Steam Powered Studio
September 24, 2010

fleischmann ad

Not exactly music-related, but this is too weird not to share. The year was 1964, from the pages of Life magazine. (I entertain myself by paging through old issues of this magazine on Google books.) In this year, the Ford Mustang was to become a huge sensation, and for some reason Life ran a readable article about existentialism. Strange times, and a strange ad. I like the look on the woman's face... days of wine and roses indeed.

Oh, how's this for a band name- Smug.

studio swag
September 22, 2010

It's always something. I recorded a guitar part being played by Joe of Summer Thieves, and just for kicks I threw a second mic on the amp (that Yamaha I just got). I sometimes mic amps with two mics in front, but because this amp has an open back I stuck the second mic behind it to get a different sound.

Listening back, I panned the mics hard left and right, because this is a pretty standard way to get a bigger guitar sound. What I heard suprised me. Rather than a static, if wider, "sound" of a guitar, the music moved as Joe was playing! Some notes seemed to come from the left, some from the right. Here's a sample- it starts with both mics dead center- that's the combined sound of them. The second segment has them panned hard. Listen as the lowest notes of the arpeggio he plays appear to be coming from the other side.

moving guitar.mp3

It makes sense- one mic is responding to the more treble sound out front, one to the bassier sound out back- but it's something you couldn't really plan on happening. Not science- dumb luck!

September 13, 2010


More new/old gear. This was headed for the dump. It may not be worth much today, but once upon a time this was a hot digital recorder. Seeing as I still have the Blind Joe Death Live at the Roundhouse tapes that were recorded on this very machine, I thought it would be worth keeping it around to play them.

music catalogue
September 08, 2010

Here's a rough mix of what we've been up to lately- Maya and Oliver doing Sparrows.

Sparrow Sample.wav

Be aware that this is an uncompressed .wav file, and that even though it's only a sample of the first minute of the song it's a pretty big (14 Mb) file. The audio artifacts in the mp3 version were making me sad.

Here's an mp3 version for comparison.

Sparrow Sample.mp3

September 04, 2010


New (old) gear here. A Yamaha G50-410 amp from the 70's or 80's I think. It was broken. I had to replace this one speaker clip.

G50-410 speaker clip

It's a well-made amp. They even included some extra fuses in a plastic pouch stapled to the inside of the thing.

G50-410 fuses

Got it for under $50 at a major music chain store. Sometimes you win one...

September 30, 2010

Oz at the buzz

Oz. We recorded drums for Lilly and You Can't Lie at a place they call the Buzz last night.

About the Studio
September 20, 2010

cigar box guitar

Here I am again in SL, this time posing at Barcola Bay with a guitar I made. I haven't got a "script" that allows me to appear to be playing guitar, so the illusion is far from complete- still, I've got something recognizable as a musical instrument attached to me, so others will know where that sound they hear on their speakers is coming from.

September 12, 2010

Meanwhile in Second Life I've been investigating some possibilities for making music. Of course there are distractions, such as becoming a bus driver.

bus driver

(I was all over that road!)

Still, I discovered that it is possible to go busking there. What is difficult is finding a suitable place to do it. Many locations have music playing all the time, and there isn't a lot of "foot" traffic in a world where you can either fly or teleport to your destination.

September 02, 2010

tom singing lilly

This was good.

Summer Thieves have risen to the challenge of Maya and Oliver and tracked some solid bass and guitar for their song Lilly.mp3

Bring it, Oliver!


Featured Song
September 26, 2010


I've just completed uploading the music for the Ralph Toro thing. I've known this guy for years and find his music fascinating in many ways. Ralph takes his stuff very seriously. The longer he thinks about it the less likely he is to share it because it isn't up to his personal standards. Consequently, I'm taking liberties posting some of this. I think it all deserves to be heard, both as an expression of his art and as a testament to the artistic process.

You'll find 16 of Ralph's songs posted in the song catalogue today, beginning with Ralph's best-know song Season of Joy. This is a rock and roll Christmas song, a big production number, and it features a children's chorus. It's a good introduction to Ralph's work- there's a driving piano base, heavy rock guitar and drums, Ralph's own crystal clear vocal, and the occasional oddball lyric. It's also an expression of Ralph's drive for fame and fortune- having been after that will'o'the wisp for years, he turned to recording a topical song. I think it's worthy of inclusion in the genre.

Next is Good Times. On the mp3 version you can hear the engineer slate the song at the beginning. Ralph almost always worked in professional studios. He rarely could afford to complete his projects however, so many of these selections are rough mixes from cassettes. This one was probably due to get extensive guitar overdubs, but I think it sounds fine the way it is. There are some great harmonies at the end.

Good For You is guitar based. When I worked with Ralph he would spend a lot of time getting his axe in perfect tune. While the quality of this recording is not the best, there's a lot of energy in it, and you can get a taste of the fat guitar tone he was getting.

