A musically and technologically transformative album, “Passage” is William Ackerman’s fourth release and the fourteenth Windham Hill Records issue.
Musically, “Passage” represents a breakthrough for Ackerman. His prior album “Childhood and Memory” still showed the folk-music roots he learned at the side of Robbie Basho and John Fahey. Here, Ackerman recasts four of his earlier compositions into his developing style. By adding accompaniment from talented classical and folk performers the songs project nuances and colors that his solo guitar only implied. It also shows the direction of future many future ensemble albums.
After years of playing Windham Hill music for friends and family, I do need to say that there are those who simply find the pace and tone of this album depressing. I find it relaxing and fulfilling, but I’ve seen the response in enough people that it’s worth mentioning. I have the same reaction when I listen to Joy Division – it’s like a Dementor has entered the room. Music should cause an emotional response, and Passage does so beautifully, however, your response may vary.
Importantly, Ackerman released “Passage” right on the heels of George Winston’s “Autumn”, giving the many fans of that album a natural step deeper into Ackerman’s vision of new acoustic music. The album clocks in at an all too brief 27 minutes – and each composition is a model of restraint and balance, making it seem even shorter. Nonetheless, this is an album well worth seeking out – the versions of the songs performed here are brilliant, and yet not the versions that have made it onto the Windham Hill compilations. If you like “Remedios” or “the Impeding Death of the Virgin Spirit,” these are the definitive versions.
Technically, “Passage” is important as one of the first purely digital albums released worldwide. Seeking to convey the music, Ackerman was driven to produce the finest audiophile-quality pressings, when audiophile was a term barely heard outside of a small group of passionate hobbyists. While early digital recordings often sound thin and etched in comparison to the best analog pieces, Harn Soper and the engineering team at the Music Annex avoided this. Rather the flat frequency response provides clarity. The vinyl, mastered by Stan Ricker at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and pressed by RTI of Camarillo sounds terrific, and perhaps the analog sheen provided by the vinyl works sympathetically with the early digital technology.
Fishman Transducers, in their customer profiles, shares their story of the formation of Windham Hill:
The label was regarded as an audiophile label, offering record pressings of far greater quality than the competition. Half speed mastering, standard at Windham Hill, was nearly unheard of in a competitively priced record label. The label experimented with vinyl compounds and a host of other innovations. SONY approached Windham Hill with the first digital processor in the US, the SONY PCM 1600 and Ackerman’s own PASSAGE LP was among the first purely digital releases in the world. Windham Hill became the source of the first digital simulcast and experimented with the first digital audio laserdiscs (winning Gold awards in Japan for a series of videos created in cooperation with Paramount Home Video in the US.
If you have thoughts, memories or experiences to share about this album, or have questions about its recording, we encourage you to use the comments section at the end of this post.
- Remedios 5:06
- Processional 3:46
- The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit 6:02
- Pacific I 2:10
- The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter 3:49
- Hawk Circle 5:03
- Anne’s Song 3:31
- Passage 4:25
- Engineered by Harn Soper, The Music Annex, Menlo Park, CA
- Digital Recording Systems Consultant: Roger Prior
- Disc Mastering by Stan Ricker, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Chatsworth, CA
- Matrix by Dick Doss, Sheffield Lab Matrix, Santa Monica, CA
- Pressings by Record Technology Inc., Camarillo, CA
- Vinyl Compound Quiex, Vitec Inc., Santa Ana, CA
- Graphic Design by Anne Ackerman
- Cover Photo by Jerry Marcaccini
- Inside Photography by Ron May
- Liner Photo by Anne Ackerman
- All Compositions by William Ackerman
- All Selections Windham Hill Music BMI
- Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
- Box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
- ©(p) Windham Hill Records, 1981
I am most grateful to the musicians who composed and performed on PASSAGE, and to the many individuals who contributed their technical expertise to bring this audiophile recording about. The musical program of PASSAGE consists of eight pieces: four are new renditions of previously recorded compolistions while the others are recent compositions and previously unrecorded. Steel string guitar is the ocus of the album, but duets feature violin, piano, cello, and english horn hopefully add scope both to the musical program and to the range of tonalities highlighted by the digital recording process.
