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"I'm So Minimal, I'm Not Even Minimalist!": Harold Budd Interviewed
Haakon Nelson , January 20th, 2014 11:15

Haakon Nelson speaks to Harold Budd about his sense of space and a recent retrospective album released by All Saints

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Since the mid-70s, Harold Budd has been at the forefront of what, for lack of any better nomenclature, could be called "space music". Not meaning music which necessarily possesses a sci fi quality (though there are elements of that to his work), and certainly not meaning it belongs in the currently in vogue "new age" genre, but more that the sounds he creates give one a sense of space. More specifically, his music transports you to either a real location, or removes you to another realm entirely. Starting out as a music educator in California, upon making the transition to recording artist, Budd was soon partnering with Brian Eno, who produced and collaborated with him on multiple releases. With over 20 subsequent albums, both solo and in partnerships with many figures in the vanguard of forward thinking music, Budd is a constant source of inspired ideas and sounds. That isn't bad for someone who is quick to point out his own technical shortcomings, and remains entirely humble next to his cohorts.

How were the selections of your retrospective release determined?

Harold Budd: I had nothing to do with it, I left it up to All Saints, which was exciting to see how it turned out.

How did you go from being a teacher, to be a recording artist?

HB: I'll tell you, that's either a simple answer, or a very complicated story. Simply put, I quit teaching in 1976, because I wanted to take a chance. It was a very good job, at a prestigious university, but I knew if I didn't leave teaching, I'd be stuck for life, and kicking myself in the ass forever.

How have your different collaborations over the years - Eno, Robin Guthrie, John Foxx, David Sylvain, etc - come together?

HB: All I'll say about them is that they all come together organically, there's no plan to it at all. Every collaboration is a thrill, and all of them are still very dear friends, and always will be.

Do you find, when collaborating, that there's a specific style you bring, or is it totally determined by who you're with?

HB: It depends entirely on who I'm working with. I am always attracted to seeing what happens, because it's always something interesting. All of them work differently.

What's been the appeal of combining poetry into your music, as opposed to singing/lyrics?

HB: It's actually been a surprise to me. I've been writing periodically for a number of years. It was totally unplanned, but then seemed like a good idea at the time. That's me - "the man without a plan"! [laughs]

Was it something you at least knew you'd do, going into the studio?

HB: No, not at all. It just happened, and I went, "Why didn't I think of this earlier?" I was just thrilled to be surprised like that.

In earlier interviews, you've stated you were indifferent to technology, being more focused on the sounds themselves. Is that still the case, or do you follow any of the new hardware/software developments?

HB: Yes, I have to confess you're right about that. I'm not attracted to technology, at all. When it's used, I owe it all to someone else's experience. I never do any of the programming.

In recordings, not only sound, but silence and space are used so effectively. Is that part of your "minimalist" beginnings, where the lack of clutter makes the listener focus more on what's left?

HB: Honestly, I have no idea why I was tagged as "minimalist". I'm so minimal, I'm not even minimalist! But no, none of that is true. I don't like minimalism, and I never have.

But back to the first part of the question, there is a sense of space and…

HB: Openness. I haven't a clue why I do that. When I was recording with David Sylvian, who is into layering, just putting together these amazing layers of sound, I was so impressed by that. There are just people who can do that better than me. I'm just not a musician.

Do you think of yourself more in the Western/classical tradition, or do you seek to free your music from any connection to the past?

HB: I hate labeling myself at all. When I'd go into Tower Records or Piccadilly Circus, over the years, I'd sometimes see my music lumped in with "new age," which was so infuriating. Jesus, it's so insulting to be so categorized, with such no-talent sound. I'd go and complain, and they'd usually put my stuff elsewhere.

Where would they put you then?

HB: I'd have no control over it, obviously, but they'd usually just put me in "rock".

Your 2005 concert, at Brighton Dome, was billed as your "final concert", though I see you're still playing?

HB: That being billed as my "final concert" was complete nonsense. I never intended it to be. The first person to publish that, I made them correct it. You know, that was at a really low point in my life, my marriage had just broken up, I was living alone in the Mojave Desert, and I had just made a lot of bad decisions at that time.

In playing live, what appeal does it still hold for you, as opposed to recording?

HB: Travel! Travel, travel, travel. Good food, good wine, good conversation and a good performance. I don't play solo piano anymore, I always have someone accompany me on stage now, someone I can share the responsibility for the night with.

With your soundtrack to The Mysterious Skin, how much shaping of your music was there that went on around the visuals or was there a total disconnect? Were you handed material to be worked with by the director?

HB: There wasn't a total disconnect, no. What I'd try to do is meld my own language, in the service of someone else's, if that doesn't sound too obscure. With Gregg Araki, who I just think so highly of, I'd have been willing to do anything for him. He was the boss, and if he needed something changed, I'd have tried to shape it as much as I could.

There has been another, more recent audio and visual release, the Jane recordings [with Jane Maru]; how did that collaboration come about?

HB: Well, Jane was living in the desert like me, in a nearby town; there's actually a sizable art community in the Joshua Tree area. She'd actually used one of my earlier recordings for a piece of hers. But she'd invited me to see one of her films, at a nearby gallery, and when it came on, they didn't even bother to turn on the sound, which I thought was so rude. I could see she was very upset, so I said to her, "You don't know it yet, but you and I are going to create something." She called me the next day saying, "Did I dream that? Did I imagine what you said?" I said, "No, we're going to." That's been a real partnership.

