WHS-C 1001 William Ackerman – The Search for the Turtle’s Navel

The Search for the Turtle’s Navel or

In Search of the Turtle’s Navel

Original Release Date: 1976

Current Artist Web Site: http://williamackerman.com/

Updated September 2015 with new details about different pressings. See below.

Review

This is the album that started it all. “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” is the first William Ackerman album, the first Windham Hill album. In 1975, William Ackerman, a Stanford dropout and founder of Windham Hill Builders in Palo Alto, California collected $5 each from 300 friends to record an album. They had heard him play live and wanted to have the music to listen to anytime.

Ackerman had been inspired by John Fahey’s Takoma Records – musically, and with the sense that he, too, could start his own record label. At the time, Ackerman hadn’t envisioned that his label would sell millions of recordings establish dozens of artists and start a new genre. He was making records for friends and putting out records part time. As the founding of Windham Hill is fairly widely reported, I’ll not go into it deeply here.

It is an essential recording for fans of solo guitar, folk, finger-picking, and new age.

As a collector and lover of the early Windham Hill albums this is certainly the most interesting because Ackerman would change it with new printings. This original page featured two covers that I’ve found in Bay Area stores: the “black cover” Windham Hill recording with guitar on the back, and the final “White Cover” Windham Hill pressing. The A&M pressing replicated the “White Cover” Windham Hill release except for the change in release number from “WHS C-1001” t0 “WH 1001” and the addition of the A&M distribution reference.

Since then I’ve heard from guitarist and Ackerman collector Tim Pacheco, who graciously photographed 5 different versions he’s collected. I’ve also heard from the “Turtle’s Navel” recording engineer Scott Saxon, who also has multiple copies.

The Search for the Turtle’s Navel: The original version is titled “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” and features a black and white photo of a young child over the entire cover. The back side features a black and white shot by photographer Ron May of a guitar neck with plant silhouettes behind it.

Some have wondered about title. Don’t turtles lay eggs? How could they have a navel? This question drove the album name. In a comment in the Facebook group Windham Hill Lovers, Will Ackerman states: When I was 10 we lived in Germany for a year. My father was the head “prof” for the second Stanford in Germany campus. I was then a fairly serious ping pong player. There was a ping pong table there and I could usually beat the pants off of most of the students. One student, Bill Sterling (the son of the then-president of Stanford University), however, was a challenge. We used to bet on games. A Mark was worth 25 cents in a time when that would buy 50 Gumi Bears in Germany…. my principal currency at the time. There was a time when Bill owed me 5 marks (a nice hefty coin that made me feel pretty rich when I had one)… he offered me a deal… double or nothing. If I could find a picture of a turtle’s navel I’d be up to 10 Marks and if not it would be back to 0 for me. So I went hunting for the photo and failed. I handed over my 5 Marks, not wanting to be a “kid” and taking my lumps. Bill smiled and explained the ruse and handed me 10 Marks !!! I recently reached out to Bill who remembered the bet. He did say that I owed him at least 10 Marks for the title of my LP (now CD).”

UPDATE: Scott Saxon, who was the recording engineer for Ackerman’s “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” and “It Takes a Year” as well as Alex De Grassi’s “Turning: Turning Back” has promised to share some interesting stuff about the original recording sessions, including the technical stuff. Scott Saxon is currently owner at TechShop Durham.

The Search for the Turtle's Navel
Original Black Cover

Credits from final Windham Hill issued “black cover” release

  • Recorded at Mantra Studios, San Mateo, CA.
  • Engineered and mixed by Scott Saxon.
  • Produced by Scott Saxon and William Ackerman
  • Liner photo by Ron May
  • All compositions by William Ackerman
  • All selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388 Stanford, Ca. 94305
  • (c)(p)WINDHAM HILL RECORDS 1976
White Cover

Credits from “White Cover” release

  • Recorded at Mantra Studios, San Mateo, CA.
  • Engineered and mixed by Scott Saxon.
  • Produced by Scott Saxon and William Ackerman
  • Cover photo by William Ackerman
  • Liner photo by Anne Ackerman
  • Design by Gail Segerstrom, Cheryl, Anne Ackerman and Will Ackerman
  • All compositions by William Ackerman
  • All selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388 Stanford, Ca. 94305
  • (c)(p)WINDHAM HILL RECORDS 1976

Liner Notes

Side One

THE PINK CHIFFON TRICYCLE QUEEN (5:30) 1973

proving once and for all that speed and dexterity are not enough. Written as the theme song for the 1973 Smart Person’s Convention in Detroit.

ELY (5:27) 1970

intended to convey a picture of the cathedral in Ely, England

WINDHAM MARY (4:25) 1972

a song for Mary Folsom.

PROCESSIONAL (3:40) 1973

for Steve Harvey who is noted within theatre circles primarily for his promotion of excessive hairgrowth as a viable dramatic form.