This album was recorded on the Sony PCM 1600 Digital Recording System. The guitar was miked in stereo with two AKG 452 EB microphones. A Neve 8036 console was used in conjunction with an EMT 240 stereo reverberation system. The control room monitors used were UREI 813 Time Align Monitors powered by a BGW amplifier and equalized through two White 1/3 Octave equalizers.
My thanks to Kellie Johnson who built the six-string used for the majority of this recording. My thanks also to Guild Guitars for providing the custom D-40-C heard in these recordings, Adamas Strings, and Gryphon Stringed instruments of Palo Alto for their careful work.
Darol Anger, Robert Hubbard, Dan Reiter and George Winston composed the parts they performed on the duets – Remedios, Pacific I, Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit, and Hawk Circle, respectively.
Other LPs by William Ackerman:
- Turtle’s Navel 1976 C1001
- It Takes A Year 1977 C1003
- Childhood and Memory 1979 C1006
This album is also available on coassette CTC 1014 and audiophile cassette A CTC 1014.
Darol Anger, violin
Darol Anger got his start on the violin after hearing a strolling violinist play “Never On Sunday.” From there it was all downhill. He took up electric guitar in high school in an effort to become popular, but nothing happened so he turned to fiddling. Nothing happened then, either, but he stuck to it, screeching and scratching his way through countless oldtimejugrootsrockreggaebluesswing-bebop&showtune type bands. He was a founding member of the David Grisman Quintet, with whom he continues to play Dawg music and jazz nonstandards. Darol has released on solo album, “Fiddlestics,” on the Kaleidoscope label.
Robert Hubbard, english horn
Robert Hubbard has played oboe and english horn throughout the San Francisco bay area for the past twenty years. A member of the San Jose Symphony, and co-founded the Midsummer Mozart Festival, his musical tastes tend to be less than well-rounded.
The prospect of appearing on this album, however, has lured him from his insular habitat, the dank and musty depths of the classical concert hall, into the fresh air and sunlight of Will Ackerman’s inimitable music.
Dan Reiter, cello
Dan Reiter, 29, has for the past six years been co-principal cellist with the Oakland Symphony. He attended the conservatory at Cincinatti University and studied with Jack Kirstein. In addition to his work with the symphony, Dan composes unusual chamber music – incorporating folk and jazz elements along with classical – for his trio of clarinet, bass, and cello.
George Winston, piano
Pianist George Winston’s first Windham Hill album, “Autumn,” has brought him instant acclaim and popularity throughout the country. His impressionistic music draws upon such diverse sources as Harlem stride pianist Fats Waller, New Orleans R&B progenitor Professor Longhair, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, and steel-string guitarist Alex De Grassi. George’s first recording, Ballads and Blues, 1972, was recently reissued on Lost Lake Arts.
In a May 5, 1979 article, Roger Prior, listed here as the digital consultant, is referenced as the manager for Sony Digital products. The article goes on to reference the Sony PCM-1600 used here as the first digital recording device and a “foothold for Sony.” It also points out that jazz and classical recordings would be first to take up the technology because those idioms required no more than two-track recording, and that’s what the digital recorders of the day offered.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MoFi)
In 1980, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs were really just coming into popular awareness with the recent releases of the “Original Master Recording” series of popular albums including Supertramp’s Crime of the Century and the Beatles’ Remasters. Today, they are widely recognized as the finest pressings available for any album. And yet, fundamentally, every Windham Hill album released from 1978 on was produced in substantially the same way by the same people who made Mobile Fidelity the pinnacle of vinyl pressings.
In the credits above, I linked to the current Mobile Fidelity site. Mobile Fidelity has remained an iconic re-issue label even after having changed hands and going through a turbulent business history. More information about Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs history here: http://www.mofi.com/store/pc/viewcontent.asp?idpage=14
This is the first reference I have ever seen to Quiex Vinyl – a virgin vinyl compound with superior sound qualities. The Classic Records re-issue label uses the current formulation of Quiex extensively. I have several Blue Note and Led Zeppelin pressings using Quiex SVP from Classic that all sound great. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate the manufacturer – if you know, let me know so that I can properly credit them.