The Initial Disturbance

The initial disturbance is, according to the interwebs (which are always correct), the thing that sets a ripple into motion. A stone dropping into water, an unexpected message, or a new piece of music can set ripples into motion that last for years.

I’ve experienced a few time ripples in the past couple of weeks, waves of deep history coming around into the current moment in unexpected ways, and as a result have been thinking quite a bit about the various ways I relate to time.

Part One: In Which I Am Disturbed

At some point in 1987 my friend Cristin introduced me to Windham Hill Records and specifically to George Winston’s solo piano albums. Hearing that music changed me forever. I think that was the initial disturbance of my life. I had been listening to a lot of instrumental music, but it was the colder, more mechanical German electronica that my brother was bringing home from college (I’m looking at you Edgar Froese). I had not heard modern instrumental music that seemed intent on communicating something fundamentally emotional… something about being human and in the moment. It was transformative.

It took me quite a while to discover that Will Ackerman had produced those albums, but eventually I came to realize that Will’s aesthetic was driving much of the music that moved me in those years, and for many to come.

I started writing music long before I met Will in person, but once he and I started working together to make records for other people I really began to understand why the music he guided was so emotionally rich. More importantly, I started to understand the HOW. My music changed. The way I could put my personal life to use in my own music became clearer, and I learned how to breathe differently in my playing. I learned to give myself over to feeling as the first priority.

Last week I played piano on one of Will’s songs for his next album. It was a beautiful experience for me… to sit in the control room with him, listening back to my piano playing with his guitar.

I know music can only be experienced in time, as time passing, but never have I felt such a large circle close back. Three decades rippled out and returned in a moment and I heard him in my phrasing, shading, and dynamic choices, and he heard me as a piano player in his song and we both felt like the old friends we are now… speaking a language now known best to us.

Part Two: In Which I Am Disturber

Yesterday I got an email from Tim Story. He told me that some of my elements pieces had been playing at his house and he was enjoying how they filled the room with color. Now, if you don’t know Tim Story you can choose to have a better life right now by leaving this ridiculous blog and searching his music out on your favorite music service. Or you could keep reading, whatever… you’re your own person.

Tim’s albums have been the soundtrack to my life, and to the lives of my boys, for decades. Words aren’t the best for describing music, but Tim’s is rich, mysterious, comforting, melodic, and timeless. His three albums for the Hearts of Space record label (Beguiled, The Perfect Flaw, and Shadowplay) are friends I return to again and again.

Imagining my music filling the air in his home, as his has in mine since the late 80’s… well, it’s another time collision. Just as with Will, Tim is probably unaware that I make so many musical choices because he opened doors to paths I didn’t know were there. His music shaped the musician I am, and now my music colors in his life. I feel some strange mix of gratitude, humility, and joy.

I’ve never known exactly what to dream about while awake, but when a musical idol takes a moment to write to you just to let you know that your work works… well, that’s a dream I definitely never thought to have. It’s probably worth mentioning that I first heard Tim on a CD called Soul of the Machine, put out by Windham Hill, so in a pretty direct way Will was responsible for that, too.

Part C: In Which Pepsi Brings My Dead Ancestors Back to Life*

And finally, those who follow the newsletter know that Ms. Sarah and I are getting hitched shortly. I’ll be 50 next month and while I feel as productive as ever, I know time is limited and I am so glad and grateful to be able to look forward from here standing, walking, dreaming, and running side by side with (or, as the case typically is, a few steps behind) her (whilst gasping for air). What caught me off guard was the sudden emergence of another ripple in time as my mother produced a ring first worn by my great-grandmother when she married my great-grandfather 99 years ago last month.

There is little left of family heirloom or homestead due to moves and fires and circumstance, but that longer arc of life, love, and time passing was right in my hand, and in the perfect size to fit on Sarah’s finger. Another circle, carried forward by time, representing events both long past and still ongoing. Thank you Mom, and thanks Helen and A.G., and happy 99th. Sorry about all the plastic.

*see #7 here.

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