DANCE FOR THE DEATH OF A BIRD (3:27) 1970

a kotoesque ballad of death and anger. The thought “life is an endless vista of toil” may be supplied by the individual listener as harmony.

THE SECOND GREAT TORTION BAR OVERLAND OF WEST TOWNSHEND, VERMONT, JOSE PEPSI ATTENDING (3:10) 1974

a horror story of metal fatigue and intoxication wherein a maddened Pepsi salesman is coerced into the abandonment of all ethical standards and a submissive truck first experiences the freedom of modern downhill skiing.

Side Two

WHAT THE BUZZARD TOLD SUZANNE (4:30) 1971

conveys the mood of terrible heat and concerns itself with how unwelcome enlightenment can be without icecubes.

BARBARA’S SONG (7:25) 1970

a song of love and its attendant miseries

GAZOS (4:33) 1975

in commemoration of The Great Barrier Reef Marsupial Jamboree, 1857 at which time Coriolis Effect was invented for purposes of comedy.

SLOW MOTION ROAST BEEF RESTAURANT SEDUCTION (3:33) 1974

the woman across from you is moonlit and confessing something. Suddenly the flood comes.

WOMAN SHE RIDES (2:43) 1974

being a lament directed at the singing voice itself.

Tunings and Tabs

Ackerman generously makes tunings for his songs available on his web site.

Alternate Covers

Photos Courtesy of guitarist Tim Pacheco.

CD Reissue Liner Notes

It seems both like yesterday and in another lifetime that I recorded Turtle’s Navel. While not as poetic, the calendar tells me it was somewhere in the middle of these extremes, twenty-two years ago. It was 1975 and I was 25.

In 1975, the Bee Gees we Jive Talkin’ and we were scared to go into the water; a young Steven Spielberg having done for oceans what Hitchcock had previously done for showers. I recorded a simple solo guitar record at Mantra Studios in San Mateo, California with a guy named Scott Saxon engineering. I think the whole project took place in three two-hour sessions. It’s impossible to describe the innocence of the experience. This was intended to be a record for friends who had heard my music in stairwells and churches in the Palo Alto, California area. This naïve and innocent ambition was the beginning of Windham Hill Records which, like Turtle’s Navel, is now twenty-two years old.

I have not listened to Turtle’s Navel all the way through since 1976, which offers a musician about as much objectivity on their own music as one could hope for. I just listened to the record. It is so long ago that I almost feel it was written by someone else. Whoever the guy is, you can hear clearly the source of some of his influence: John Fahey in “What the Buzzard Told Suzanne,” Kottke in “The Second Great Tortion Bar Overland” and “The Pink Chiffon Tricycle Queen,” Robbie Basho in “Ely” and Japanese Koto music in “Dance for the Death of a Bird.” There are transitions I had forgotten and was surprised to hear as the CD played. Two fo the songs Id actually forgotten entirely, “Gazos” and “Slow Motion Roast Beef Restaurant Seduction.” I was surprised by the jazzy feel of “Windham Mary” and “Gazos,” an element which has all but disappeared from what I write now. What struck me the most, though, was that a few songs really sounded like they had their own voice; “Processional” (still a staple of my live performance), “Barbara’s Song” and “Slow Motion.” The years however, and all the music that has come since, make the fruits of this exploration rather like finding artifacts in an archeological dig. I am pleased to say that Turtle’s Navel sounds simple, even primitive to me, but also sincere.

I hope you’ll find something here that you enjoy.

Will Ackerman

Windham County, VT November 1, 1997

August 2015 Updates

Since publishing this a few years back, I’ve found new copies of the album, and heard comments from Will Ackerman about some of the variations. In a comment on the Facebook Group Windham Hill Lovers, Will says:

“The very first Turtle’s Navel albums were printed on a warm brown paper stock. They are easily identified by the fact that they were glued to plain white album covers (which were in the ceiling crawlspace of Mantra Studios in San Mateo and given to me by engineer Scott Saxon), so that one can see the white of the cover on the spine and on all of the margins. This was being done on such a shoestring budget that the free plain covers from Scott were deeply appreciated. These early covers retained the inclusion of thanks to friends who helped make these covers… Gail Segerstrom who did the design with my input (the photo I took being of my sister Elinor when she was 3), Geoff Elliot who did the actual printing. Then it was up to me to use spray adhesive to glue these to the plain white covers. The second incarnation is much the same as the first except the gluing of the cover printing is over black covers which were given to me by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records (for whom I was doing some construction work in Emeryville, CA as part of my Windham Hill Builders company). The covers were from a discontinued record called “Louisiana Prison Worksongs.” I take certain delight that Turtles and prison work songs could be such intimate partners in this. I am indebted to friend and fellow guitarist Tim Pacheco who has found at least 5 of the covers as they evolved and sent them to me as gifts. One of the tip-offs that you have one of the original covers is that I learned that I needed some sort of copyright information on the records and so had a rubber stamp made that read ” P ” with a circle around it, 1975 William Ackerman. I believe that there were perhaps 300 of these covers. I’d have to write a book on all of the later variations. I believe there are 7 different Turtle’s Navel cover incarnations. Will”

