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Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd: Mirror Images

John Kelman By

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Often mistakenly lumped into the "new age" category, pianist/composer Harold Budd has always been better described through his associations. He first came to attention in 1978 with the release of The Pavilion Of Dreams (E.G.), produced by ambient music pioneer Brian Eno and with a line-up including avant-garde saxophonist Marion Brown and contemporary classical composer Gavin Bryars. Though the album's material was conceived between 1970 and 1975, its release the same year as Eno's groundbreaking Ambient 1: Music For Airports (E.G.) couldn't have been an accident.

Eno may be considered the artist responsible for introducing the concept of ambient music to a larger audience—even though he by no means created it in a vacuum—but his development has always had as much to do with the concept of looking for serendipity in found sounds or found melodies as it has preconception. His approach has also had much to do with the ability to transform sound in the studio, creating aural landscapes that, when they first emerged in the late 1970s, were groundbreaking—shaking the music world in the most quiet and tranquil way imaginable.

Budd, on the other hand, was and remains a composer, making his two full collaborations with Eno—Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror (E.G., 1980) and The Pearl (E.G., 1984)—some of the most beautiful music to come out of the early days of the genre. But his records from Pavilion Of Dreams onward reflected a change from his pre-Eno days, when he was considered more of an avant-garde composer. While Eno was as concerned with sound as he was melody—some of his ambient experiments have been about nothing but texture—Budd has emerged as a deeply lyrical writer, but in the most minimal sense possible. His goal has been to write music, then remove all the notes he doesn't like, with the intention of creating "eternally pretty music."

Robin Guthrie/Harold Budd
After The Night Falls
Darla Records
2007

Eternally pretty music it is, resonating on such a subconscious level that it's sometimes difficult to describe what, exactly, is pretty about it. And while solo piano efforts like La Bella Vista (Shout Factory, 2003) prove that Budd's reductionist writing easily stands alone without the sonic enhancements of studio processing, the pianist's best work has always been where his spare melodies have been sonically expanded, creating ethereal, imagery inducing atmospherics.

Budd has collaborated with many other artists over the years, including Through The Hill (Gyroscope, 1994) with XTC's primary singer/writer Andy Partridge and She Is A Phantom (New Albion, 1994) with contemporary chamber ensemble Zeitgeist. Perhaps his best-known collaborations was, however, with the ambient pop group Cocteau Twins, The Moon And The Melodies (4AD, 1986), being a seemingly perfect blend of atmospheric soundscapes and occasional pop song structures.



In addition to his work with the Cocteau Twins, guitarist Robin Guthrie is, in addition to being the atmospheric guitar equivalent of Budd's heavily reverberated piano, a member of Violet Indiana, a duo with singer Siobhan de Maré that's a different kind of dream pop, one that's been suggested as the ideal soundtrack to any David Lynch film. Guthrie also worked with Budd on the pianist's Lovely Thunder (E.G., 1986) and The White Arcades (Opal, 1988), but behind the studio console as an engineer rather than an instrumentalist.

The two reunited, after a nearly sixteen year gap, to score Gregg Araki's film, Mysterious Skin (2005). After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks represent two milestones: the first time they've collaborated musically as a duo, and quite likely the first time two records have been released together as near mirror images of each other. Not only do the images on the back tray cards line up, but the nine tunes on each CD reflect musical and titular complementary approaches. "How Distant Is Your Heart on After is mirrored by "How Close Your Soul on Before, while "Turn Off The Sun on the former is paralleled by "Turn On The Moon on the latter.



Both records stand alone, but are ideally best experienced as a pair. Neither disc represents anything unexpected from the two artists, but they do represent something different than one might hear from each on their own.

Robin Guthrie/Harold Budd
Before The Day Breaks
Darla Records
2007

Darla Records claims these are not ambient recordings, and if one uses Eno's original definition—music that becomes part of the overall sonic landscape of the listener rather than occupying the forefront of attention—then they certainly aren't. While the slowly unfolding melodies and washes of sound can, at times, become more of a backdrop than something demanding of attention, there are undeniable rewards for listening to these recordings with full intention.



Before's "Seven Thousand Sunny Years possesses a gentle pulse, something that's hard to find on any of Budd's solo recordings. It also bears a distinct compositional forward motion, again a characteristic attributable to Guthrie's life in the pop world. "She Is My Strength, on the other hand, feels suspended in time and space, Budd's simple but not simplistic melodies supported by Guthrie's heavily processed guitar. The bells of "Inside: A Golden Echo are, again, something not likely to be found on a Budd record, yet the gentle evocation of melancholy is entirely in context.



The corresponding titles between the two discs aren't simply arbitrary constructs or clever plays on words. Despite its floating delicacy, Before's "Avenue Of Shapes does have soft movement, whereas After's "A Formless Path is, as the title suggests, more amorphous. Both albums end on optimistic notes with the strongest rhythms and most undeniably songlike forms to be found on either disc—Before's "Turn On The Moon and After's Turn Off The Sun.



Neither Guthrie nor Budd have ever been about anything resembling virtuosity. Instead, both these records—which wouldn't be possible with the sonic innovations of Budd's early recordings with Eno—are about mood and soundscape. The two create layered textures that are consistently beautiful, with nary a dissonance to be found. Both Budd and Guthrie have released albums that are darker and, at times, even approach a certain jagged edge. While there are plenty of emotions evoked on both After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks, the surfaces here are rounded, the melodies appealing and, even at its densest, the music resonates at a subconscious level.



Sometimes the best collaborations are about bringing individual strengths to the table, while being selfless enough to allow them to be collectively absorbed into something both identifiable and different; an expansion of possibilities. Guthrie and Budd have, with After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks, managed a seamless integration which brings together two voices, but which ultimately speaks as one.


Tracks and Personnel

After The Night Falls

Tracks: How Distant Is Your Heart; Avenue Of Shapes; Seven Thousand Sunny Years; She Is My Strength; Inside A Golden Echo; Open Book; And Then I Turned Away; The Girl With The Colorful Thoughts; Turn Off The Sun.

Personnel: Robin Guthrie: guitar, processing; Harold Budd: piano, processing.

Before The Day Breaks

Tracks: How Close Your Soul; A Formless Path; A Minute, A Day, No More; She Is My Weakness; Outside, Silence; Hidden Message; I Returned Her Glance; My Monochrome Vision; Turn On The Moon.

Personnel: Robin Guthrie: guitar, processing; Harold Budd: piano, processing.

Visit Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd on the web.


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