The Sound of Homecoming: The Complete Collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx

2018 has been a year of great personal development and growth, and as such, I’ve found myself time and again seeking warm, familiar tonalities rather than venturing into the unfamiliar and novel territories I’d explored in the years prior. I found it comforting to revisit long-standing favorite composers who created a sense of returning home each time I revisited their catalogs. That is precisely what made this latest discovery such a joy for me at this point in my life.

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Harold Budd is unquestionably one of the foremost veterans in the field of ambient composition. His trademark soft-pedal technique is instantly captivating and calming, and while he may not be breaking any new ground in the genre, that’s not what his listeners are seeking. Budd commands a mastery of his craft seldom matched in his field, and he’s consistently delivered quality contemplative soundscapes for nearly fifty years.

At 81 years of age, Harold Budd has shown no sign of slowing down. He’s collaborated with numerous artists, including Brian Eno, Robin Guthrie, The Cocteau Twins, Clive Wright, Eraldo Bernocchi, Bill Nelson, Andy Partridge, Daniel Lentz, Fila Brazilla, & U2. Budd retired briefly in 2005 but quickly returned to composition and released ten more albums and this magnificent new acquisition in the years that followed. I’d always wanted a vinyl keepsake of Budd’s music, but much of his catalog was limited to compact disc, including the Budd Box seven-disc set. That what made this discovery an exciting addition to my library.

From the original VinylFactory announcement in September:

Translucence, Drift Music and Nighthawks are being released on limited edition 3xLP by Demon Music for the first time.

Translucence / Drift Music is a 2003 double studio album from ex-Ultravox frontman John Foxx and ambient composer Harold Budd. Minimalist composer Ruben Garcia joined the duo to feature on their third album Nighthawks.

The triple vinyl package also features artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, the graphic designer who created the Grammy-winning art for David Bowie’s Blackstar.

This box set features the complete Budd/Foxx recordings – seminal collaborations of the ambient genre. Nighthawks is dedicated to Garcia, who sadly passed away in 2013. At the announcement of the box set, Popmatters.com noted that, at the album’s 142-minute runtime, you’re going to need a lot of candles. They called the set, “lovely and provocative” with occasional chromatics and discord. “The City Stops for Snow” was described as “painting a picture of urban stillness” with its interplay of tiny overtones over top the many sustains and echoes.

This is the first time these recordings have been available on vinyl, and Demon Records did an exquisite job. The discs are 180g heavyweight vinyl, housed in a rigid slipcase. This release also comes with a limited print signed by John Foxx.

Harold Budd & John Foxx - Translucence Drift Music Nighthawks Box Set

Rateyourmusic user, dvd offered some valuable insight about the impact of this music on the listener:

It is very strange: after I listen I find it really difficult to recall any more specific details of the music itself. … The music is so transparent, like there is nothing to grab onto, and it just sort of drifts in and out on the edge of consciousness on its own. Maybe this is not a bad thing for ambient music, and likely part of what the creators were going for based on the title(s). For all its subtleties, the music still feels like it has some power over my mental state, as if it puts me in sort of a weird trance: something that’s vaguely serene and beautiful.

Paste Magazine shared similar remarks about the tranquil calm of this set, calling it “almost unbearably beautiful.” The impressionistic nature of the soundscapes was described as evoking images of “silhouettes of birds cutting across an early evening sky or slowly floating on a quiet, still body of water” and “tramping through a blanket of white on a quiet boulevard.” This is precisely the sort of contemplative music which brings me that feeling of homecoming.

I discovered Budd’s compositions early in my musical journey, initially through his collaborations with Brian Eno. The Pearl and The Plateaux of Mirror were albums I instantly knew I needed to have on vinyl, and they were followed shortly thereafter by an original pressing of his critically-acclaimed collaboration with Cocteau Twins for The Moon and The Melodies. But other than the aforementioned titles and a pressing of The Serpent in Quicksilver, I’d never been able to find a release on vinyl that truly felt like it celebrated and showcased Budd’s best work. And sadly the Budd Box has only been issued on CD. So imagine my excitement at discovering this recently-issued collection of the complete Budd & Foxx recordings!

Mike Powell of Pitchfork fittingly described Harold Budd’s characteristic sound as existing “in that misty place between ambient, new age, and minimalist composition, where everything is gentle and nothing lasts for long.” Powell described Budd’s quietly recognizable style as “intimate and intuitive; fragile but warm; seductive but just a little bit mysterious, like the soft tinkling of a presence in the next room.”

But perhaps the most fitting description comes from the set’s designer Jonathan Barnbrook who explains:

These are pieces that I return to again and again. Separate from his (John Foxx) more electronic work, they have a humanity and serenity that only comes with a great musician working in collaboration with others greats in an empathetic, understanding style. The music has a delicate, reflective quality – of human beings that have lived life and realise the beauty of it all, the joy and the suffering. They ask us to stop and consider, and that despite it all we should never desire to change a moment of it.

