May 19, 2009

Harold Budd & Brian Eno – Ambient 2 : The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980, Editions EG)

This is an absolute all-time favorite and frequently-suggested-album from many years back. A family friend loaned me this record (as well as David Tudor’s “Pulsers/Untitled” LP) when I was in highschool, and I still have the cassette that I dubbed both records onto (although I recorded over the Tudor side eventually). For periods of my life this was an album I would listen to almost every evening to help unwind after the day, and I eventually tracked down my own copy of the original vinyl which I still listen to regularly. Brian Eno’s original “Ambient 1 : Music For Airports” record is widely regarded as one of Eno’s most important releases, and the origin of the term “ambient music” as defined in his essay in the liner notes. While I appreciate this first release for its place in history, the sound was taken to a deeper, more beautiful level with the collaboration of pianist Harold Budd added to the mix on “Ambient 2”. Budd plays with a melancholy, improvised sound, soft repeating piano motifs and sequences, while Eno applies spatial effects and reverbs to blur the edges of the textures. Soft field recordings and what sound like synthesizer string swells play in a couple of the tracks, but the piano is the star instrument in this mix, heavy on the sustain pedal. This music is particularly gorgeous on old, crackly vinyl, as the dynamic swells of tone tend to become crackly and fuzzed-out at their loudest moments, but maybe this is just my own preference based on how I originally heard the material. More soothing and organic than a lot of synthesizer-driven electronic ambient music, this album is timeless and top-notch. Harold Budd continued on from this point producing many CDs in a similar style of lonely, ambient piano. Particularly worth-hearing are his “White Arcades” and “The Pearl” albums from the mid ‘80s, focusing more on his solo piano compositions without Eno’s reverb/fx experimentation. Brian Eno went on to a massively prolific recording and production career in a variety of genres, with many of his ‘80s ambient records being favorites of mine, as well as his more recent “generative” compositions. I have long been a fan of Eno’s production work with pop groups, such as the UK group James on their classic “Laid” album as well as their fantastic, improvisational “Wah Wah” from ’94. Many people are unaware that Eno was also the producer of many of U2’s mega-smash-albums including “The Joshua Tree” and “Zooropa.” Both Eno and Budd are masters of the ambient sound, and have many excellent records spanning the past four decades.