Tag Archives: Mark Isham

WH 1028 William Ackerman Past Light

WH 1028 William-Ackerman-Past-Light
WH 1028 William-Ackerman-Past-Light

WH 1028 William Ackerman Past Light

Review

With 1983’s Past Light, Will Ackerman expands on the collaborations that he began to explore in earnest on 1981’s Passage, for an album that melds Ackerman’s meditative style with a larger vision of dynamic group performances.

Past Light is Ackerman’s fifth solo album, and twenty-eighth Windham Hill release. He must have been in the thick of the Windham Hill explosion, and it shows in a number of ways: the incredible stable of artists with whom he collaborates (Mark Isham, Michael Hedges, Darol Anger, Stein/Walder, Greenberg and Szmadzinski from Shadowfax, even Bay Area neighbors Kronos Quartet); the continued development of an aesthetic for group performances of Windham Hill artists, first seen on albums like Alex De Grassi’s Clockwork; and a confidence to keep pushing his vision farther, while hewing to his unique style, born out of Fahey and Kottke, but by now all his own.

While it still has poignant moments, there’s less mournfulness on Past Light than was present on Passage. There is less Erik Satie contemplation and more Robbie Basho exuberance in emotion, though stylistically Ackerman is wholly his own man.

The album opens with “Visiting” which varies enough in pacing and dynamics so that listeners are engaged and relaxed, taken on a journey with many uplifting moments. Where George Winston and Alex De Grassi write songs that are evocative of specific places at a certain time (a stream in January, a trip to Philadelphia) and Michael Hedges songs are paeans to rhythms, harmonics and dynamics, Ackerman’s work always strikes me as being about mood in and of itself. Each piece seems to be about that feeling you get when… (fill in your own very personal blank here.) Less intense and immediate than Passage, but profoundly evocative.

The fact that the moods here are varied, and often include the golden sunshine of Chuck Greenberg’s Lyricon just makes Past Light appealing to a wider audience, and a friendlier play for stalwart fans. Overall, it feels like Will was in a really good spot. Emotionally, the album it feels most like is Ackerman’s 2011 New England Roads (my current favorite of all of his albums, dare I even say it, over In Search of the Turtle’s Navel, and available exclusively at Target).

Samples

Visiting

 

Pacific II

 

Synopsis II

Track Listing

Side One: 22:11

  • Pacific II (1980) 3:09

Side Two 23:17

Liner Notes

“One always goes to great lengths at times like these to thank a phalanx of individuals for their contributions to the project as a whole. This will be no exception. Often the musicians who joined me on Past Light were given little more than a basic form in which to work, and it is no false modesty to to say that many of the compositions represented in these recordings are pure collaborations on the part of these friends and myself. To them I am sincerely grateful. I must also thank my co-producer, Steve Miller, for having the talent and vision that enabled me to try new ideas.”

William Ackerman

Credits

Produced by William Ackerman and Steven Miller

  • Engineered and mixed by Steven Miller
  • Recorded at Mobius Music, San Francisco, assistant engineer Oliver DiCicco, and at Different Fur Studios, San Francisco, assistant engineer Don Mack.
  • Mixed at Different Fur Studios, assistant engineer Dale Everingham.
  • Original mastering by Bernie Grundman, A&M Records, Hollywood, CA
  • Matrix and pressings by the Pressing Plant, Irvine, CA
  • Graphic design by Anne Ackerman Robinson and William Ackerman.
  • Photography by John Cooper, Summit, New Jersey
  • All compositions by William Ackerman
  • All selections Windham Hill Music, (BMI)

This recording was made on a Studer 24 track recorder at thirty inches per second. No noise reduction or compression was employed. The recordings were mixed digitally on a Sony PCM 1600 system, Kef speakers were used for audio monitoring and referencing on this recording.

Thanks to Harn Soper for loaning “Rain to River” back to me to record and to Dan Snow for the dream that inspired “Night Slip”. Thanks to Ervin Somogyi for the construction of my newest six-string and to Adamas strings.

  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Windham Hill Productions Inc.
  • PO Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Distributed by A&M Records, Inc.

