Posts Tagged ‘harold budd’


Harold Budd & Brian Eno – Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror

June 25, 2008

After Ambient 1: Music For Airports, Brian Eno decided to immediately bring another ambient artist in for the second album of the series. The choice was Harold Budd, a pianist who had played minimalist music in the past and had recently released his first album, The Pavillion of Dreams, produced by Eno. On Ambient 2, Eno is seen as the producer and overseer, while Budd is the solo performer.

And to be sure, Budd takes the spotlight extremely well. Very little in the ambient world can compare to Budd’s playing. He is classically trained, and thus tastefully restrained, but at the same time his versatility is great and he never seems to do the same thing more than once on Ambient 2. At times he focuses his energy on the subtle melodies, while other times letting the notes loose in harp-like glissandos. What stays constant is his talent. Every note seems to matter. Some notes ring out, sounding warm yet hollow, while others feel like necessary side notes in decorative flourishes. Signposts and hooks however are few and far between. In fact, a lot of the album feels improvised, mostly due to the pacing, which says all the more for his talent and restraint considering how easily the music can melt into an environment.

And in fact, he did improvise a significant amount. What Eno has said of his producing of the album is that he would often create complex production setups that Budd would experiment with improvising on piano. The two artists would then bounce ideas off of one another. One such occasion is undoubtedly the first song, First Light. Budd’s notes are echoed and spread out like ripples over a subtle background of ambient tone. Eno plays the same card later on Above Chiangmai, and equally impressive song with just as much density and detail. But this is one of the few occasions where he tries the same thing more than once, and the album is anything but overproduced. The second song, Steal Away, is conversely left bare, in fact, and it is almost always Budd at the focal point of all of these songs.

The closest Eno gets to the spotlight is Not Yet Remembered. Eno utilizes a synthesized vocal part which Budd wrote and Eno cleverly reversed to somehow miraculously make one of the album’s most memorable tracks. Although this vocal part sometimes overpowers the piano, the melody is still the backbone of the song. Budd is the solo performer and the highlight of the album, but The Plateaux of Mirror feels like more of a collaboration than any of the other albums in the series, even Ambient 4 which featured a multitude of guest artists such as Daniel Lanois and Jon Hassell. Ambient 4 is actually foreshadowed here. We hear many drones and electronic touchups meant to represent nature here, and they all came back in full force on Ambient 4. They are much more subtle here, in the form of an occasional side drone or the sound of a bird, but they still add to the experience.

The album follows the same piano based theme throughout, but there is actually a lot of variation. The songs are played mostly on acoustic piano and occasionally on electric piano. These two styles foreshadow many of Budd’s later solo albums that used either acoustic or electric piano. Many songs feel content and tranquil, others sad and melancholy. Occasionally a dash of jazz or a romantic suspension is included to add to the variety. The result is an emotionally fluid album that can at once seem to draw on past memories, while evoking a sense of contentment with the present, and also a sense of tension towards the future. Actually, this is one of those rare albums that seems to agree with whatever the listener is feeling at the time.

What is truly striking about Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror is that all of the songs are interesting and memorable. All of them. And we have Budd to thank for that, but Plateaux is also one of Eno’s most notable production jobs, and the two stand side by side in its creation rather than Eno taking the backseat. Harold Budd and Brian Eno are both talented, humble artists that know how to work together, and Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror is a perfectly formed album, and probably the best album in the series, because their chemistry works so well.


Harold Budd and Brian Eno – The Pearl

October 7, 2007

My favorite member of Brian Eno’s ambient series has always been Ambient 2. Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror is an utterly beautiful record that showcases the brilliant talent of two already seminal artists. Released in 1980, the record came at a time when both Budd and Eno were pioneering ambient methodology. Harold Budd is one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable pianists, not through technical skill but his distinctive minimalist style. Brian Eno always innovates at every step of his career, and he excels in producing just as much as music making. In Ambient 2, the dream team was assembled and an album of airy, minimalistic beauty was crafted. Ambient 2 is an album that carries a shocking amount of emotion with very little sound. Only simple, delicate piano chords are in the music, permeated by Eno’s excellent production. Ambient 2 really is the best ambient album of it’s kind. It’s the kind of album that is engaging when you want it to be, and discreet when you want it to be in the background. You can have just as much fun listening carefully as falling asleep on your couch when it is playing.

Four years later, Budd and Eno decided to collaborate again and release an album in the vein of it’s predecessor. The Pearl is very similar to Plateaux. Enough so that it could be considered a direct sequel. While Budd has a very distinctive style, Eno has always been about changing and developing his own style, making The Pearl a rare case, something familiar. So if you are not into minimalistic piano music, or ambient music, then this is not for you. But if you liked Ambient 2, then this record is completely triumphant. Ambient 2 left listeners begging for more, and The Pearl delivered the goods, and then some. The Pearl is more delicate, relaxing, better produced, and memorable.

Budd has opted for a more varied approach here. Ambient 2 was essentially full of happy, momentous ambient music that did not challenge the listener much. The Pearl has some vaguely dark moments. In songs such as Dark Eyed-Sister and Foreshadowed, the mood is slightly melancholy and mysterious. This is good because, these moments seem to make the album more realistic and engaging. There are also some songs where Budd makes some of his chords dissonant and even accidental, namely The Silver Ball and The Pearl. When he does this, those chords mixed with the subtlety of the music makes for a kind of mystery that is biting, and yet somehow searches for no resolution in the ears. Even when he hits an odd chord, the music is soft, and there is no shock here. It’s that production, though, that cements the bond between the listener and the artists.

The album is better produced than Ambient 2, which already had fantastic production. While Harold Budd’s piano sounds very bare and natural on Ambient 2, it sounds more softer, more produced here. His playing is just as strong, but easier on the ears. Eno and accompanying producer David Lanois are just as important as Harold Budd, who is obviously center stage. While Budd is the backbone and the real draw of the music, Eno and Lanois create the atmosphere with a backdrop of ambient sound that makes even the melancholy numbers feel warm and enveloping. This record is truly a safe place to let your mind wander. Always relaxing, even when it is stimulating.

The first time I listened to this album, I was blown away. I can think of very few other albums that I felt the same love for on the first listen, mostly unanimously great records such as Loveless, OK Computer, and maybe Siamese Dream. That’s all obvious stuff. I was skeptical about The Pearl and I was completely enthralled from the beginning. Upon turning on the album, it seemed to end far faster than it should have despite it’s regular length. And I could not deny that everything I just heard was amazing. Great ambient record.