You can see some of these covers in a video I made of the 5 variations I own here:

17 Replies to “WHS-C 1001 William Ackerman – The Search for the Turtle’s Navel”

  1. Hi, if you have an interest in more info on Will’s “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” let me know. I have been collecting various releases of this great LP and have 6 different vinyl versions, all with different variations on the cover and record label. Thanks for your website here. Tim

  2. Hi Tim,

    Thanks! I’d love to hear more about the different versions that were released, and will update the site with more info.

    Also, I popped over to your site upon seeing your contribution – sweet music samples! – and what a great opening quote – How do you know Will Ackerman?

    Johnny Dark

  3. Thanks so much for this. Great read! Very thorough and interesting. I have been collecting Windham LP’s and CD’s for some time and also have a different copy of Turtles Navel including a vocal tune at the end which was left off the CD version. I also have live bootleg recordings of George Winston, Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Will Ackerman and a few others.

    Thanks again. So cool to see someone has documented all this musical history so well.

  4. Tim – thank you for the great information. I’ve been trying to find a copy of “Turtle’s Navel” with the song “Woman She Rides” on the LP. What is the story behind this song? Why did will remove it from further pressings? I have one version of the LP with the song listed on the sleve, but it’s not on the record. I used to love this song as a kid, and I would love to hear it again someday.

  5. My understanding is that he doesn’t like his own singing voice. I was a union follow spot operator in Santa Cruz, CA in the ’70s and worked a concert of his at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. He was rehearsing before the show and I asked him if he was going to play “Woman She Rides”. He said something like “not even if I was tied to a chair and surrounded by alligators.”

  6. Hi, I started writing and couldn’t stop. But I think I will break up my responses into several replies, since they cover various areas. I’ll start by replying to the post above.

    You are right… Will did not like Woman She Rides and did not want to put it on the album. As co-producer I pushed to include it. It added a flavor to the album that, in my opinion, at the time, made it a lot more personal. It wasn’t just guitar any more, it now had a voice you could attach to a person. Probably a stupid idea and Will soon abandoned it. However, It will still bring a smile to my face when I hear it.

  7. Reading the review at the top of this page, it appears I promised to “share some interesting stuff about the original recording sessions, including the technical stuff.” I am sure I did make that promise… but have absolutely no recollection of doing so. It was made during my TechShop days. That business ate up all of my energy for about 7 years, ending in 2013 and I use it as an explanation (excuse) for not replying sooner. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. But if I promised, I must deliver, so here goes.

    As a recording engineer and producer, you hear each song or composition countless times, working to make them as good as the artist, you and your equipment are able to in the time allotted. All four are variables and must be dealt with accordingly. This can result in overexposure. But other times, they all just sort of flow and become a part of you. This is what happened with the three WH albums I recorded. After completion, they joined my record collection and were played for years to come, along with Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Supertramp, Genesis and countless others.

    1. “they joined my record collection and were played for years to come, along with Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Supertramp, Genesis and countless others.”

      You, and thousands of others! I owned about 30-40 of the WH albums before I started this site and decided to collect the remainder (and I owned all of those that you recorded) and they have been a constant companion to me over the years – college, car trips, vacations, wedding, births, dinner parties.

  8. My recollections of the beginning of Windham Hill Records are slightly different than Will’s. And I will concede that his are more likely correct. Nonetheless, I will proceed with the disclaimer, “This is what I remember. That doesn’t automatically make it right.” (:^)

    Will came to the studio one day and said he wanted to book forty minutes to record some songs and make a few records for some friends. Forty minutes of music=forty minutes of studio time… right?!!! Uh….. well…… it will take at least an extra 15 minutes to set up and stuff, so he booked an hour. I mean, it was just one guitar….. right? Well it didn’t quite work out that way.

