Harold Budd (born May 24, 1936) is an American avant-garde composer and poet. He was born in Los Angeles, and raised in the Mojave Desert. He has developed a style of playing piano he terms “soft pedal”.
Budd’s career as a composer began in 1962. In the following years, he gained a notable reputation in the local avant-garde community. In 1966, he graduated from the University of Southern California (having studied under Ingolf Dahl) with a degree in musical composition. As he progressed, his compositions became increasingly minimalist. Among his more experimental works were two drone music pieces, “Coeur d’Orr” and “The Oak of the Golden Dreams”. After composing a long-form gong solo titled “Lirio”, he felt he had reached the limits of his experiments in minimalism and the avant-garde. He retired temporarily from composition in 1970 and began a teaching career at the California Institute of the Arts.
“The road from my first colored graph piece in 1962 to my renunciation of composing in 1970 to my resurfacing as a composer in 1972 was a process of trying out an idea and when it was obviously successful abandoning it. The early graph piece was followed by the Rothko orchestra work, the pieces for Source Magazine, the Feldman-derived chamber works, the pieces typed out or written in longhand, the out-and-out conceptual works among other things, and the model drone works (which include the sax and organ “Coeur d’Orr” and “The Oak of the Golden Dreams”, the latter based on the Balinese “Slendro” scale which scale I used again 18 years later on “The Real Dream of Sails”).
“In 1970 with the “Candy-Apple Revision” (unspecified D-flat major) and “Lirio” (solo gong “for a long duration”) I realized I had minimalized myself out of a career. It had taken ten years to reduce my language to zero but I loved the process of seeing it occur and not knowing when the end would come. By then I had opted out of avant-garde music generally; it seemed self-congratulatory and risk-free and my solution as to what to do next was to do nothing, to stop completely.”
“I resurfaced as an artist in 1972 with “Madrigals of the Rose Angel”, the first of what would be a cycle of works under the collective title The Pavilion of Dreams. Madrigals refused to accommodate or even acknowledge any issues in new music. The entire aesthetic was an existential prettiness; not the Platonic “to Kalon”, but simply pretty: mindless, shallow and utterly devastating. Female chorus, harp and percussion seemed like a beautiful start. Its first performance was at a Franciscan church in California conducted by Daniel Lentz.”
Two years later, while still retaining his teaching career, he resurfaced as a composer. Spanning from 1972–1975 he created four individual works under the collective title “The Pavilion of Dreams”. The style of these works was an unusual blend of popular jazz and the avant-garde. In 1976 he resigned from the institute and began recording his new compositions, produced by British ambient pioneer Brian Eno. Two years later, Harold Budd’s debut album The Pavilion of Dreams was released.
Budd has developed a style of playing piano he terms “soft pedal,” which can be described as slow and sustained. While he often gets placed in the Ambient category, he emphatically declares that he is not an Ambient artist, and feels that he got “kidnapped” into the category. His two collaborations with Brian Eno, The Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl, established his trademark atmospheric piano style. On Lovely Thunder he introduced subtle electronic textures. His thematic 2000 release The Room saw a return to a more minimalist approach. In 2003, Daniel Lanois, the renowned producer of U2 and Bob Dylan, and occasional collaborator with Brian Eno, recorded an impromptu performance of Harold playing the piano in his Los Angeles living room, unaware, and thus realized the album La Bella Vista.
His album Avalon Sutra from 2004 was billed as “Harold Budd’s Last Recorded Work” by David Sylvian‘s independent record label Samadhisound. Their press release continued: “Avalon Sutra brings to a conclusion thirty years of sustained musical activity. Asked for his reasons, Budd says only that he feels that he has said what he has to say. With characteristic humility, he concludes, “I don’t mind disappearing!” A farewell concert retrospective was performed at The Disney Theater/REDCAT in Los Angeles in September 2004 with Budd playing solo and with guests Jon Gibson, Clive Wright and more. It featured music from Budd’s “Avalon Sutra”, and as far back as “Lirio”. A second farewell concert featuring Budd and guest-starring many of the musicians he had worked with throughout his career was presented at Brighton Dome in May 2005, also billed as being Budd’s last public performance. In spite of this, Budd’s soundtrack to the film Mysterious Skin (a collaboration with Robin Guthrie) and Music for ‘Fragments from the Inside’ (with Eraldo Bernocchi) were both released in 2005.
In February 2007, Samadhisound released Perhaps, a live recording of Budd’s improvised performance in tribute to his late friend (and associate teacher at the then newly formed California Institute of Arts) James Tenney. Recorded at CalArts on December 6, the album is only available as a digital download.
In April 2007, Samadhisound released a podcast of Harold Budd in conversation with Akira Rabelais. In this (Samadhisound Podcast #2), Harold said although he had believed at the time of recording Avalon Sutra that it would be his last album, he no longer felt that way. “It was a time in my life when things weren’t just falling together for me, and I thought that I was just going to let it all slide … and 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’ve 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 Home page