Reconstructing Harold

Here’s a brief audio sample from Harold Budd’s Children on the Hill, the improvisatory piece I’m transcribing from a 1982 perfomance for reconstruction on our upcoming Minimalism conference. At 23 minutes in length, it’s a completely different piece than his eponymous performance on the old Obscure CD. The beginning and end were easy to transcribe, but in the middle of the piece is a wildly rhapsodic wash of arpeggios that goes on for 13 minutes. I can slow down the soundfile to catch all the notes, but slowing down also blurs the note attacks, and makes low notes in particular less distinct. So what I end up doing is transcribing the general outlines as far as I can at normal speed, slowing down to 50 or 60 percent to catch all the treble arpeggios, then slowing that down another 50 percent to decipher grace notes and disentangle rippling arppeggios, then listening to the whole thing sped up again – which often reveals mistaken rhythms as well as mis-heard bass notes. Of course, it’s not just normal piano, but piano played through an Eventide Harmonizer, which blurs the notes and makes them sound like they’re sustained or played again, which doesn’t make transcription any easier. I’d say I’ve been spending at least three hours on every minute of the recording, and I’ve got seven minutes left to go. Below is my transcription (so far) of the passage above. Of course, rhythms are kind of a humorous fiction in a rapidly improvised passage like this, so the pianist (Sarah Cahill) will have to ignore the meter, play in an unmeasured rush of excitement, and listen to the original recording to try to capture the original expression. Next to this, the transcription work I did on The Well-Tuned Piano was a piece of cake, but Harold’s music is so beautiful that it’s going to be totally worth it. 



  1. kraig Grady says

    I love Eventides, they are wonderful.
    But then again so is Mr. Budd.
    and the two , a fine pair.
    KG replies: Well, I thought I’d buy myself one (an Eventide, not a Budd), but the top ‘o the line model is $5500! There’s a no-frills model for $2000. Anyone know if it’s wonderful?

  2. mateo says

    I’m curious, why this more rhytmically exact notation and not, for example, a kind of “lead sheet” notation that takes into account particular chord voicings or systems that generate material heard in the recordings?
    KG replies: Well, one could as easily ask, why transcribe Art Tatum’s recordings, or Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert, as others have done. Children on the Hill exhibits an interesting correspondence between keys and textures/figures: every passage in E major contains certain figurations, every passage in Db major contains different figures (including variations on the melody that begins at the bottom of the example given), and so on. A lead sheet would never get those exact correspondences across. From my transcription one could generate a more general notation that would more authentically allow someone to improvise the piece in the same way Budd was thinking, but I don’t see how you could omit a full transcription as an intermediate step, to figure out exactly how Budd thinks.

  3. mateo says

    Good point, though to be fair what I meant would encapsulate exactly those formally relevant figures being varied and elaborated (e.g. that major third+semitone figure you mentioned in your other post on this piece.) I guess something akin to a more neatly organized Julius Eastman score, so to speak. Sorry if I sound like I’m shifting goalposts or questioning the validity of your transcribing this, I just felt like my comment needed clarifying.
    Also, is there any chance of uploading your recording of the piece, wailing baby and all?
    KG replies: Oh, I think I understood what you meant. I’m not an improviser (revision is sort of central to my concept of composing), and I don’t know much about improv notation. Surely the keys and motives in the fast middle section would be possible to notate such that someone would be able to perform from it. How the slow outer sections could be so notated, not being based on harmonies but on melodic motives and pitch emphases, I can’t see myself, but maybe someone could do it. The actual performance is just so elegant, though, so note-perfect, that I’m eager to add it to the repertoire intact, as much as possible. I will put up the entire recording closer to the time of the conference. Forgive me for hedging, but I wouldn’t want someone to steal my thunder before I get to unveil it.

  4. says

    At first, I parsed the timings in bars 324 and 328 as tuplet ratios. Even for an improv, a 12:31 ratio would be pretty hardcore — and if the rhythms are going to be a “humorous fiction” anyway, why go to the trouble of writing them out with that level of detail?
    KG replies: 12:31 wouldn’t be beyond me in my Disklavier music, but surely I would write it as 31:24. A great ratio – now I’ll have to use it.