TheQuietus published a wonderful interview with John Foxx at the launch of this box set. His remarks revealed much about the albums’ composition and his thoughts about their collaboration. Foxx stated that he, “especially wanted to extend the harmonics of the piano strings resonance and sonic decay and use that as a live, real-time expansion of the sound.“ He went so far as to call Budd “a modern-day Satie.”

And describing the production process, Foxx said:

We also used another completely unique property of recording – reversed time. By reversing sounds and recording reverbs, then playing them forward and applying further layers of reverberation, you can enrich the already extended harmonics. You also have the miracle of reverberations moving simultaneously forward and backwards in time, and a truly complex interplay and texture going on between them. We took all this layering and multiplying as far as we possibly could, while still observing the delicacy and emotional tone of the pieces. All you have to do is listen and feel.

Allmusic.com summarized Budd’s sound as “distinctively dreamy, often extraordinary and occasionally ominous” and likens his technique to that of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Budd’s slowly morphing reverberant and shimmering atmospherics certainly have an impressionistic quality, and the parallels drawn to these greats are not inapt.

To those who might precipitously dismiss these works as simple new age music, I’d offer this closing remark from The Brighton Festival’s Guy Morley who said, “I think the impact of Harold is yet to be realised. Tonally, Harold has always come from a very deep and instinctive place. You don’t need a degree in composition. Its simplicity belies its originality.”

By any measure, this box set is a fantastic keepsake for anyone who enjoys the godfathers of ambient music.

Tracklist:

LP 1 / Translucence

1.Subtext
2.Spoken Roses
3.Momentary Architecture
4.Adult
5. Long Light
6. A Change In The Weather
7. Here And Now
8. Almost Overlooked
9. Implicit
10. Raindust
11.Missing Person
12. You Again

LP 2 / Drift Music

1. Sunlit Silhouette
2. The Other Room
3. Some Way Through All The Cities
4. Stepping Sideways
5 A Delicate Romance
6. Linger
7. Curtains Blowing
8. Weather Patterns
9. Coming Into Focus
10. After All This Time
11. Someone Almost There
12. Resonant Frequency
13. Avenue Of Trees
14. Underwater Flowers
15. Arriving

LP 3 / Nighthawks

1. Down A Windy Street
2. Now That I’ve Forgotten You
3. The Invisible Man
4. Fugitive Desire
5. From Then To Now
6. When The City Stops For Snow
7. The Shadow Of Her Former Self
8. Music For Swimmers
9. Lovedust
10. Nighthawks

The History of Modern Ambient Music: Part 1 – 1973-1993

Hello friends!  My second video is now up on The Innerspace Connection’s Youtube channel – this is the first of a 2-part series showcasing milestone recordings of modern ambient music.

Here are the highlights of albums recorded between 1973 and 1993, presented in the order of their release.

Or click here for the HD version.

They Just Keep on Coming!

My pre-ordered copy of Brian Eno’s latest generative work, Lux has arrived at my record shop which I should be visiting next week.

In the meantime here are a few groovy titles that I’ve found in the wild.

This first album appeared on r/vinyl and I couldn’t get my wallet out fast enough.  I’ve been watching auctions for original copies of Beck’s Sea Change for months.  Every copy sells for about $40.  Then I found out about the special limited edition Black Friday release of the Mobile Fidelity 180g remaster and knew I had to act fast.  This is the first Mobile Fidelity release on a colored vinyl – marbled pink wax in this case.  And it sounds absolutely magnificent.

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Next I found two John Cage LPs in the trade-in boxes a customer dropped off at my local record shop.  They were a little musty so I may look to upgrade my copies later down the line.  They were Folkways Records’ Sound of New Music featuring Cage, Varese, Ussachevsky and others, and Indeterminacy by Cage and David Tudor.

Smithsonian Folkways - Sounds of New Music (Cage, Ussachevsky, Varese)

John Cage - Indeterminacy

Later that week I checked out Buffalo’s largest bookstore and took a chance on their small record section in the back.  Behind about 50 Elvis records I lucked out and found a sealed John Cage and David Tudor record!  It still had it’s $2 price sticker from 1966, which the shop kindly honored!

John Cage w David Tudor - Variations IV

Next up at my local Antique Mall I absolutely struck gold in the area of New Music.

I almost passed up this next disc because I knew I had the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange at home.  But the vendor explained to me that this was a different album, entirely.  Most importantly it includes the full 13 minute version of “Timesteps,” one of the most famed in the history of early electronic recordings.  (The soundtrack version of the album trimmed it down to 4 minutes.)