There were some completed studio projects. You Never Know was eventually released as a single. This may have been by his band Zane Trace, which I think he took to Cali to try to get signed. Great sound, with a special vagueness to the lyrics. You'll hear bits of the riffs from this song scattered throughout Ralph's recordings, and variations of these lyrics too. I'm not sure how this all came about, but Ralph tends to work by subtraction, paring away the bits he doesn't like over time.

Watered Down is back to the piano base. There's some fine singing on this, and the sort of jazzy or prog rock arrangement that Ralph likes. As time went by Ralph pared away bits of this, but I'm lucky to have an old copy that's nearly complete. It's a very interesting work, and once you've heard it a few times it sticks with you. The lyrics seem odd to me, in that I can't really work out who or what is watered down, but the attitude of the singer is clear.

There's another side to Ralph's keyboard playing on Sittin' Here Thinkin' which has a campy feel, something bands in the '60's used to do. He even has a clavinet part on this. It's some damn fine piano playing!

Back to the hard stuff with Not Anymore. Ralph's theme is Ralph against the World here. He puts the chorus right up front and ends with it. It's a song that Ralph got to carving away at before I got my copy, so I'm sure thare was more after the second chorus, but we may never know...

Here's the big rock ballad- Heart. It's piano based with some screamin' lead guitar. Nice hammond organ in this as well. Ralph has a way of structuring songs such that they defy expectations while honoring all the usual themes. This one is haunting.

It's About Time also made it to a single, and I'm lucky enough to have a copy. He formed a group called The Visitors to release this one, and the song itself had been rattling around in various demo versions typically called Patience and Persistence. This is a sort of allegorical tale set to music.

More guitar hero antics on Where's All The Love. There are many versions of this one, which is mainly You Never Know without the chorus. Ralph works these things to a frazzle sometimes, but the playing is great, even if the recording is rough.

Follow that one with Goes Without Saying which is another variation on the You Never Know/Where's All The Love theme. This has no lyric attached, but a nice harp part.

From that sort of muddy mix to this one which is clear and hard. Sights On You rocks with the rock of Little Feat in their early days. He's got someone singing harmony with him toward the end.

More of that hard rock stuff with Heather's Song. Sadly there's a lot of cassette tape swirliness here, but you can get some idea of the great guitar sounds Ralph was getting. Fine drumming as well throughout these songs. A consummate professional, Ralph never neglected being in tune or being in time.

The one non-studio recording is Wounded Knee, which Ralph recorded in his basement while recovering from a work injury. While the level of the electronic snare was off the scale, you can hear how he layers his lines together. I think he's playing everything here...

The flip side of the single It's About Time is this cover of I Know. It's the Toro version all right, with an odd twist to the chorus.

Finally, there's Have A Good Life, a straight old-time rocker. Short and sweet, with some good advice for us all.

These examples have been culled from over 50 versions of Ralph Toro recordings I've got. There are variations of song length and EQ and sometimes the names change... it's difficult to keep them all straight. Ralph would probably only want to post five or six of these things, but I'm of the school that it's better to ask forgiveness... They all contribute something to my appreciation of Ralph Toro, and I hope they hook you the same way. (I should mention here that Ralph is a funny, generous guy who works a trade and has raised a fine family. He may have given up on the dream of rock stardom, but he's still got the music in him.)

Ralph was one of the inspirations for starting Steam Powered Studio. I think that he and others like him are today's folk musicians. They take the world we live in and the constant stream of music that forms its soundtrack and they try to make their mark on it. In doing so they sometimes explore strange musical places, places that could never be commercially viable, but places that are real and important to discover. Thanks for listening.

September 15, 2010

Dark 30 logo

I'm not sure what year it was, but this was the last time Dark 30 played. Chip and Frank recorded the last three gigs direct to DAT tape, and when I was checking out one of the cast away DAT machines, I discovered this track.

A not embarrassing version of The Wind Cries Mary.

The new featured song.

September 06, 2010

old tape

Another recovery project! In 1969 Clayton K. Groff's son recorded samples of his father's collection of music boxes, bells, whistles, hurdy-gurdies, phonographs and odd noise makers. When the Scotch people said Superlife in 1969, they weren't fooling. This tape played clean, with no signs of degradation.

old tape

There are two oddities about the tape. First of all, it's in stereo, which was a bit unusual for that time. Second of all, it was recorded at 1 7/8 IPS, which is the speed that cassette tapes run at. I am unaware of any reel-to-reel machines that run at this slow speed (although according to my sources there were consumer-grade machines that supported this speed). Fortunately, I could transfer at 3-3/4 IPS and then slow it down in the computer.

Here's a sample of one of the odd-ball music makers. It just seems to have been intended to sound ethereal, which it does quite well.

Groff music box sample.mp3

All told there are about 4 hours of this sort of thing. Should keep us busy for a while!

(Oh- in case you're not from around here, the narrator is speaking Lancaster County "Dutch". Not what the Amish speak, but what just regular folks from the county sounded like back then. Some still do.)