  5. kraig Grady says

    My first CD done with Brad Laner used nothing but an eventide. I still prefer what that machine did compared to any computer processing somehow. this was 94 so that was an older model which might be less than what the $2000 model does now. I’ll send you a copy if you wish.
    KG replies: Sure.

  6. Richard Mitnick says

    Where were you when John Schaefer did the broadcast premier of White Arcades on a week-end New Sounds program in 1988?
    BTW, I have been impelled by a PubRadio person I highly respect to begin my own “blog” on Public radio and serious music, at
    Come give us a look.

  7. mclaren says

    No, no, no, no, no, a thousand times no! Don’t waste your money buying the hardware, spend $500 on a Mac OS X softsynth plugin effect instead of spending $5000 on the hardware version. The softsynth plugin will do 99% of what Budd’s Eventide Harmonizer did back in 1980 or whatever, but won’t break the bank. Alternatively, pick up a used Harmonizer on ebay. I own an Eventide 3000 and it’s wonderful. But I bought my hardware-version Eventide 12 years ago, back before computers were fast enough to do this stuff with softsynth plugins in real time and that was also before ebay existed. If I had it do over again today, I’d scarf up a used unit or snarfle up a cheap softsynth plugin version from some online merchant who’s hurting because of the global economic meltdown.
    Case in point: you can grab a full suite of Eventide plugins from Eventide itself for a hefty $995, or you can scuttle on over and wave your antennae at some plugins from SoundToys which are “inspired” by the Eventide and sound 90% the same but cost only $495. Make sure to check carefully on compatibility before buying. You will need a VSTi or VST host program and you might need a particular special version of Pro Tools so research carefully before you buy (but almost every musician I know already had Pro Tools, it’s about as basic in electronic music as PhotoShop for digital art). Also make sure that your older G4 will run this software, Kyle. Remember that Apple keeps changing operating systems and processors, so today’s software sometimes won’t run on older Apple hardware & operating systems. You might have to buy a used Eventide harmonizer plugin, but those are available too in online classifieds and on ebay. Check carefully to make sure of compataibility before you buy.
    If you’re particularly charmed by the model of Eventide Budd used, you can pick up one of those used on ebay for even less than the cheapest SoundToys software plugin. Those older Eventides still do a lot, even though they don’t have all the bells & whistles of a modern H76000 Harmonizer. In fact, you can pick up even the comparatively recent H3000 Harmonizer for startingly little moolah.
    I keep telling electronic musicians the power of obsoletismo, but do they listen? No! But trust me, kiddies, you do not need to buy the latest-greatest synth or effects unit in order to get vast sonic power. For around $200 you can buy a perfectly good used laptop on ebay that will do 99% of everything you need as an electronic musician, including real-time VST and VSTis, and you can spend less if you’re willing to install linux yourself instead of Window$. (You’ll have to spend a little more for a used OS X laptop, but not that much more. And if you’re willing to buy a 2004-vintage laptop with no hard drive and pop one in yourself and install an operating system, you can get the laptop shockingly cheap. As, for instance, in the case of the $349 MSI Wind on which you can easily install OS X Leopard yourself…) In fact, oftimes the latest version of a synth or effects unit has fewer capabilities than older models…as in the case, say, of Yamaha synths like the TX802 which include built in full-keyboard pitch tables that let you retune the entire synth to non-12 tunings. More recent Yamaha synths ripped that feature out!!!
    Some older effects units like the Yamaha REV7 or the Lexicon JamMan far exceed the capabilities of anything available today. Don’t waste your money on new gear. Buy the old stuff and wilfully misuse it in ways that would make the designer’s eyes bug out! Obsoletismo forever!

  8. says

    I understand this is not just the second time you’re transcribing a piece, and this kind of piece (counting the Well Tuned Piano already). This is an admirable work (yours, but of course also the music itself, or herself, if you allow me).