Walter Carlos - Clockwork Orange

They also had a classic ambient album from Harold Budd – a Belgian import of Serpent in Quicksilver.

Harold Budd - Serpent in Quicksilver

Then I spotted this legendary Nonesuch release – Time’s Encomium.  Wuorinen won a Pulitzer Prize for this recording, making it the first all-electronic album to win the Prize and making Wuorinen the youngest-ever recipient.  It’s a wonderful milestone in early electronic sound.

Wuorinen - Time's Encomium

And finally there was this incredible LP which I had been after for weeks.  The Columbia-Princeston Electronic Music Center was founded in 1958 and this mono LP was released in 1964.  The only electronic record I’ve found that pre-dates this release is my copy of Forbidden Planet which was recorded in 1956.

Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center

That’s all for this week, I’ll post the new Eno album as soon as I pick it up!

Treasures Untold

Between my recent motherboard failure and setting up the replacement PC my stepfather so generously donated to me, I’ve picked up a lot of vinyl that didn’t make it to my blog.  I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the better ones that I’ve neglected.

First, I found Funkadelic’s Electric Spanking of War Babies in NM shape at an antique shop.  It is another outstanding example of Pedro Bell’s artwork.

The next item I picked up was the first album to feature regenerative tape loops which Robert Fripp and Brian Eno dubbed ‘Frippertronics.’  The album is an ambient classic – No Pussyfooting.

Side A is the standout track at over 20 minutes in length, titled “The Heavenly Music Corporation.”

I insist on tracking down original pressings whenever possible, and I was lucky to find an extremely clean copy at a great price.

And thanks to my friend Brrrn and good timing at a flea market, two more early Eno recordings fell into my hands.  One was Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) – Eno’s second solo album and the other was a long-time favorite collaboration with Harold Budd titled Ambient 2 – Plateaux of Mirror.  Plateaux was one of my first digital ambient albums many years ago.

The next treasure is a deep cut, and one of historical significance.  I was exploring The Orb’s catalog and read about a curious track called “The Blue Room,” a 17 minute song which appeared on the album u.f.orb.  What I discovered was that the original single was in fact 40:00 long.

From Wiki:

The UK charts had recently decided that any release with more than 40 minutes of play would be classified as an album rather than single. The Orb thus decided to record a 39:57 version of “Blue Room” for a special release. “Blue Room” is the longest single to ever reach the UK charts, peaking at number eight.

If you have ANY interest in ambient house, you need to hear this song.

The last find in the spectrum of ambient music was a dollar bin neoclassical LP by David Lanz.  Nightfall is one of his best works.

There were several other discoveries including a number of Yes albums previously missing from my collection and Zappa’s Hot Rats which features wonderful contributions from Don Van Vliet.

Last but most certainly not least, I found a number of Sesame Street albums to add to my Jim Henson library.  It’s getting harder and harder to find ones I don’t already have, (over 40 at last count) so these were a treat.

The Ernie LP is extra special.  Mint in shrink, it includes some of my most beloved memories from the Street – “Rubber Duckie,” “Imagination,” “I Don’t Want to Live On The Moon,” and the hilarious “Dance Myself to Sleep.”

If only it featured “Put Down the Duckie” it would be my favorite Sesame record ever.  Sadly, that duet between Ernie and Hoots the Owl never made it to vinyl.

Here’s the video for “Dance Myself to Sleep.”  If you’re really savvy you might just catch the Andrews Sisters reference Ernie makes to a hit from 1941.  Watch for it!

Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul

As a massive fan of ambient music, there are few classic albums that stand out above all others.  Brian Eno’s seminal masterpiece, Music For Airports will forever hold my number one position, both for jump starting the genre of contemporary ambient music and for initiating me into ambient culture many years ago.  Harold Budd’s collaborations with Eno – The Pearl and The Plateaux of Mirror are also both highly recommended.

This evening I was going through my library looking for ambient house albums I hadn’t listened to since college.  I was re-exploring the KLF discography when I came upon Chill Out and Space.

KLF - Chill OutThe KLF – Chill Out

Chill Out is essentially a post-rave ride home from Texas into Louisiana.

The Orb’s hit single, “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld,” and the KLF albums Chill Out and Space are actually quite closely related.  Each of the three contain material recorded from Trancentral, (the KLF basement studio), and from the monthly “Land Of Oz” nights at Heaven, the London nightclub.  These sessions were a collaboration with Alex Paterson of The Orb.  “Ultraworld,” Space, and Chill Out were the result of those sessions.

KLF - SpaceThe KLF – Space

If you’re a fan of these albums, there is an incredible amount of information available from the Chill Out Facebook fanpage.

Chill Out and Space will be my next ambient vinyl purchases.

Brian Eno – Music For Airports – 1-1

Eno and Budd – The Pearl

KLF – Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul, 3 AM