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The Oak of the Golden Arms


(New World Records CD 80555-2 New World Records, 701 Seventh Ave. New York, NY 10036 USA.

Richard Maxfield (1927-1969) was one of the true pioneers of electronic music. Harold Budd, now better known for his ravishing ambient music projects, has a far more varied musical past than one might suspect. This CD is a reissue of two classic solo LPs which appeared on the even-then hard-to-get Advance Recordings label. The first, of Maxfield's music, has four very different pieces, all of which are prophetic in their own way. His Pastoral Symphony from 1960 is vintage early analog electronics, exciting music made well before the advent of voltage control. Bacchanale (1963) is one of the purest expressions of Fluxus in music, with its mixes of world music (recordings supplied by Henry Cowell!), improvisations and beat poetry readings all juxtaposed. Piano Concert for David Tudor (1961) is an extremely dark and sparse piece, influenced by Cage, but with its own clear voice. Amazing Grace (1960) is probably the first tape piece using loops of a Black American English. Its more popular descendents include Steve Reich's Come Out and It's Gonna Rain. Harold Budd's encounter with the Buchla Synthesizer in 1970 produced some extremely minimal, but gritty and hard edged works. The Oak of the Golden Dreams (1970) is 19 minutes of modal improvisation over a raw sawtooth electronic drone. I get the feeling that Budd was using the Buchla touch keyboard for this piece. On this keyboard, you could trigger off notes simply by sliding your fingers over its surface, resulting in "sheets of sound" (ala Coltrane!). This is quite a different way of performing than depressing notes on a keyboard, and produces different musical results. Coeur D'Orr (1969) is a piece for improvising saxophone and tape. The tape is two tracks of sustained chords on an organ, and saxophonist Charles Orena makes extended modal melodies, again, sheets of sound, within the harmonic world of the drone. This piece is probably the first in which Budd discovers his ability to put together ravishing worlds of timbre. Again, another CD that is valuable both for its historical nature and for the lovely music it has.

(this review was first published in Chroma)

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