Through the Hill
Sleevenotes to 2005 reissue:
On paper it may seem a bit odd. American minimalist composer meets eccentric of English Pop in a Swindon garden and makes a beautiful album. When one thinks of Andy Partridge one immediately associates him with spunky English pop outfit XTC, the group which gave us that superlative sonic slice “Making Plans For Nigel” in 1979. A canny knack of mixing angular compressed pop/rock compositions with folk, 50’s rock’n’roll and that most eccentric of things, English psychedelia, spawned the brilliant Dukes Of Stratosphear in 1985. Things continued to go upwards and onwards for Andy Partridge and XTC until the early 1990s when
he worked with producer Gus Dudgeon on the album Nonsuch. Whilst in Japan it was suggested he work with Harold Budd, the American minimalist, who had already collaborated with the likes of Brian Eno and the Cocteau Twins.
While Partridge was in his early 40’s, Budd was a mature composer in his late 50’s. Born in California and raised on hymnal and country music, Budd joined the American Army where he would meet avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler. Afterwards he studied music at university but was put off composition by the obtuse serial works of Boulez and Webern. Instead he opted for the Zen-like creations of John Cage. By 1978 he was working on piano and harp music and in that year came to England to record The Pavilion Of Dreams, an impressionistic
masterpiece of celesta, harp and piano. Eno was the producer with additional support from maverick English composers Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars. Budd would frequently return to Britain to work in the years to follow so his collaboration with Andy Partridge seems a lot more likely than at first glance.
According to Harold: “I met Andy in Swindon in early 1994. We got on very well and laughed without pause. We spent two days in Andy’s home throwing around ideas, almost none of them were kept. We came up with a structure and some titles. Then over three weeks we recorded the whole album at Chipping Norton Studios, Oxfordshire, in what I can remember was the coldest February in history”. On Through The Hill one is immediately struck by the space in the music, Partridge acknowledging that Harold allowed him to “un-baroque
things”, and to pull himself back from “a tendency to over-ornament”. Budd is a consummate improviser on keyboards and piano, he remembers “I also played Hammond B3 organ, Andy’s E-Mu and a vast array of Indian and African bells I brought with me from California”.
Partridge, for his part, played guitars, zither, cymbals, shakers and bells. He also had a Korg synth and a Porteus sampler which produced strange pitches and what were dubbed “argumentative chords”. On the title track, against the stealthy, saturated and progressively murmuring keyboards, one is transfixed by the striking of a bell. Budd says “it reminded me of a Sunday morning in Kent sometime in 1986”. On ‘Great Valley Of Gongs’ the music seems to flow in and out like the sea. “Anima Mundi” sees Partridge’s reverberating guitar chords resonate against a wall of silent sound. “The Place Of Odd Glances” is probably the first track which gives the game away. It’s childlike, psychedelic use of bicycle horn, skittering strings and tinkly percussion could have come from an episode of 1960s cult series The Prisoner, and is quintessential Partridge. The tension in “Well For The Sweat Of The Moon” between the humming guitar parts and the Ambient backdrop perfectly defines one of the most exquisite albums of quiet music ever made.
Budd talks of the album’s late compositions like “Missing Pieces” as examples of the “let’s just do it and see what happens ethic”. “Mantle Of Peacock Bones” could have come from a Zhang Yimou film fantasy, so Oriental is its percussion. There are also some of Andy’s poems read out by Budd but these are a side issue to the sheer elegance of the musical compositions on display. “Bearded Aphrodite” could have come from the hand of Ravel, so considered and emotionally impactful is the piece as a whole. Partridge reminisces the experience as a “naked duet” between equals who shared interests in art and archaeology.
Budd once described himself as “an artist who likes working with ideas” and his final memory of the album is as good a summation as any “Through The Hill is like two strangers who meet and decide to spend the afternoon together”.
Through The Hill
Great Valley Of Gongs
Western Island Of Apples
The Place Of Odd Glances
Well For The Sweat Of The Moon
Tenochtitlán's Numberless Bridges
Missing Pieces To The Game Of Salt And Onyx
Mantle Of Peacock Bones
Bronze Coins Showing Genitals