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August 31, 2009

Today, let your imagination run wild...

Patrons Support Artists on the Web

That's a link to an article in the New York Times about a company that connects people willing to give a little money to support artists with artists willing to ask for it. They claim to have raised $400,000 for 400 different projects so far. Most of that support was small-scale, certainly less than $100 per patron.

Now, imagine Steam Powered Studio connecting with people like you willing to sponsor our work here at $20 per year. Think about how little that is, really- $.40 a week?

Where else can such a small amount of money make such a big contribution to the arts? Because one big obstacle for the singer/songwriter or unknown band or independent film maker is getting those songs or sounds recorded properly. Because if you can't hear it, it doesn't matter how good they are.

There's a lot of talented people doing music right in this area. Imagine that if they want to make a living at music the old-fashioned way, they have to compete with the product from Sony and EMI and other major corporations who own the airwaves and call the shots on radio, who sink millions of dollars into promotion of their "properties", and who, using the model of massive unit sales, have driven the price of a song (or a piece of plastic with a song on it) to its absolute minimum. Imagine trying to compete with that.

Well, it isn't necessary. Just step outside that mass-media box and support the arts directly. It's easy.

August 29, 2009

Sure, it's premature to post any of this, but that's how I roll...

bay song 01.mp3

We recorded guitars and a scratch vocal tonight. I like it like that, but we will forge onward, into messy drums and such...


This mix has some 12 string and some strat in it... and some hatchette (it's French!)

August 28, 2009

Here's a new featured song by The Sons of Shorty Long, which is really me and a couple of other fellows, Gil Smart and Dave San Soucie on harmonies and Fred Amendola on pedal steel guitar. This was first released, I see, back in the year 2000, which does make it one of the first things recorded in the current studio. It was probably recorded on the Yamaha 4416, because there's a lot of tracks, but it's possible I used some borrowed multitrack recorder- anyway, there was a lot of work put into this one, and in fact it's where the studio website got its first address.

August 26, 2009

A beautiful night, tonight. I just drove home, 12 mi from a rehearsal with the Sporting Hill Ramblers. There are no photos of this trip, because it's dark out, but I wish I could post the smells. Maybe because it's dark you notice the smells more.

The first smell on the way home was the river smell. There's been a lot of rain lately, so it's not the low-water smell, and it's not the flood smell- it's just the neutral, big river smell that carries a long way away from the river. You don't even really notice it until it fades into the cornfield smell. There are a lot of cornfields on my trip, and at this time of year, with the heat, they smell damn sweet. Not perfumy sweet, but candy-sweet.

That's also a big, wide smell that you really don't "notice" until something else comes along to break it up- like, say, a barn? I passed a barn a couple of miles into my trip home. I never saw it- I didn't need to. The odor of it draped over everything like a wool blanket- it was smothering. It's not a nasty smell, though, just very powerful. Thank god for wheels!

After that barn began to fade away I started being thankful for the little things. At one point I smelled flinty dirt- must have been some construction or something, a cut into raw, dry earth. Then came a creek. It's amazing how easy it is to tell in the dark when you're near water. After that- skunk! Then more corn fields, another creek, another skunk... there was a sort of pattern there. A small town had no particular smell of its own that I could pick out, but beyond that was a stretch of maple trees. Another skunk. They were busy tonight.

Finally, into the suburbs. Smells in the burbs are smaller, more local, focused on boxwood and laurel and mulch and such. You don't really notice from a car.

August 25, 2009

The other morning I was sitting here, minding my own business, when this bird started singing outside my door. I thought, "Hey, that's interesting, it goes by so fast I can't make it out," so I recorded it, slowed it down... Here it is, the first part is at real speed, the second half is slowed down a lot...


Now, you tell me, what's that about? Birth o' de blues? I knew it was strange that birds (and 10,000 year old flutes) play notes that we all feel comfortable with. But was Louis Armstrong channeling birdsong?

And also- I like this band Sloan from Canada. Very Nork-ish. Go find their album Never Hear The End Of It, stream it using Real Alternative, you'll be glad you did.

And this-

input device

...is the latest input device. Rather than dragging a mouse around, I can just "draw" on the tablet there, and move it out of the way when I need the keys...

August 23, 2009

It's Alive!

frankenstein experiment

Here on the Steam Powered workbench is a project- I'm trying to bring this old Hi-Fi amplifier back to life. If I'm lucky it will sound good when I play guitars through it. But now all it does is crackle and hum and blow up.

I looked inside, and while there was ample evidence of years of use- some crumbling, overheated insulation- there was nothing to indicate a reason for this failure to operate.

wires inside

No blackened or broken resistors, no loose wires. So I did what anyone else would have done. I made video of the thing blowing up.

