Harold Budd’s Avalon Sutra: A Press Release

Avalon Sutra by Harold Budd

Avalon Sutra is to be California-born American minimalist composer and pianist Harold Budd’s last recorded work. Best known for his collaborations with Brian Eno, contributing his stunning piano work to key recordings such as 1980’s Ambient 2: Plateau of Mirror, Budd has produced a series of remarkable minimalist compositions and recordings, including Pavilion of Dreams, The Pearl and The Room, which have earned him worldwide respect. Working in a space laying between jazz, classical music, electronica and rock, Budd has collaborated with the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, Daniel Lentz, XTC’s Andy Partridge and saxophonists Marion Brown and Jon Gibson, and been a major influence on the development of contemporary ambient and electronic music.

A series of brief, snapshot like compositions, made all the more fragile and impermanent by Budd’s glistening piano work, Avalon Sutra has a bittersweet, autumnal quality – the composer’s trademark “loveliness” deepened and perturbed by the brevity of these pieces. If “ambient” music characteristically works to sustain a mood of intimacy, warmth, meditative ecstasy, such moods, which are certainly present in Budd’s work, are never allowed to last too long on Avalon Sutra. There’s a cumulative sadness and beauty to the way that these mood pieces linger briefly, stop and transform into something new. Budd’s gorgeous, angular string arrangements amplify this feeling.

Avalon Sutra had its genesis in Budd’s native California. “Before my son was born,” Budd recalls, “my wife and I took a weekend holiday to Catalina Island, which is off the coast of California, the main town there is Avalon. While I was there I thought wouldn’t it be nice to write a poem like Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg which is called “Avalon Sutra.” My wife and I were kayaking in the Pacific off Catalina Island. I thought, as soon as I got to land, I’m going to start writing this poem. Of course, to my disappointment, I never did that but the title stuck with me.”

If ambient music is music to accompany a space, Avalon Sutra’s sustained but brief compositions suggest vast landscapes, spaces experienced in transit, high speed aerial shots, vistas seen from particular turns in the road, the impermanence even of vastness itself … or perhaps simply the impermanence of music in these vast spaces. Not surprisingly, Budd claims that he’s “far more interested in architecture, design, sculpture, than music. it’s had a profound effect on me for the last 40 years.” In particular the work of Mies Van der Rohe, the Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd Wright, all masters of sleek, elegant, economical statement captured Budd’s imagination. “Wright had string quartets come and play for him, while he was flirting with his wife – in Arizona of all places! I thought, what a wonderful idea.”

Musically, Avalon Sutra hearkens back to early twentieth century twelve tone composer Anton Von Webern’s short pieces for string quartets – one of the key reference points for post war American minimalism. Budd also expresses a fondness for German/American composer Claus Ogerman’s gorgeous string arrangements for Antonio Carlos Jobim and other Brazilian master musicians in the 1960s and 1970s. He shares with Ogerman a lushness and generosity, and an unrepentant commitment to beauty.

“I’ve committed myself to an ethic of loveliness,” says Budd, “and I’m still there. I have no qualms whatever. When I committed myself to so called loveliness, it was a political action. I was consciously dissociating myself, and becoming antagonistic toward the American avant garde. My political statement was to remove myself from the heroes of the revolution: John Cage, Morton Feldman and so on. Suddenly I was totally alone: isolated, hated, sneered at. In a really bad place. But I knew I was right. That was the end of my academic, new music, avant garde career. But it opened up a world that had not existed before.”

Into this new world, a number of generations of electronic composers have stepped. Los Angeles based composer and software designer Akira Rabelais is best known for his subtly distorted interpretations of Satie’s Gymnopédies, and his marvellous reworkings of traditional icelandic laments on the recent Samadhi Sound release, spellewauerynsherde. On the second disk of Avalon Sutra, Rabelais takes a fragment from one of Avalon Sutra’s tracks and spins it using his software Argeiphontes Lyre, into a 70 minute abstraction that calls to mind Morton Feldman’s String Quartets. Budd pronounces Rabelais’ remix “generous and loving.” As with some of Rabelais’ other appropriations, there’s an enormous respect for the integrity of the original sound material, along with an audacious ability to rechannel sound in unexpected directions. “For heaven’s sake,” Budd continues. “Somebody else has really picked up on what I missed from myself: all that space, all that time, all that generosity. Akira did it. I should have done it, but I didn’t!”

Budd claims that Avalon Sutra will be his last composition and recording, bringing 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!” Whether or not it finally turns out to be Budd’s last work — and to speak only of the gorgeous string arrangements, which represent a new development in Budd’s oeuvre, we hope that it isn’t — Avalon Sutra is Budd at the pinnacle of his creativity, a master of meditative beauty.

Originally published as a press release for Samadhi Sound.

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