity of these works is also that they can be identified as minimalist, but not at all in the sense of Philip Glass. Their minimalism is not shaped by pure, industrial repetition, but rather a minimalism that retains only fragments of the luxuriance of a Claude Debussy or a Bill Evans. The albums also have what Proust called in his fictional musical piece, “Vinteuil Sonata”, a “little phrase”.
Listen to “Voile d’Orphée (Cy Twombly)”.
But Budd also made pop music. This is clearly the case with his 1988 The White Arcades. The opening track from this album, “The White Arcades”, could easily have been inserted into Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”.
He also collaborated with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins (in fact, the two only released a new record last week) and he composed a superb soundtrack for the 2004 film by Gregg Araki. Mysterious skin.
But one of my favorite Budd albums, Bedroom, cannot be easily defined. I really don’t know what it is. Neither fish nor poultry. I can only describe it as, every moment, what Budd is feeling. One track on the album is funky, another a bit futuristic, another recalls the light that appears after a very long night. My favorite track on the album, however, is “The Candied Room”. It is the song of the newts wanting you to leave wherever you are and join them and stay with them forever on their diaphanous island of happiness. I think Budd is over there with those mermaids now.