It could stand some editing, but if you wait long enough, it's kind of fun to watch. That is a closeup of a 5Y3GT vacuum tube, which I believe is a rectifier tube (in the electronics school where I learned about this sort of thing long ago, these were referred to as "rectum frier" tubes- just a little e-shop humor for ya, there...) It gets sort of lightening inside, then parts of it glow brighter purple, then it dims out as the fuse blows. Well, this wasn't totally a waste of time to do, because this indicated to me that something in that "rectum-fryer" circuit was drawing too much current and making those plates in the tube very hot.

Now, this jogged loose something of the old memories- they taught us that if the capacitors in a rectifier circuit go bad it can draw excessive amounts of juice. ("juice" is another good one (as Olds Sleeper sez, "pretty soon this whole thing will be gone," and they won't even bother to teach about vacuum tubes anymore, because nobody will remember)) And the cause of this excess of juice is that the old capacitors in these things relied on a sort of insulating paste between sheets of stuff to keep the juice from rocking too hard. And unless they were being fired up regularly, this paste would stop working properly. (it's all very technical, obviously.) Well, I also seem to remember that these old capacitors could be rejuvinated if they were run for a while at a reduced voltage. How to do it?

On the right in the top picture you can see the thing you need to do this- a Vari-AC (pronounced "very-ack"). You plug this into your outlet, then plug the amp in question into the Vari-AC, and, using that big-old dial, you can vary the voltage of the AC power going to the amp. Normal AC voltage is 120- I have found that the amp here will operate at 96 volts. And now it sits there and humms a little, but it actually makes (as the Amish say). A tone, from a signal generator (which is not shown here because it's in a witness protection sort of program), can be passed through the amplifier and is heard through the loudspeaker on the left, ampli-mo-fied. And nothing blows up. Yea!

Except that I can't raise the voltage very far before things start crackling again. I'm going to give it some more time at low voltages and see if the caps heal up...

(or I might be totally wrong about this. if you happen to have some insight on this repair, don't just laugh at my ignorance but leave a comment. They say "he knows just enough to be dangerous," and that would be me except that I'm very very cautious, mostly...)

August 22, 2009


Things that make you go...

I'm listening to the new John Fogerty thing right now,and- brother- it rocks...

Be that as it may, Tom and Joe stopped by tonight, and maybe they will rock just as hard, I think...



August 21, 2009

Morning Addition has run a consumer-friendly trio of segments on things being free on the internet and how hard this is on companies trying to make a profit there.

They ended up today with the saga of online music and file sharing. They do a fair job of covering this well-covered issue. They don't tell us anything we didn't already know.

One thing I do know that they're not telling us is that selling songs for a nickel or a dime is no way to make a living unless you're getting so much airplay that you're talking about many millions of dimes. Isn't there some other way to support people who make music?

August 16, 2009

Trance stopped by last Friday and we managed to record a new song he'd written. In fact, I've got three different versions of it, because I was learning to play the bass part and I made him do it over. I'll have to listen back to find out which of the three has got the best Trance performance on it... I can always re-do the bass part.

Then today I had the good luck to find this little beauty for sale, used, down at the local Guitar Center.

roll-around mixer

It's a 16 channel (more or less) Yamaha mixer. I've needed something like this for quite a while, seeing as I only have two XLR inputs on my recorder, and anytime I've wanted to use more than two phantom powered microphones at a time I've had to borrow preamps (or a mixer like this one).

That's all very interesting, but the important thing is that it fits perfectly on this TV stand. See that? It's a TV stand that survived supporting numerous heavy, non-solid-state TVs (both B&W and color) through the years for my parents. It even survived me playing with it as if it was a car when I was maybe 4 years old (me and my sister used to watch Sally Starr on the set that this thing held aloft in front of us). It has some weird wire hoops that extend out on the sides for "holding" wide-body TVs, it's electroplated a sort of gold color, and it has some thin plastic casters on it that should have shattered to bits many, many years ago, but it still rolls perfectly. So hats off to the designer, and to the company that made this (rather cheap, I'm sure) roll-around TV stand back in the early '60's. You really knew your stuff.


centrally located

Once I got this into place I realised that I could do some other things with it- like route signals from my keyboards and my (piece of shit) computer to the recorder and the various speakers in the studio. Now I can listen to things from the computer while playing along and recording on something else. I'll even be able to patch the Fostex into the system seamlessly. Uhm... I really don't know why I didn't think of this sooner.

