Partridge in a pair
Andy Partridge, Harold Budd
One of this year's most intriguing studio partnerships has emerged on All Saints Records - Through The Hill, an album by Harold Budd and Andy Partridge. Budd is no stranger to the label. His minimal keyboard utterings have graced the catalogue since its inception. Andy Partridge, however, has crashed the soiree, on sabbatical from the somewhat racier world of XTC.
As a home for contemporary chamber music, and curator of all things Enoesque from the days of Opal and EG, All Saints has alchemised many collaborations. Jon Hassell with 808 State; Roger Eno with Kate St John; and a sort of house band made up of this latter two plus Bill Nelson, Laraaji and Mayumi Tachibana.
"If you put two people together," says Harold Budd, "you should get a third thing - not just a combination of the two. Anyway, it makes me look good to work with a musician with a superb ear like Andy. I'm a long way from being a conventional musician."
Initially dabbling in Andy's garden studio, the duo improvised their way out of many conventions. By the time they were ready for a residential spell at intimate Chipping Norton Studios, it was open season on recording rules. An old Korg guitar synth, for example, was allowed to speak its mind.
"It has very early, monophonic technology," says Andy Partridge. "It can't decide what note to play if you put more than one note into it. So it tends to improvise."
Both are attracted to the charm of the primitive. "You can do anything with a camera," Andy comments, "but the much more limited pencil or paintbrush gives you a much gutsier expression." Indeed, much of the album is reduced to deceptively simple strokes of acoustic guitar and piano, as the two protagonists distill concentrated and essential music, seemingly as you listen.
During the recording, immediacy was assured by rejecting any instrumental preconceptions. "We used whatever one felt like sitting down at when we came in after breakfast," Andy reveals. "If I found Harold sitting at the piano, I knew that, OK, this piece would have piano on it. Or if I'd put new strings on the acoustic guitar, anything Harold wanted would probably have to have acoustic guitar on it. It largely grew by itself."
"Each piece had its own dynamic," adds Harold. "Our chore was to do whatever was necessary to bring it to pass. Sometimes this would be mindlessly simple, sometimes quite sophisticated - with help from friends..."
One of whom was Chipping Norton's Barry Hammond, an engineer well versed in capturing acoustic sources. His handling of the Fairground Attraction classic 'Perfect' took it to Number One in 1988 and began something of a folk revival.
"Barry tended to take everything, all the time," explains Andy. "And if something began to sound promising, we'd rewind, discard what we had so far, and start it from that point. If something needed further ornamentation, or a spine if we'd only made the ribs, Barry would let us know. But we threw away half as much stuff again - either aborted improvisations or recordings that, er, 'fell through'".
"a mature artist ought to be able to make a good record from the contents of a cutlery drawer"
According to Harold, the division of labour was at least symmetrical.
"There was a lot of keyboard playing by Andy," he points out. "And there was no guitar playing by me at all."
Andy laughs. "There was a lot of 'well, we'll wipe it for now, and review it later' with Harold's parts..."
The bonhomie is infectious. It's clear that an intuitive bond between the two musicians kept the mechanics of recording very, shall we say, well oiled. For an improvisational work, a boldly minimal amount of editing was sanctioned.
"We kind of did it in the playing," says Andy. "One of us would nod frantically when it was time to shut up, or sometimes we would feel it without looking at each other. It really did grow very quickly and organically."
"I think," concludes Harold, "a mature artist ought to be able to make a good record from the contents of a cutlery drawer. It's possible under almost any circumstances, as long as there are decent people there with brains. Honestly."
Guitars, piano, dodgy synths and a few metaphorical spoons. All you need to get you Through The Hill.
This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #2.
Interview by Phil Ward
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