Ventrilo-Dialogue: An Imagined Conversation With Harold Budd

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Tom: Thanks for talking with me today Harold.

Budd: Sure.

T: I’ve been enjoying your keyboard music for many years and I’m curious to know how you came to your way of playing. You once said in a Red Bull interview, 

“I’m not a pianist, any piano player will tell you that…Just take responsibility,
it’s your piece, do it, play it, period, that’s it.”

What did you mean by that?

Budd: Yeah. Well, I’m not a trained pianist in any conventional sense. And in the second part of that quote I was referring to a performance some time ago, conducted by Lukas Foss, for which I played piano. I listened to a tape of the performance and was so appalled by what I heard—my playing was so bad! I then decided to sit down and learn how to properly play the piano part.

T: To take responsibility.

Budd: Exactly. As I said in an interview for L.A. Record, I decided, after a spell of playing avant-garde music, that I wanted to be responsible “for music that would change your life.”

T: That’s bold and kind of inspiring.

Budd: And true too.

T: I also read in an interview you did with The Guardian that you don’t particularly care for the piano, nor do you have any urge to make music. 

Budd: Right, I did say that.

T: I found that refreshing, yet also a shocking thing for someone who makes beautiful-sounding music “that would change your life” to say.

Budd: I can’t say if my music sounds beautiful, it just sort of is. The main thing is that it’s the only sound I can make. I will say though, that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make music that sounds attractive. There’s nothing bad about consonance.
Why would anyone want to make unattractive music, anyway?

T: To show their sophistication? I don’t know.

Budd: It makes no sense.

T: Well, I like your music. It’s a beautiful kind of ambient minimalism.

Budd: I’ve never liked that term minimalism either. It puts musics into a stylistic box. But I will admit that I once said about myself, “I’m so minimal, I’m not even minimalist.” Which is still true.

T: So, back to your distaste for music and for the piano. 

Budd: Right. I’m not much of a music fan and I don’t listen to music at all. And the piano is rather ugly. Who would want one in their house anyway? It’s so huge and takes up so much space. My first love was the drums—I wanted to be like Max Roach and Kenny Clarke.

T: I didn’t know you were also a drummer. So what were your influences—specifically the things that lead you to your piano sound?

Budd: I don’t know if my kind of piano playing has any clear sources, but after jazz—my number one influence—another inspiration was Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rosetti was a nineteenth-century British painter and poet (1828-1882) who found it difficult to choose between a career in poetry or painting. Another influence was Brian Eno.

T: Eno has influenced a lot of musicians. I’ve consulted his Oblique Strategies from time to time. He gets you thinking about what you’re doing and thinking differently.
How did Eno influence you?

Budd: He influenced me through his bravery. He’ll go in any direction a project takes him and he lets the material completely dictate the path. He’s fearless that way: it takes strength to get out of one’s own way like that. A third influence was the painter Robert Motherwell. Motherwell once said something that inspired me. He said “Art without risk is pointless.”

T: How did that idea manifest itself in your music?

Budd: In the sense that every time I sit down to play I have no idea what will happen. It could be terrible! (Laughs) That sense of risk is what compels me to go places I would not otherwise have a reason to go.

T: One last question. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

Budd: Yes I do. First, think beyond the walls of a formal musical education, if you had one. If you did have one, you may have missed out on a lot of stuff. Second, get to know an instrument on terms that make sense to you rather than to someone else. Third, be open to influences coming from anywhere. You never know how something can compel you until it does. And my final bit of advice is: stay out of your own way.

T: Thanks for taking the time Harold. 

Budd: Sure.

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