Harold Budd, the legendary avant-garde ambient composer, has died at 84. His frequent collaborator Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins confirmed the news on Facebook, writing, “It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Harold Budd. Rest in peace, poet of the piano.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Budd quickly took to music at a young age. He played the drums growing up and, once enrolled at Los Angeles City College, signed up for a music theory course in harmony. Budd briefly stepped away to enlist in the army, where he met Albert Ayler, the avant-garde saxophonist and his eventual bandmate for a short spell.
Once back, Budd studied under composer Gerald Strang at San Fernando Valley State College and was deeply moved by a lecture John Cage delivered while attending the school, going so far as to say it changed how he thought about music. Afterwards, Budd went to the University of Southern California where he worked with Ingolf Dahl, got married and had children, and graduated in 1966.
Budd released his first recorded work, The Oak of the Golden Dreams, in 1970 and then suddenly quit, having “minimalized myself out of existence.” A few years later, he returned with a collection of calm, sweeping, piano compositions called The Pavilion of Dreams that were produced by Brian Eno. Budd would later credit Eno as giving him “absolute bravery to go in any direction.” They worked together on his third effort, 1980’s Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, and regularly stayed in touch.
Over the past 40 years, Budd has released dozens of albums in a wide range of genres, including experimental piano, avant-garde minimalism, dream pop, and beyond. Although he’s most often associated with the “soft pedal” style of playing piano, he didn’t learn how to play the instrument until he was will in his 30s, a fact he views as encouraging to any other late bloomers.
In addition to Eno, Budd frequently collaborated with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie — their most recent album together, Another Flower, came out just last week — as well as XTC’s Andy Partridge, Ultravox’s John Foxx, Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble, and more.
“A lot to digest. Shared a lot with Harold since we were young, since he was sick, shared a lot with Harold for the last 35 years, period,” wrote Guthrie on Facebook. “Feeling empty, shattered, lost and unprepared for this, as do my wife Florence and girls Violette and Lucy Belle. All my best to Elise, Terrance, Hugo and all the family. His last words to me were ‘adios amigo’… They always were.. He left a very large ‘harold budd’ shaped hole whichever way we turn…”
“The word ‘ambient’ doesn’t ring a bell with me. It’s meant to mean something but is, in fact, meaningless. It’s not relevant for me. My style is the only thing I can do well. I don’t think about genres. I don’t think about labels, they don’t have meanings.” -Harold Budd. RIP❤️
— opn (@0PN) December 8, 2020
Mark Rothko's advice to a young Harold Budd pic.twitter.com/PFrtdWFp75
— sophiepenrose (@sophiepenrose) December 8, 2020
His music offered solace to many, opening ears to a deeper listening experience and appreciation of music
Thoughts to his family, friends and fans
Thank you for the music and the Mexican lunch ❤️
— Hannah Peel (@Hanpeel) December 8, 2020
I ate a sandwich next to Harold Budd in catering at a festival, and with a mouthful of turkey said "I love falling asleep to your records. Its so nice" and he replied "You look like you haven't slept in weeks" RIPAdvertisement
— Ryley walker (@ryleywalker) December 8, 2020