There was a time when every night as I fell asleep, I listened to The White Arcades, Harold Budd’s startling soundtrack of reverberating angels. It is so ingrained in my consciousness that when I open my mouth the music softly plays. Although it is considered Ambient music, Budd himself dislikes the term and I can see why. Eno suggested that ambient music might be music as wallpaper, a pleasant background, undemanding of your attention, perhaps creating a mood but not really intended for listening as such. As it happens, listening to Eno’s Ambient albums is pure subtle pleasure (perhaps that disappoints Eno?) but Harold Budd is a composer, a pianist and his music is not something to be lost amongst the decor.
Budd was born in the Los Angeles in 1936 and is best described as an Avant-Gardist. He studied musical composition at university and unsurprisingly he uses his deep musical knowledge to create less rather than more. The beauty in restraint, the inspiration in the note, the thousand worlds that exist in a single chord – these concepts for all the intellectual image around them are purely a search for simplicity, for emotional power in the uncomplicated. But unlike meditation, emptying your mind to set it free, Budd fills your mind with glowing white light, he caresses the mind, he takes you to fantastic places, he immerses you in soft pillows with the scent of musk, he places you in the quiet amongst the noise that surrounds you, he slows you down, relaxes you, offers you consoling whispers and luxurious dreams, sumptuous heavenly peace. I hear kindness in his music, the humbling of humanity floating in an arena of planets and stars and simultaneously observing the universe in the incessant trickle of sparkling icy mountain water on a perfect sun-drenched afternoon. Harold Budd’s music is slow motion sweeps of ancient mountains, green warm seas and fields lush and alive with life.
Collaborations with Cocteau Twins, Robin Guthrie and Eno have been inspiring and are worth searching for along with Budd’s solo catalogue, but The White Arcades is one of the most beautiful records I have ever heard and reflects a man that in his eightieth years has infused the Earth with tranquility, made the oceans bluer and the clouds whiter. His music is the serenity of swans, the soft exploding colour of peacock’s feathers seen through a kaleidoscope. You should probably own it!