Other original William Ackerman albums

  1. In Search of the Turtle’s Navel 1976
  2. It Takes a Year 1977
  3. Childhood and Memory 1979
  4. Passage 1981
  5. Past Light 1983
  6. Conferring with the Moon 1986
  7. Imaginary Roads 1988
  8. The Opening of Doors 1992
  9. The Sound of Wind Driven Rain 1998
  10. Hearing Voices 2001
  11. Returning 2004
  12. Meditations 2008
  13. New England Roads 2010

WH-1027 Mark Isham Vapor Drawings

WH 1027 Mark Isham Vapor Drawings
WH 1027 Mark Isham Vapor Drawings

WH-1027 Mark Isham Vapor Drawings

Review

Vapor Drawings is the first album by Mark Isham, the 27th Windham Hill release, and the first electronic release on the label.

“Vapor Drawings was my first solo recording, my first adventure into a large-scale electronic music record. I played almost all the instruments on it — in fact everything except the drums. It was a big challenge and took a lot of hard work. I see it as the first of a series of records that experimented with this genre (whatever that genre might be considered – somewhere between New Age and Fusion) the second of which was Tibet, the third of which was Castalia.”

–Mark Isham

While it is possible to hear the echoes of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis in Vapor Drawings, it stands on its own as a clear new vision of what could be done with electronic music. Humor, pathos, and inspiration are all heard throughout the album, all with lucid orchestral colors.

There is so much to say about Mark Isham that I’ve held off on this review for a long time. Mark has gone on to become one of the most effective and most prolific film score composers in history, while continuing to make beautiful music across genres. I love jazz, I love new age (at least as defined by Windham Hill); I love English art rock (David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Dead Can Dance). I can think of only one person who has crossed all of these boundaries: Mark Isham. In the end, I must send you on your own journey of the man’s work. http://www.isham.com can keep you busy all day long.

Regardless, Windhaming is intended to document the works of Windham Hill on their own merit. Fortunately, Vapor Drawings is as much of a masterpiece as a standalone album as it is the opening album in Mark Isham’s oevre. The music percolates, hums, and marches toward majestic peaks. Coming so early in Isham’s career, one could imagine that he was simply trying new styles in electronic music. But the effect is that the listener is rewarded by a walk through many possibilities.

It probably helps to like electronic music to truly love Vapor Drawings, but the classical underpinnings, organic drums, and emotional appeal give the album a draw much broader than “electronic” would imply. Also, the synthesizers used continue to sound fresh – include any of these tracks on an “ambient” sampler and you would be hard pressed to detect that they are 30 years old.

By the time Vapor Drawings came out, Ackerman had built such a trust level in his taste with Windham Hill, that I bought the album based solely on label and instrumentation. While the later “Interior” albums felt like synthesizer works, “Vapor Drawings” simply felt like music.

The wonderful “Many Chinas” was originally recorded by Isham on the 1976 Rubisa Patrol album (ECM 1081) with Art Lande, Bill Douglass and Glenn Cronkhite. Mark’s influence and horn playing is felt throughout that release, and anyone interested in his early work should seek it out. One of the joys of the Windhaming project is meeting people and learning more about artists I love. It was Record Store Day 2013 that I walked into Grooveyard Records in Oakland CA, and mentioned the Windhaming project to Rick Ballard. Turns out he was the original ECM importer before ECM had a major label partner in the US. A quick run through his bins yielded the Rubisa Patrol gem.

Track Listings

Side One

 

 

  1. Many Chinas 4:05
  2. Sympathy and Acknowledgement 8:17
  3. On the Threshold of Liberty 7:27
  4. When Things Dream 2:43

Side Two

 

  1. Raffles in Rio 4:38
  2. Something Nice for My Dog 2:49
  3. Men Before the Mirror 6:07
  4. Mr. Moto’s Penguin (who’d be an Eskimo’s wife?) 3:18
  5. In the Blue Distance 4:06

 

Samples

Many Chinas

On the Threshold of Liberty

Raffles in Rio

Something Nice for my Dog

Men Before the Mirror

Mr. Moto’s Penguin (who’d be an Eskimo’s wife?)

