Harold Budd & Eraldo Bernocchi - Music for Fragments from the Inside [Sub Rosa - 2005]Last years Avalon Sutra was he said to be Harold Budds last studio album, whether he holds to his word or not only time will tell but in the meantime we have the release of a live recording of a concert he performed in Italy in 2003 with Eraldo Bernocchi. I haven’t heard anything by Bernocchi before but he seems to dabble in vaguely ambient electronica and soundscapes. Over the course of seven untitled pieces the two men meander through a delicate rose garden of piano improvisation and electronic texturing.
The first part is the only one which features Budd alone, drawing on a career of beautiful soft pedal musings and melodic phrases. The tempo and mood seems routed in his melancholic works with Brian Eno on The Pearl and The Plateaux of the Mirror, but motifs also arise checking the slow motion grandeur of his year 2000 work The Room. You can hear the slightest movement of the audience and the occasional tap of Budds foot as he presses down the pedal of the piano.
This first piece without the electronics sets up beautifully Bernocchi’s entrance into the mix at the bridge between pieces one and two. First squiggling synth textures before choral tones and looping effects. After the simple pleasures of Budds solo piano the quite heavy handed electronics and synth are quite a shock. There’s a repeating female voice loop that grates for the first couple of minutes before thudding bass drives the track into Susumu Yokota territory. Fortunately as soon as Budds piano re-enters the mix it all falls into place, his sparse intersections sitting serenely within Bernocchi’s rhythm and squelch.
If truth be told the driving eastern percussion and bass loops seem to detract from the minimalist approach from Budd but since this is an improvised performance there must be a certain margin of error.
Bernocchi tones it down a bit for the third and forth tracks which while occasionally drifting into car ad soundtrack territory maintain a genuine harmony between the piano and the blanket of electricity. Budd seems to take the lead for the forth track weaving repetitive structures with subtle chord progressions that seem like a flocks of birds effortlessly changing direction with the wind.
The firth part has the rhythms taking a more prominent role with Budd happy to add small touches to Bernocchi’s housey drum and bass loops. Again at times the mix seems to focussed on the lower frequencies and sits curiously with acoustic piano and even the softer touches by Bernocchi. But all the listener has to do is focus on the piano playing which cuts through so effectively to be sedated, you really couldn’t dance to this. Track six is without doubt the standout piece for me, probably because it seems like the only one with a beginning, middle, and end, and has both players working almost seamlessly together. The electronics begin the track with a nice build up of static tones and light floaty bells. Budds piano adding the occasional spiked counterpoint touch. It builds like it’s going somewhere which lends tension and anticipation to the atmosphere. A far better paced and mixed techno loop from Bernocchi begins to push the piece forward before the two players fall delightfully into a midpaced combination of multi-layered ambient electronica with Budd following the melody, creating tremendous harmonic counterpoint. Even a little meandering improv on the piano half way through is picked up on and Bernocchi thins out the textures allowing Budd to come through clearly before it again builds up and falls back into it’s waltz. I think you may be able to dance to this one.
The final piece is the longest and is more laid back than any of the others. Here Budd lets his playing flow out like treacle off the end of a spoon, as the more minimal electronics provide a backdrop. After several rhythm changes the electronics drop into a distant soundscape and the piano fades over the horizon, before rapturous applause. An excellent performance in places, occasionally falling into the trap of bland house music rhythms or obvious looping, but Budd is imperious throughout. Duncan Simpson