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Sigma Sound Sounds

Related: Philadelphia - Philly soul - MSFB - disco - American music


Sigma Sound Sounds is an American music recording studio. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, Sigma Sound Studios was founded by Joseph Tarsia in 1968.

In the 1970s Sigma Sound Studios became associated with Philadelphia soul, a precursor to the disco sound. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigma_Sound_Studios [Feb 2006]

Sigma Studios (1968 - )

Sigma Sound - Recording Hits Since '68

Located in center city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA, Sigma Sound Studios opened for business in 1968. Sigma was founded by Joseph Tarsia who, with a background in electronics began his recording career as an avocation to his job as a senior laboratory technician for the Philco Corporation. Sigma's original facility had just one 8 track studio equipped with 14 input Electrodyne console built in-house and Scully 8 and 4 track recorders.

It is said that timing is everything, this could be no truer than in the case of Sigma Sound. From the day Sigma opened its doors hit recordings began to put Philadelphia and Sigma in the world spotlight. The driving force behind this success was a group of young producers and songwriters led by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thomas Bell.

By the early 70's the US music charts were bursting with hits from the likes of Jerry Butler, the
Intruders, Billy Paul, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Picket, the Ojays, Delfonics and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The sounds and music styles that migrated from America's south to the street corners of Philadelphia were now being heard throughout the world. "The Sound of Philadelphia" was born. While one may easily identify the root of the Philadelphia sound, defining this unique musical expression is a little more complex. The core of the Philadelphia sound was not much different than most of the R&B records of its time with their driving rhythms and soulful vocal performances. The elements that made the Philadelphia sound so special were its great melodies and orchestrations that bordered on the classical. Strings, horns and layers of background vocals brought R&B music to a new level. It was not uncommon for a typical production to have, with layering, as many as 50 players. From the studios prospective it was always a challenge to spatially control all the elements in a production so that the producer could feel the power of the bass drum in his face and still have the clarity to understand all the lyrics. Sigma made many concessions with regard to room set-up. When ever possible we always favored the desires of the musicians to see and hear each other without the use of headphones. This not only satisfied the musicians but also contributed to a unique sound. With the players in such close proximity every microphone heard all the sounds of all the instruments in the room giving the music its own very special ambiance. It was "The Sound of Philadelphia".

Because the development of the Philadelphia Sound was such a group effort it would be inexcusable not to credit those engineers and musicians who played a significant roll. These credits include: Arrangements: Tom Bell, Jack Faith, Bobby Martin, and Dexter Wansel. Bass: Ronnie Baker, Drums: Earl Young. Guitar, Roland Chambers, Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, and T.J. Tindall. Keyboards: Tom Bell, Leon Huff, and Leonard Pakula. Percussion, Larry Washington. Vibes & Timpani: Vincent Montana. Stings & Horns under the direction of Don Renaldo. Background Vocals: Tom Bell, Carla Benson, Evette Benton, Linda Creed, Carl Helm, Phil Hurtt, Barbara Ingram and Bunny Sigler. Engineers: Dirk Devlin, Jim Gallagher, Peter Humphreys, Michael Hutchinson, Kenny Present, Carl Paruolo, Jay Mark, Don Murray, Jeffery Stewart, Art Stoppe, Joe Tarsia, and Mike Tarsia.

By 1974 Sigma's success was attracting artists and producers from all over the world who came to capture some of the Philadelphia magic. Sigma now had a staff of 24 engineers and support personnel and had grown to a 4 Studio, 24 track recording complex. Working around the clock seven days a week, in 1976 Sigma expanded its operations to New York City where at 1697
Broadway it opened 3 state of the art studios. For the next 14 years of its existence Sigma Sound
Studios of New York Inc was considered one of the cities leading recording facilities and attracted a host of users that included Billy Joel, Madonna, Paul Simon, the Village People, Steely Dan and
Whitney Houston. With a 15-year lease about to expire and the pressures of operating studios in two cities Sigma sold its New York studios in 1988.

From the start, Sigma strove to be on the cutting edge of recording technology. Most significant among its constant upgrades and innovations is, that Sigma was the first studio to successfully employ mix automation. In 1971 fascinated by the idea of mixing with a console that had fader and mute automation Sigma began to explore the field for the available options. We found that because this idea was so new most console automation systems were either under development or plagued with bugs. Finally we found a system that appeared to perform as advertised, it was called "Memories Little Helper". The brainchild of Paul Buff a studio engineer turned inventor who had recently made a name for himself with his innovative noise gate the Allison Research "Keypex". Paul had just one Memories system, a test unit that he installed in the studio at which he worked. Because the recording industry is a relatively small one, equipment manufacturers often looks to the end user to test new products and technology.

Allison was no different, based on the performance of the test unit Sigma bought the next three systems and while for the most part "Memories Little Helper" lived up to its promise, there were many a midnight phone-call. In 1976 in cooperation with MCI, a Florida based console manufacturer and Allison Research, Sigma designed a recording console that employed an Allison Research automation system a continuous throw knob less fader, variable Q equalizers and a buss assign and cue systems of Sigma's design. Two of these custom consoles were built for Sigma's New York studios, which opened for business in February of 1977. The MCI 600 series console introduced shortly after contained many of the design features developed by Sigma.

