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The Oak Of Golden Dreams

Richard Maxfield / Harold Budd
The Oak Of Golden Dreams
(New World Records)

Although I'm fairly hip to the history of electronic and experimental music, I'll also be the first to admit that my knowledge doesn't extend very far beyond some of the big names. I've heard a great deal of (and enjoyed) work by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley, John Cale, and La Monte Young, but both finances and simple lack of time have kept me from delving into anything too obscure. Fortunately, New World Records is preserving many early works of the two genres, including work by more known artists, as well as those who are fairly obscure except for the hardcore.

As the title suggests, The Oak Of Golden Dreams is a collection of works by Richard Maxfield and Harold Budd from the early 1960's. Although Harold Budd has gone on to make quite a name for himself as an ambient musician (both solo and with collaborations with Brian Eno and others), Maxfield died a drug-related death in his early 40's (like many other of the time) and his work hasn't been widely heard. It's 4 pieces by him that make up the first half of the disc, and judging by them, it's a shame that he wasn't able to continue on, as they're easily some of the most interesting pieces I've heard from the time period.

"Pastoral" opens the disc, and not unlike electronic music given the same label today, it flutters and squiggles into the realm of continuously generated electronic tones. Although it's 40 years old, and much work from the same period sounds seriously dated, it's surprising that the odd romp through the sonic spectrum still sounds fresh today with all its giggles, sputters, and hums. His "Piano Concert for David Tudor" doesn't fare quiet as well, stretching far too little out over almost 13 minutes, while his "Amazing Grace" is a minimalist tape-loop experiment that preceeds both work by Terry Riley and Steve Reich in the same area. Juxtaposing an electronic piece of his own making with a speech by James Brodie, it's definitely a bizarre piece, but has some seriously great moments.

It's his "Bacchanale" piece that is absolutely amazing, though. A collage that contains no sounds of electronic origin, it juxtaposes spoken word jazz with Korean folk music, and despite the disparate sound sources, it's absolutely amazing how the two come together (how's that for a DJ mash?). In contrast, the Harold Budd pieces are from very early on, and they definitely show his more minimal side at work. "The Oak of The Golden Dawn" layers tones from an old-school Buchla Electronic Music System (the follow-up to the Moog) over one another, while "Couer D'Orr" layers sheets of soprano sax over undulating waves of background organs. It's nowhere near Kenny G (who seems to have ruined the instrument for just about everyone else), and is instead focused on how the layers of sound interact with one another on a long-term basis. It's in this last piece that Budd seems to find his voice a little more, and the seemingly unfocused squiggling on "The Oak..." come into focus more.

If you're a fan of the artists that I mentioned in the first paragraph, this is a release that you might want to check out. As with most early minimal and experimental artists, the focus of this release is simply on interaction of sound and textures rather than 'song.' Although the release lingers a bit too much in places (namely the prepared piano piece by Maxwell and "The Oak..." by Budd), there are also some really amazing pieces on the disc, and as mentioned above, the actual sound of the pieces isn't nearly as dated as much work from the period. As with all releases on the label, there are extensive liner notes for information hounds, and recommended discographies of work for even more musical exploration.

Rating: 7.75