July 25, 2019
Windham Hill Records
Good morning. Today we have a guest mix from Ben Naddaff-Hafrey. Ben is a writer in Brooklyn and is producing a podcast about the history of evidence for Pushkin Industries. He makes Americana music in the band Rookin. He was a contributor to NPR Music and the founding music editor at Mic.
In 1976, Will Ackerman, a guitarist and carpenter, founded Windham Hill Records, which became one of the most successful New Age record labels of the 1980s. Ackerman kicked off Windham in the Bay Area with the release of his solo guitar project, In Search Of The Turtle’s Navel. He soon extended the label’s roster to his cousin, the guitarist Alex de Grassi, whose Southern Exposure is featured here. The cousins began receiving letters from a musician named George Winston, who came to one of Ackerman and de Grassi’s shows, showed them his guitar music at their house afterwards, played them piano almost as an afterthought, and went on to become one of the best-known pianists of the 1980s. Serendipity was as much a part of the label’s history as serenity was a characteristic of its music.
Ackerman’s first album represents Windham Hill’s expansive, American pastoral tendencies. De Grassi and Winston’s projects, though, define the label’s sound. Each of the albums I’ve included here are pristine recordings, as Windham was above all committed to audio fidelity. Where Ackerman’s record was warm, de Grassi and Winston’s stuff has a kind of uncanny chilliness to it, so crisp and clear that it nearly sounds as if it isn’t a recording. They are just at the edge of a musical uncanny valley. William Tyler, the last artist on the mix, is not a Windham Hill artist, but is featured here because he wrote a lovely homage on the label this past January, and carries on many of the label’s best qualities.
Have a good day at work today.