Audiophile Audition - Harold Budd "Avalon Sutra"

08.08.05

Another disc which is most difficult to pigeonhole into one of our sections. Budd is on one hand a composer of new music in the minimalist style, but much of his work could also fit into New Age or pop categories. He claims this is his final album for some reason, so it provides a cue to look back over this easy-going California composer's past work. He began as a drummer in jazz and bebop, nuts about John Coltrane. He later played with saxist Albert Ayler, and was influenced by minimalists John Cage and Morton Feldman. Budd collaborated on a number of important albums with studio genius Brian Eno, but the standout of his career is probably his 1972 Madrigals of the Rose Angel - a gloriously lulling, hypnotic work featuring an angelic wordless chorus over a bed of harp, electric piano, celeste and percussion. The simple, unaffected beauty of the sound of this work is almost shocking in contrast to most new music. It's so comforting and yet also sad.

Budd's thoughtful, meandering, piano sound is central to most of his works; it is usually processed in various ways to sound spacey, glowing, seeming to go in and out of focus aurally. Four of the 14 selections on the first CD are collaborations with Jon Gibson, the string quartet appears on some of them, providing a lovely background for their duets. Most of the others feature the patented Budd piano, often meandering in and out of electronic fogs. The second CD is devoted to a lengthy remix by Akira Rabelais of the final track on the the first CD - As Long As I Can Hold My Breath. It is the sort of "furniture music" minimalism which Brian Eno pioneered on his Obscure Music series of ambient environments. Loops of the processed piano and strings recycle endlessly in a form which at normal volume would probably drive even minimalist fans nuts. However, at low volume the sounds just become part the environment. Nevertheless, I doubt if the second disc will see the tray of my player very frequently. By the way, the card stock packaging of the two discs is gorgeous with flower photography; it made me think of AliaVox's packaging.

Selections: Arabesque 3, It's Steeper Near the Roses, L'Enfant perdu, Chrysalis Nu, Three Faces West, Arabesque 2, Little Heart, How Vacantly You Stare at Me, A Walk in the Park with Nancy, Rue Casimir Delavigne, Arabesque 1, Porcelain Ginger, Faraon, As Long as I Can Hold My Breath.

JOHN SUNIER

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