In 1987 Sigma committed to multi-track digital recording adding four 32-track machines to its
Philadelphia and New York studios. 1990 saw Sigma start the move away from tape based systems with the purchase of its first digital work station.

In its 30 plus years Sigma and its founder Joe Tarsia received many honors including citations from the City of Philadelphia, the State of Pennsylvania, over 150 gold and platinum awards, Pro
Sound News Best R&B Engineer, Billboard magazine Engineer and Studio of the year in the dance category, Grammy recognition for our work on the movie sound track album Saturday Night Fever, and Patti Labelle's album Burnnin'. The Sigma Sound, Philadelphia location is listed in A.
M. Nolan's "Rock "N" Roll Road Trip" and Dave Walker's "An American Rock "N" Roll Tour" as a national Rock and Roll landmark. Joe Tarsia was a founding member and first president of the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS). In 1995 Tarsia was inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance, Walk of Fame.

Joseph Tarsia
Sigma Sound Studios
--http://www.sigmasound.com/story.html [Dec 2004]

Sigma Sweethearts

In French Canadian teen beauty France Joli's "Come To Me," there's a bit of small-world irony too: Even after disco dated the Philadelphia sound, producers continued to look for the Philly magic, and it's the Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson, and Evette Benton, who are singing backup. "Come To Me," in turn, with a vocal cameo by producer/writer Tony Green, represents the generational turning point between traditional Fire Island disco and the more progressive "dance music" of the '80s.


  1. Philadelphia Classics [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    1. Love Is the Message - MFSB 2. T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia) - MFSB 3. Dirty Ol' Man - The Three Degrees 4. I Love Music - The O'Jays 5. Don't Leave Me This Way - Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes 6. Love Train - The O'Jays 7. I'll Always Love My Mama - The Intruders 8. Bad Luck - Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes

  2. The Philadelphia Experiment[Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    In the '40s, a time-travel experiment allegedly occurred in a Philadelphia naval yard. This fantastic combo of Philly musicians--pianist/keyboardist Uri Caine, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the rap combo the Roots--takes its name from that fictional event, and combines fusion, mainstream jazz, and R&B styles from the '70s to today. Augmented by guitar-legend Pat Martino and trumpeter John Swana, Thompson lays down some tricky jungle beats on the title track, while the threesome venture into the avant-garde on "(Re)moved" and into Latin on "IIe Ife." The group reincarnates Sun Ra's "Call for All Demons" as a funky instrumental, and they brilliantly revisit Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," while Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom" is redone as a classical-style McBride/Caine duet. The late saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. was Philly's patron jazz saint, as evidenced by Caine's reverent solo piano rendition of Washington's hit "Mr. Magic" and McBride's funky, overdubbed one-man electric bass version of "Just the Two of Us." This threesome reminds us that the City of Brotherly Love still swings. --Eugene Holley Jr. , amazon.com

  3. Philadelphia Roots (Soul Jazz) (2001) - Various Artists [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    1. I likes to do it - People's Choice 2. Horse - Nobles, Cliff 3. Waiting in the rain - Fantastic Johnny C 4. I'm gonna make you love me - Brothers Of Hope 5. California soul - Brenda & Tabulations 6. Great big liar - Siegler, Bunny 7. Let me do my thing - People's Choice 8. Take it easy soul brother - Corner Boys 9. Hey boy - Brenda & Tabulations 10. Your love has got me chained and bound - Brockington, Alfreda 11. O wow - Panic Buttons 12. Lost the will to live - Ellison, Willie 13. Waiting for the rain - Philly Sound 14. Nickol Nickol - Brothers Of Hope 15. Cause that's the way I know - People's Choice 16. You gotta come a little closer - Soul Brothers Six 17. United - Music Makers (2)

    After the peerless "Studio One Rockers" and "New Orleans Funk" collections, the Soul Jazz team have mined yet another seam of lost classics (and samplers' gold) in "Philadelphia Roots". This album digs beneath the slick, string-drenched sound of the better known Philly Soul hits to unearth the real sound of Philadelphia as it progressed through dirty Stax-style funk and Northern Soul to the flyaway strings and four to the floor pulse of early Disco.
    There are a huge variety of styles here, but in such a natural mix (perhaps because the same small circle of musicians played on all these tracks) that you'll be too busy dancing to notice. We're treated to the funkier dancefloor numbers from house bands such as Cliff Nobles & Co ("The Horse") and rareties from little known groups such as Panic Buttons' choppy funk up, "Oh Wow". Other highlights include Soul Brothers Six's smooth soul undercut with raw JBs funk, Alfreda Brockington belting out an uplifting "Chained & Bound", and two versions of the proto-Disco "Waiting For The Rain". --amazon.co.uk

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