Harold Budd, the iconic avant-garde ambient and minimalist composer, has died at the age of 84. His death was confirmed by his close collaborator Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins on Facebook. “Shared a lot with Harold since we were young, since he was sick, shared a lot with Harold for the last 35 years, period,” he wrote. “Feeling empty, shattered lost and unprepared for this … Rest in peace, poet of the piano.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Budd played the drums growing up and, after graduating high school, enrolled at Los Angeles City College, where he signed up for a music theory course in harmony. He briefly stepped away to join the army, where he became a drummer in a regimental band alongside iconic avant-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler, and went on to study under composer Gerald Strang at San Fernando Valley State College. During this period, Budd created minimalist drone works partly influenced by John Cage, who gave a speech to him and his fellow students titled ‘Where Are We Going and What Are We Doing?’. Already married with children, he earned a graduate degree from the University of Southern California, where he worked with Ingolf Dahl, in 1966. He released his first recorded work, The Oak of the Golden Dreams, in 1970, but suddenly quit composition, saying he had “minimalized myself out of existence.”
Eight years later, he returned with the Brian Eno-produced album, The Pavilion of Dreams, which he had been working on for the better part of the decade. Budd continued to collaborate with Eno, working with him on 1980’s Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror and 1984’s The Pearl. Over the next four decades, Budd released dozens of albums in genres ranging from experimental piano to jazz to dream pop and beyond. Though he became associated with the “soft pedal” style of playing the piano, he did not learn how to play the instrument until he was will in his thirties. In addition to Eno, Budd collaborated with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, XTC’s Andy Partridge, Ultravox’s John Foxx, Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble, and more. His most recent album with Guthrie, Another Flower, came out just last week.
“His last words to me were ‘adios amigo’…” Guthrie wrote on Facebook. “They always were.. He left a very large ‘harold budd’ shaped hole whichever way we turn…”