August 14, 2009

G.A.T. and Les Paul

Les Paul is dead. Here's a great shot, from a couple years ago, of Les with wiz-kid guitarist, Grant Austin Taylor. You write the caption...

August 11, 2009

reel to reel

Fortunately, there are still people selling parts for these old things. This Teac reel to reel "deck" goes back to the late 1960's. It weighs more than 50 lbs, and all it does is slowly pass "tape" over a "head" at a steady rate.

The "song files" recorded on those tapes are played back when this happens. Oddly enough, the song files from the tapes my brother gave me still sound pretty good after all those years. I had to find a "belt" to connect the "drive motor" to the "capstan", but once I installed the new one, and cleaned up some lubricant that had mysteriously turned to "goop" after 40 years, it all worked out fine.

I now have a fine machine to play back some of the legacy tapes I have- a better machine than the noisy old Sony I had been using. And this one plays in both directions. You should hear what "analogue" recordings sound like sometime...


Here's that brother of mine, now not thinking of tape decks but enjoying his boat somewhere on the water, probably.


August 10, 2009

Something new last night- soundtrack production.

Radical Jewelry Makeover sample.mp3

Great noises! I just balanced and compressed this- the track was recorded and edited by Dana and Sarah...

Dana and Sarah

...the videographers who live up the street. They were impressed with the old-school, "actually has knobs and faders on it" nature of the Steam Powered digital audio workstation.

The sample is part of a short demo for a promo video they are making (on laptops, naturally) about recycling metal jewelry. I'm looking forward to doing more work like this, and also my own soundtrack-like pieces of ambiance and samples. Number nine? Number nine?

August 09, 2009

I like old movies, and I like playing around with images, so after watching old Gilda on the TCM the other night, and finding a nice photo of the fabulous Rita Hayworth stripping off a long black glove, and finding out that prior to this Columbia Pictures had been considered something of a joke in the film industry (think The Three Stooges), I had a go at re-vamping the company logo. From this-

Miss Columbia

To this-

Miss Columbia

Get rid of the frumpy old dame! Tell it like it is, Columbia Pictures!

Here's a new featured song- one of the first people to let me record them (way back in Paradise, actually) was Robert Bobby. Someday I'll get those old reel-to-reel versions transferred over and let you hear what the young(ish) Mr. Bobby sounded like, circe 1982 or so. Meanwhile, in this century, we recorded what is listed as Steam Powered #2. Hey gang, be sure to collect the whole set!

I believe Juicin' features that Bill Nork on dobro, and some Liv Pooleside piano. The upright bass is in tune, so it's not me playing it- must be Bruce Campbell.

August 02, 2009

This sort of thing shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the 1960's, but surprise! Lots of people still believe the news they hear on television. It's not the factual matters that are distorted so much as the choices of what, and how, to report.

I'm writing a song now about dear ol' Uncle Walter, the man held up as an example of straight-shootin' news reportin'. The man who signed off "That's the way it is".

Now, when I was a kid, we were a Huntley and Brinkley household. I think it was because they used some classical music as a theme- what was it, Beethoven? They had to be serious if they used Beethoven as theme music! Old Walt, I only ever saw him occasionally, moon launches and so forth, maybe during Watergate. But good old Ben Huntley and Jerry Brinkley, those two were on my TV 5 nights a week.

So I may not have the reverence for Walt that many feel. I may believe that he was just another announcer doing what he was paid to do for his corporate bosses. Ah, those sweet innocent times, when a guy could be spokesman for GE one day and governor of California the next! Anyway, here's what I've got for The Way It Is so far:

Who let this old man in?
Who let his crooked grin decide that
That's the way it is?
Where did he learn his craft?
And did he share the graft, 'cause we know
That's the way it is

He always begged us to be calm
Before he pegged us to the wall (motherfucker!)
We were all against that wall, and
That's the way it is

It's going to be a sort of Dan thing, sort of R&B I hope too. I want Trixi to arrange it, maybe she will hear my prayers...

August 01, 2009

I actually did purchase a more sensible domain name for this site a while back, but at the time I couldn't figure out how to get it to point here, so I sort of dropped it. Well, this morning, it works for me. I guess these things take time?

So have a go and see if it works for you. Type


or just


into your nav bar and let me know if it brings you back here, would you?


dirt stage

We had a dirt-yard gig today. That's where you don't even have a porch, you just throw up some amps and drums out in the yard on the dirt and play some rock and roll.

dirt stage

That's Kregger, and Bev, and me and Jim.

Thanks, little niece Mel and nephew Ralph.

Featured Song:

The Sons of Shorty Long
Somewhere Out West

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