In the Blue Distance


Credits / Liner Notes

Mark Isham: Synthesizers, trumptes, flugelhorn, piano, soprano sax, Steiner EVI, electronic percussion

Peter Van Hooke: Snare drum and electronic percussion

  • All compositions by Mark Isham
  • All selections Windham Hill Music (BMI) except “Many Chinas” published by ECM Records Verlag, GMBH (GEMA)
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill REcords
  • Windham Hill Productions Inc.
  • PO Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305

(c) (p) Windham Hill Records 1983

Distributed by A&M Records

WH-1027

Research Notes:

On the Threshold of Liberty is named after the Rene Magritte painting:

Magritte on the threshold of Liberty
Magritte on the threshold of Liberty

It’s a pleasure to see that portions of Vapor Drawings were recorded in the same studio as Thomas Dolby’s “The Golden Age of Wireless.”

On Photographer Larry Bell’s work, which was used for the cover art:

Two large bodies of work on paper, Bell’s “vapor drawings” and the more recent “mirage works”, are also the products of Bell’s use of thin film deposition technology. The vapor drawings are created by using PET film to mask paper sheets, which are then coated. Bell describes the advantages of this process and medium:

Masking the paper with thin PET film strips to expose areas related to the shape of the page plane enabled me to generate images spontaneously. This work gave me a conscious glimpse of the inherent power of spontaneity and improvisation. The work happened intuitively…In a short amount of time I created a number of interesting pieces. I liked this way of working. It was different from tediously coping with the weight and risk of glass. In my mind, I was investigating improbable visuals using improbable means.[7]

The mirage pieces, on the other hand, are collages constructed out of pieces of coated materials that are then arranged and laminated. As Bell says, “I colored sheets of various paper materials, strips of PET film, and laminate film. Then I fused them to canvases and stretched them. Tapestries of woven light differentials resulted.” [7]

On the Threshold of Liberty – Mark Isham Independence Day

On the Threshold of Liberty

Promotional Single WS-17528 Mark Isham from the album Vapor Drawings WH-1027

Happy Fourth of July to our American readers. In honor of Independence Day, Windhaming presents Mark Isham’s On the Threshold of Liberty.

Interestingly, this track exists as the only 45 RPM Windham Hill 12″ promotional single I have ever found. See the comments below for a few more that the inimitable Caitlyn Martin found.

Liner notes and credits below the video.

On the Threshold of Liberty

 

Liner Notes:

In a decade where we have been bombarded with countless numbers of cold and mechanical recordings of synthesizer, it is like a breath of fresh air to work iwth an artist who is capable of utilizing the synthesizer to convey a more human perspective. Mark Isham is such an artist. Just looking at some of the musicians with whom he has worked gives you an idea of his depth and diversity: Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Gil Evans, Horace Silver, the Beach Boys, the Oakland Symphony, Esther Phillips, and Dave Liebman. And to round all this out, this past year he composed and performed the musical score to the new Carroll Ballard (the Black Stallion) film “Never Cry Wolf”.

This music has heart and it has soul — always a rarity, but an even more surprising feat considering that one man plays all the instruments  (there is a percussionist added on these two pieces). I am quite proud, along with Mark, to have given birth to this music. Hopefully if will fill your hearts with as much joy as it does mine.

Steven Miller
Producer, Vapor Drawings, Mark Isham
November 1983

Credits:

Mark Isham: Synthesizers, trumpets, flugelhorn, piano, soprano sax, Steiner EVI, electronic percussion.

Peter Van-Hooke: Snare drum and electronic percussion

  • Produced and engineered by Steven Miller
  • Recorded and mixed in London April-May 1983
  • All compositions by Mark Isham
  • On the Threshold of Liberty published by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
  • Many Chinas published by ECM Records Verlag GMBH (GEMA)
  • Design by Anne Ackerman Robinson
  • Cover image by Larry Bell “Vapor Drawing LDIF5”
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records(r)
  • A Division of Windham Hill Productions Inc.
  • Box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
  • (c) (p)Windham Hill Records 1983
  • All Rights Reservedd
  • Distributed by A&M Records