By Paul Brown artsHub | Saturday, March 24, 2012

Brian Eno established his Obscure record label in 1975 with the intention of promoting lesser-known composers. Their first album featured the work of the UK composer Gavin Bryars – his now famous ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’ and ‘Jesus’ Blood’. The second – Ensemble Pieces – had work by John Adams, Bryars and others and later, during a trip to the USA, Adams gave Bryars a tape by a then unknown Californian minimalist composer and pianist called Harold Budd. On his return to England, Bryars gave the tape to Eno who phoned Budd and invited him to record an album for Obscure. Budd had never heard of Eno, or Roxy Music – the band that had made his name. However he accepted the invitation and his first album, which featured performances by both Bryars and Michael Nyman (whose Decay Music had featured on Obscure No. 6 in 1976) and others, became Obscure’s 10th and final album – The Pavilion of Dreams – in 1978.

Eno then began Ambient Records and he and Budd went on to collaborate again on Ambient 2 – The Plateaux of Mirrors in 1980 and on other later albums. And so a relatively obscure (forgive the pun) American minimalist composer became known as ‘The Godfather of Ambient’, especially to a younger generation of mainly European musicians, many of whom were children when Pavilion was first released.

Now, 34 years later, several of these children of ambience, well-known composers and performers in their own right, have collaborated on an album that honours Budd’s contribution. Lost In The Humming Air (Music inspired by Harold Budd) is curated by Marsen Jules and Rafael Anton Irisarri, who invited 11 of their colleagues to contribute a work … “that, in some way, resembles the music of Harold Budd or channels the influence he had on them as musicians”. The final line-up includes Deaf Center, Loscil, Martin Fuhs, Biosphere, Xela, Marsen Jules, Andrew Thomas, Mokira, Christopher Willits, Taylor Deupree, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Porn Sword Tobacco and bvdub with Criss Van Wey.

As the title suggests, most of the album is slow and dreamlike. Bvdub’s ‘My Father, My Friend’ – made with his mother, the pianist Criss Van Wey – is almost dirge-like: it’s a lament for his recently deceased father. Mokira takes the tempo up a little with the playfully titled ‘Harold Dubb’. Some works, like Deaf Center’s ‘Plateaux’, directly reference Budd’s work; others, like Biosphere’s ‘Det Var Kulmørkt Hjem’ reference via the medium with a re-cut sampled piano work that crosses into the domain of music concrète. Marsen Jules’ own work, ‘Sunrise on 3rd Avenue’, creates a rich sound picture of a busy city street awakening on a hot, sultry summer’s morning. His co-curator Rafael Anton Irisarri’s ‘Gloaming’ is a spacey minimal work, and Irisarri comments: “It was then” – when he first heard Budd’s work when he was 15 and his parents were playing Eno – “when I truly realized that what you don’t play is as important as what you actually do, how space between notes can be used to convey a message or emotion.”

If the minimalist tag puts you off – don’t let it! Budd studied and taught harmony and his work is much closer to the rhythmical permutations of Terry Riley than the studied formalism of Steve Reich or the repetitive punctuations of Phillip Glass. Now in his mid 70’s, Budd remains reclusive and reports say that the ‘Godfather’ label still bemuses him. If you’re interested to know more there’s a perceptive interview with Budd in the UK newspaper The Independent from 2005 – just before his performance at that year’s Brighton Festival.

Lost in the Humming Air will be released as album 4 on the independent Oktaf, Music and Art label established by Marsen Jules. It’s available for digital download from March 26 and on CD from April 9. All the artists donated their work and all profits will go to a charity selected by Budd.

If, like me, you think minimalism composed a peak of 20th century music and that ambient is its legitimate inheritor then this album is a must! If you’re in doubt then try listening to a few samples via the Oktaf website. There’s a link to purchase there too.

Lost in the Humming Air (Music Inspired by Harold Budd)
Various Artists
Oktaf 04