Harold Budd / May 24th, 1936 – December 8, 2020

I came to the music of Harold Budd late. I knew his name, pretty much solely because he`d collaborated with the Cocteau Twins. But I hadn’t heard the results, the LP, The Moon And The Melodies. 

It wasn’t until I interviewed Steve Cobby, 5 or 6 years ago, that I searched Harold`s music out. Steve had worked with Harold, remixed him, performed with him and called him a friend. Steve told me how he`d been a fan since finding Balthus Bemused By Colour, on 1988`s Music For Films III, and how a chance commission in the mid-90s brought him into contact with the musician he`d always admired. 

Steve, The Solid Doctor, one half of Fila Brazillia, said that Harold`s 1991 album, By The Dawn’s Early Light, was in his all-time favourite list. So that’s really where my discovery of the beauty of Budd began. Eighteen short tracks of treated chamber arrangements and beat poetry. Cinematic in places, and in part itself a rumination on the wonder of moving pictures, the silver screen. The music, romantic, nostalgic, studies for strings, piano, and harp. Electric and acoustic Spanish leaning solos, and pedal steel slide. The more conventional composition combined with processed hum, phased infinite loops. A souvenir of the on-going exchange of ideas between Budd and Brian Eno. Something that that was consummated on Harold`s Eno-produced, The Plateaux Of Mirror, in 1980. Flashes, suggestions, of the shimmer, that had the Californian composer lazily labelled “ambient” – when his work was  / is much more than mere BGM. The words recited like an Old West childhood remembered. Where diary fragments surreally segue into folklore and native myth. Aztec legends of serpents and dragons. Together creating a dream-like narrative, with the air of the final moments of drifting sleep before morning. Its playfulness nearly masking its underlying melancholy. Magick in its enchanted bewitched whispers. 

From there I picked up whatever I could find, focussed perhaps on Budd`s fruitful partnership with the Cocteau`s Robin Guthrie – and coveting, in  particular, treasured vinyl copies of Before The Day Breaks, After The Night Falls, and Bordeaux. 

Then, in 2017, I was knocked sideways by the reissue of 3 CDs worth of material that Harold co-produced with John Foxx and Ruben Garcia – namely the triptych of Nighthawks, Translucence, and Drift Music. Lucky enough to receive a promo, the idea of reviewing such a chunk of “deep” music I`ll admit was kinda daunting. But I burnt the files to CDs and listened in sequence one night whilst driving – dictating thoughts into my phone. Blind-sided I was, to the point where I had to stop the car. Re-reading the text I wrote, and posted, back then I’m not sure it makes sense, but I was suddenly surrounded by spectres of previous lives. Phantoms of former lovers to whom I owe apologies – you know the way a coward never really says goodbye. The single notes of half-forgotten tunes slowly picked out on the protagonist`s piano and stretched into sad symphonies. The echo, an ache – a memory of heartbreak. The music invoking a not unpleasant desolation, that reminded me of when I`d drink alone. When the bottle would be nearing empty and all these folk would dance around inside my head. Wallowing I guess, in the romance of regret. Drinking and thinking, until I couldn’t think any more. 

Ice palaces and cathedrals built from delay and reverb, resonance, drone and blurred buzz. Shrines to passion`s past. Not a wall, but a quiet, fragile veil of sound, of faded footfalls, summoning apparitions of what used to be. Sheets of treated noise that almost sing in Dominican, Gregorian harmony. Holy hallucinations, visitations of the way things were, or could have, should have been. The crackle of dust and debris collected as time marches on, unabated. Sorrow`s solitary song. The clue I suppose was in the titles – Now That I’ve Forgotten You, Fugitive Desire, And Then I Turned Away, Missing Person – turning, gracefully, like intricately cut jewels – catching the light, to radiate, illuminate the dark. 

These are 3 records – yeah I bought the box-set – that people probably tire of me referencing. They are something that I return to for their whispered reassurance – their imagined “I forgive you”s – over and over, again and again.  

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