The mermen. We want to be with them. Harold is now with them.
The mermen. We want to be with them. Harold is now with them. DUNCAN1890/GETTYIMAGES.COM

Added to the rising rubble of the first year of the second decade of the 21st century is the death of the American composer, Harold Budd. Sure, he lived a long life (he was an octogenarian at the moment of passing), but there was nothing stopping him from living another year (to 85) and composing another song. COVID-19 made him one of the nearly 300,000 Americans who lost their lives to a pandemic the US government failed to manage.


But Harold Budd. What made him great?

In my opinion it was his non-place in music. Budd had classical training, he worked with jazz musicians, and he dipped into pop with the ease of a duck dipping its head into water.

His first major work was The Pavilion of Dreams, which was the last and by far the best of 10 albums released on Brian Eno's label, Obscure Records. (Second was Eno's groundbreaking ambient record, Discreet Music, and third was Michael Nyman's Decay Music, an album which deconstructed jazz and classical elements into discrete packets that jumped through the silence of space from one moment to the next.)

Budd's record featured some of the most beautiful blowing by experimental jazz saxophonist Marion Brown. The record was over-lush and over-dreamy in just the right way. And Budd's interpretation of John Coltrane's "After the Rain" in the second part of "Two Rooms" deserves to be heard at the opening of any church service devoted to the works and blessedness of Saint Coltrane.

Harold Budd also has a Proustian side I adore. It's heard on albums such as Perhaps, a work of solo piano pieces released only seven years ago. Perhaps is really the second part of the equally Proustian La Bella Vista, which was recorded in Budd's living room in 2003 by Daniel Lanois, and which is a part of his classically inclined oeuvre that includes the 2013 album Bandits of Stature. (That album contains 14 pieces composed by Budd and performed by the Formalist Quartet).

What is also special about these works is that they can be identified as minimalist, but not at all in the Philip Glass sense. Their minimalism is not shaped by sheer, industrial-like repetition but instead a minimalism that retains but fragments of the lushness of a Claude Debussy or a Bill Evans. The albums also have what Proust called in his fictional music piece, "Vinteuil Sonata," a "little phrase."

Listen to "Veil of Orpheus (Cy Twombly's)."

But Budd also made pop music. This is clearly the case with his 1988 The White Arcades. The opening track of that album, "The White Arcades," could easily have been inserted in Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love."

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He also collaborated with Cocteau Twins's Robin Guthrie—in fact, the two released a new record only last week)—and he composed a superb soundtrack for Gregg Araki's 2004 Mysterious Skin.

But one of my favorite albums by Budd, The Room, cannot be easily defined. I really do not know what it is. Neither fish nor fowl. I can only describe it as, moment by moment, what Budd is feeling. One room in the album is funky, another is kind of futuristic, another recalls the light that first appears after a very long night. My favorite piece on the album, however, is the "The Candied Room." It is the song of mermans who want you to leave whereever you are and join them and stay with them forever on their diaphanous island of bliss. I think Budd is over there with those mermans now.