    Before that time, most acoustic guitar recordings were made the way orchestral music was recorded. Using a room with baffles and placing the mics at some distance from the guitar. By this time in my career, I was doing a lot of demos for aspiring rock groups and night club bands. We were recording on an 8 track 1″ master back then and so had 8 channels to put individual instruments or vocals on, and then mix them later. I know, you probably already know all of this, but this explains why I first put a Neumann U 67 mic right in front of the guitar. Then Will played a little to set levels and EQ (equalization) AKA volume and tone controls. I nearly fell off the stool when he started to play. Something went through my head like, “Holy %&#, this guy’s good.” I knew then and there we were NOT going to just play straight through 40 minutes of songs. I’m not sure of the exact timing, but I offered to basically donate studio time to allow him to complete the album. This made me co-producer in the financial sense. Artistically, I believe I earned the co-producer status by trying things that were not being done, as far as I knew, at that time. I used multiple mics on the guitar. I think we were up to trying six at one time. That many didn’t work out and we found the best sounds were accomplished using two mics and then sometimes overdubbing with two or more takes. I know one song on Turtle’s Navel or It Takes a Year (I’ll have to play the albums again to remember which one) used all 8 tracks for a portion of a song. Likely 4 takes with 2 mics each. We had something here. What incredible sound! The combining of slightly different takes was something that to me, changed everything. Instead of a guitar, we seemed to have something much bigger. Almost orchestral in the “size” of the sound. I don’t know how else to explain it. You may or may not notice that in today’s highly advanced audio environment, but in 1976, it was nothing short of spectacular to me.

    The technical stuff follows.

  9. Audio tape, when played, has an inherent noise component. We call this tape hiss and if you have ever heard it, you know what I’m talking about. If you have not, just say the word hissssssssss and you’ll know what I’m talking about. That hissing sound is added for each track you record and when you pump up the volume from that track, you increase the hiss. While that may be acceptable with head banging rock, because it is so loud you never hear the hiss, it is exceedingly annoying to the listener of music such as this. So we needed a solution.

    I used Ampex 456 tape. It was the best, in my opinion, at the time. I recorded on an Ampex 440 8 Track machine. I have forgotten some of the technical nomenclature and since I “think” I am not talking to a group consisting primarily of professionals…. (where I would likely just keep my mouth shut)….. I will explain this in layman’s terms. When setting up the machine, you put on a test tape which has a few test frequencies all recorded at a standard strength. From very low to very high tones, but all at the same signal strength, or level (volume). When played back, you set your controls on the electronics of each channel to reproduce 0 db across the frequency range. Flat response. Then you send in a calibrated signal from a signal generator and record it on the tape with the record head. The sound is recorded on the tape… the tape moves over to the playback head, about a 1/4 of a second later, it plays back on the already calibrated playback head. So you make adjustments to the record electronics to give you flat response back on the play head. What you send in, you get back… along with your tape hiss.

    OK, here’s where it gets interesting. I would “push” the high frequencies at about 6db or more this means that my high frequencies from the guitar, hit the tape a lot harder than originally recommended. Then, either on the machine or the recording console, I would get to turn down the high frequencies. This would result in the guitar returning to normal, while reducing the tape hiss by 6 db or more. It worked and even impressed Stan Ricker, the inventor of half speed disc mastering when I took It Takes a Year to him for mastering.

    There, I finally did it. Sorry it took so long.

    Next up, How many covers of this album are there?

    1. That is awesome. If I’m not mistaken, it is exactly the concept behind Dolby B noise reduction (remembering the eighth-grade essay I did on that topic). However, it seems much more effective than Dolby B was as I was often careful to record a cassette with the technology enabled, but then often played it back without, in order to boost the treble. Likely my humble setup simply didn’t play back the high-frequencies very well.

  10. This was, for Will, the discovery phase of his record mogul life. I remember at the beginning, he wanted to put his songs on my label. I actually told him that he should create his own label and showed him just enough to get him started. He deserves all the credit from there. What he did with that suggestion in my opinion, is no less than phenomenal. Together we started something, but it was Will who really made it something.

    He started really home grown. The first printing, if I am not mistaken was 600 copies. Could have been 1000, I’m not really sure. Each subsequent printing changed a little something as he worked out the kinks and arrived at the final format that was used all through the rest of the 80 or so titles that were released by all the artists on Windham Hill vinyl. As a side note, I also have almost every vinyl title released by Windham Hill. That’s another story completely and is based around a radio show I DJd in Hawaii called the Windham Hill Hour.

    I think I have all the variations there were, but am not positive. I also have not finished going through all my records to see if I have unearthed all the different variations in my collection. So far, I have eight.

    I will finish going through the rest of my records and see if I come up with any others. Once I have located all of my copies, I will post descriptions and list all the differences there are….. to my knowledge.

    Scott

  11. I’ve often heard that there were 300 of the very first pressing and that was confirmed by Will the other night when I met him after the show at the Kuumbwa Dec. 19, 2014. Additionally, he said that of the first pressing there were 200 where the front and back album stickers were placed over a white blank cover, and 100 where the stickers were placed over old unused Arhoolie Prison Worksongs covers. This makes the blanks the first 200 off the press and the prison covers the 200-300, from the same pressing and slightly more rare.

  12. Hi,
    would you per any chance have the tabs for the song Ely?
    I’ve been looking for them since a long time and haven’t found them anywhere.. 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *