12.23.21 by Matty McPherson
I had to blink twice when I saw Puremagnetik Tapes’ logo; the one with a rather Suite 309 style. Micah Frank is the intaker of Puremagnetik, the Brooklyn-based institution responsible for the digital instruments and Ableton sound plugins (in a subscription-based service model) dating back to 2006. Frank’s been steadily curating music/concert releases and this tape label for the past couple of years now, with over a dozen under the label’s belt.
Puremagnetik Tapes’ releases are ballasted, singular pieces that afford a listener a distinct time and place with each listen — as well as a free audio plug-in with purchase of one of their handy dandy clamshell tapes or a digital download. The sounds here invoke minimalism, free-drone, amongst others worthy of spatial analysis and meditative testing, so I went ahead and picked five.
Micah Frank – Noontide
For as much as Frank has been a huge proponent for field recording and percussive experimentation provoked by the likes of John Cage, his own Noontide is less the result of digital manipulation and more the result of early lockdown’s uncertainty. The resulting nine compositions dabble with electronic soundscapes that can start by sounding of deserted plazas and misbegotten brutalist architecture (“Gevi”), surveying and considering the unsteady uneasy peace. Frank’s pieces don’t stay dejected, in fact they often seem to realize that to sulk in the nothingness is contemptuous. Instead, they give way to glissading synth patches and anthemic bouts of ethereal ambience (“Noontide”) that can be quite bubbly (“In Orbit Unfolds”) or curiously soothing (“Turrets”) to traverse.
An Moku – Less
The beauty of a Puremagnetik Tapes release often comes down to the subtlety that the digital manipulation invokes within its roster. For Less, Dominik Grezler (An Moku) enacted a set of sonic limitations–bass, pedals on two pedalboards, some dusty vinyl crackles, and field recordings–and set forth. It’s a small, visceral set of limitations that finds Grezler’s hardware turning his bass into a low orbiting alien synthesizer as much as a transistor radio or a droning orchestra, while it takes the vinyl crackle and warps it into the taps of a leather pair of shoes. For most of Less, Grezler’s Zola modular synthesizer and the way it can manipulate his bass guitar is the paramount focus, leading listeners from jangly chord patterns into fizzly, bright zones or jarring, just out-of-focus ruminations, all without ever sacrificing the low end that glides and centers this set of eight pieces. In fact, the low end is practically radiating and hissing with primal, electronic urges. It might as well be calling on a listener to stay close and keep their ears to the floor.
arovane – Wirkung
Just how much warmth can one exactly extract from a Puremagnetik release? A whole Wirkung’s worth is my personal measure. arovane’s pieces, built of off “succinct improvisation multi-tracked with a harpsichord patch and a Neupert clavichord lute instrument” that define Wirkung, came from a dive into romantic composers and their defining ethos: the emotive and dramatic characteristics of a great composition. The 17 tracks here are not ones to be pilfered with or taken out of their immediate context. Carefully filed and organized, arovane decidedly distills a vivid, sensual array of euphoric moodiness throughout Wirkung. Many of the pieces quickly invoke images that strike of soaring jubilance: a vivid sunrise, fog burning and steaming away, crisp autumn air mended with creek water. It’s an environmentally minded tape that’s all done with the kinds of synthesizer sounds that border on an acid-tinged sound bath. It’s a sonic concoction that arovane is studious towards, assuredly having tracks last for just a couple, if not a few minutes at most for maximum effect. They make the brain POP, gently guiding one towards the next part of a dream, before bowing out into their gaseous state, leaving you head over heels. At the center of it all is “niin”, a seven minute soundspace that unfurls like dewdrops coming off of leaves. Small textures fly apart like cicadas, while a synthesizer note is held near and dear, droning off into the abyss. Things quietly pass through this system and each listen unveils a new appreciation for the natural gusts of wind that saunter through.
Boris Salchow – Stars
Yes, even Puremagnetik Tapes have something of a secret weapon on the roster: noted video game composer/v-neck beefsteak Boris Salchow. And with Salchow’s ear comes a penchant for tingly, interactive compositions. Mixing west coast field recordings into the digital fray of these 14 piano compositions, Stars’ soundscapes are inviting as they can be sparse. The piano chords that Salchow finds a motif within are a somber lot, pining for a clear Sunday morning, like the one that “Desert Beach” unhurriedly invokes in its sub-two minute run time. Yet, they can shift their emotive characters based on the tonal garnishes that suddenly jolt to life. At times on tracks like “A Flower” or “Fading Memories”, there’s a characteristic similar to the tape loops of an old Radiohead composition (yes, I know), that flicker with a thrill of noticing all those details around your desk. Meanwhile pieces like “We and Us” or “Still Movement” uses manipulation to instill depth, stretching the ways digital manipulation can produce percussive distillations that give the tape an almost post-industrial veneer.
Jacob Sacks – Montreal
Okay I know what you’re thinking after all these digital ambient zones–is there a Puremagnetik release that’s…unplugged? One preferably that’s just a piano performance designed for an audience of one and doesn’t come with a free audio plug-in for that matter?
For that, I slide your way Jacob Sacks’ Montreal, a selection of most serendipitous, SYNCHRONOUS piano improvisations performed in Montreal in 2019. The twenty miniatures that compose Montreal function as a real-time documentation of Sacks tinkering and elaborating on atonal, bluesy piano compositions; imagine if you will that you are watching a TMC Silent Sunday and Sacks just happens to be this week’s performer and you’ve got yourself a handy sense of the majesty that awaits. With no editing done,the session’s spoils are preserved for immediate digestion! It’s a rich, dense tapestry of tributes Sacks explores, bordering on mischievous as much as dead-eyed serious; deconstructions that might just suddenly pull out into a full-fledged track that has you back at that high-end ballroom in ‘58. All without forgoing the warmth that Puremagnetik’s releases have come to find out on the hi-fi.