Your website,, states that you're about to work with Robin Guthrie again, in France. Can you tell me anything about that?

HB: I didn't know that! Robin and his family are coming to spend the holidays in California, and I will be seeing him then, so I can ask about what we're doing then. He lives in France and is easy to get a hold of, but that website, that's not me at all. Maybe I should go read it, and find out what they have to say!

Do you have any plans for this upcoming year?

HB: Not at all. I don't have anything planned, and it's the first time in a long while that I've been able to say that. We'll be seeing the Jane DVD come out in January, and then the second album/DVD from that will come out in a year.

As you are such a prolific artist…

HB: Haha, yes, very prolific.

…and an influential one. Do you follow any of the genres you've been connected to in the past such as electronic, experimental, drone; or do you follow any of the artists like Sunn O))) and Oneohtrix Point Never and the like, who work in those genres now?

HB: Not a bit. Not because I don't like it. Not because I'm rude, but because I just don't know about it. I just don't, really. I don't consider myself a music fan.

[As we are saying our goodbyes, Harold asks a question]

HB: Hey, do you have kids?

Yes, I do, an eleven-year old son, who wants to play the drums.

HB: It's great, isn't it? My son's taking piano lessons, and flute lessons, and is able to take advantage of all the things I couldn't at his age. When I was his age, the pinnacle of music was the avant garde, with people like John Cage. So, there wasn't a focus on playing live. Or learning how to play. Just the whole philosophy of sound instead. I'd have taken piano lessons, but you just didn't do that when I was in school. I'm so glad my son can learn those things now.

Budd Box is out now on All Saints

Michael E.
Jan 20, 2014 4:36pm

The compilation is a good one, the BUDDBOX with seven albums is fantastic incl a lot of interesting interviews and portraits. Always fine to read something about him and his workng strategies, incl. this new interview. If one of the readers has not yet listened to Budd's collaborations with Eno, The Plateaux of Mirror, and The Pearl (they are from thousand years ago, time runs fast:)) - do yourself a favour - in case you love minimal, melodic textures, tonal music and a kind of blue that has something to do with yearning... Just too beautiful not to be true ...

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Post-Punk Monk
Jan 20, 2014 4:54pm

What an honor it was to see Budd perform at the last Moogfest. In fact, it was only after he was announced that we made plans to attend. The Buddbox is well compiled as I only have one of its components in the collection, so that's in my sights after loving the CD reissue of "Perhaps" from last year.
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Jan 20, 2014 6:39pm

One strange anomaly on the 2CD retrospective is the inclusion of the 'Moon & The Melodies' track 'Ooze Out And Away, Onehow' - according to Robin Guthrie in the recent 4AD biography 'Facing The Other Way', that was a track the Cocteaus put together alone in their studio after Budd had departed: he doesn't appear on it. Hm. And there are far better candidates from that album that could have been included. Brilliant artist none the less.

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Taun Aengus
Jan 20, 2014 10:14pm

One of the best "non-musicians" in the world. I laughed out loud when I read "I just not a musician." "I'm So Minimal, I'm Not Even Minimalist!" I love it. Keep on keeping on.

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Jason Taverner
Jan 20, 2014 10:31pm

I have loved Budd's work since I first came across him on the "From Brussels with Love" cassette back in the day, but "I have no idea why I was tagged as "minimalist"," seems an odd statement, given a good deal of his output. By the way, Haakon Nelson isn't speaking about his "sense of space" etc. Harold Budd is.

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John Doran
Jan 20, 2014 11:47pm

In reply to Jason Taverner:

Yes. I know. And so does literally everyone else reading this piece bar you.

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Jan 21, 2014 4:33pm

sorry but i got nothing from that interview. there were no follow up questions, no coaxing. maybe the interview was seriously edited but it comes across as just a series of 4x3 cards. the most interesting response came from a question he asked.

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Taun Aengus
Jan 21, 2014 5:27pm

In reply to bob:

I'm with you bob, not really much of an interview. But-- I'm always so jazzed when I see anything in print with a musician that I really respect especially if they get to speak.

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Jan 21, 2014 7:11pm

In 1989, I listened to The White Arcades for the first time, and when the fourth track started (The Real Dream of Sails), it hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat there, tears streaming down my face, so happy that music like this existed. While I love all types of music, Harold Budd will forever be the artist that truly made me LOVE music, simply for what it is and for how it can make you feel. While I doubt I'll ever get a chance to see him play live or to ever actually meet the man, this world is a better place for having him in it and for the work he's produced.

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Michael Engelbrecht
Jan 22, 2014 10:56am

In reply to Jameos:

it is always great when music goes so deep. i wasn't that enthusiastic abiut this album, though your piece is the highlight of that album. i remember listening to THE PLATEAUX OF MIRROR, one week after its release in England. the Amelody Maker had a review: Lost in Space, but it was a good review, in contrast to the eggheads of NME et al who couldn't handle Ambient Music in the times of Punk. A friend sent the record to me (from London to Würzburg). i remember I put it on in the morning and listened to it during a very long bath. i was in heaven, so to speak. the good thing: a lot of his records don't have any date of decay. "Minimal input, maximum impact"....

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