Neo-classical musician Harold Budd has been making music for over four decades. His first recording was released in 1970 and his latest, In the Mist, released 41 years later feels as fresh and fascinating as anything he’s ever done. The record is split into three distinct movements—the five-track The Whisper, the three-song Gunfighters and five-part Shadows. The three movements are unique from each other, but connected in abstract, curious ways. The Whisper is all solo piano compositions, and Budd’s playing is so spare that it sounds more like the shadows of notes than the notes themselves. Gunfighters finds the same piano treated with electronic elements—from the drifting lilt of “Three-Fingered Jack” to the clatter of “Greek George”—which changes his sound from a half-remembered dream to a low-level storm. Shadows finds Budd employing string quartets, but the sound is just as hushed, just as minimal. The most striking thing about In the Mist is how the instrumentation and production meld into one sound. The pianos and strings get treated and manipulated, pulling the high ping out of the piano keys, the audible scrape out of the strings, so that these organic tones are subtly twisted into something new. By smudging the edges of these sounds, Budd invites in the silence around them, and that empty quality is both tense and oddly comforting. This is both music and anti-music, a composition that plays as much with space as it does with sound. In the Mist, despite its three distinct parts, is a wonderful and cohesive whole, one that reminds us of the simple pleasures of an instrument’s sound while also raising questions about our assumptions about what music can and should do.
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