Interview with Micah Frank of Puremagnetik

Puremagnetik creates and sells mini monthly sample packs for Ableton, Kontakt & Logic. I recently met Micah Frank at IMSTA FESTA and thought I would follow up with this interview.

I really like your subscription model. Tell Wire to the Ear readers how it works.

Puremagnetik produces a new “Micropak” each month. A Micropak is a small (usually under 600MB) sound set that is very focused on a particular instrument. You can subscribe for $5.75 per month and download the Current Micropak. We keep each Micropak current for 2 months, so there are two Current Micropaks available at all times. You can also buy a full year subscription or buy the entire catalog. Additionally, users can purchase back catalog Micropaks individually – similar to back issues of a magazine.

Tell us about your recording chain. Are there any microphones or outboard processors your in love with?

I mostly program Puremagnetik’s electronic content. I prefer to keep my signal chain as transparent as possible. Good A/D matters most to me. I rarely use compression during tracking but sometimes I like to use my API Lunchbox’s 512C’s as a DI. Our other sound developer Brian produces all of the acoustic stuff in some great studios. He uses all of the Pultecs, Chandlers and Neumanns.

Digital Blasphemy by micahfrank

How do you go about finding the instruments to record? I can’t imagine you own all the toys ToyBox Micropaks!

Sometimes we go shopping (Toys r Us). We also have a great network of studios and synth geeks all up and down the east coast. If I can find a good deal on eBay, I’ll jump on it – Synthi owners speak up! A lot of the stuff I’m working on now is more conceptual so it requires less defined devices.

What percent of your customers would you say subscribe vs just buy a pack they like?

It’s a 50/50 split. Some people like the subscription model. Just as many people are happy grabbing them once they become back catalogued.

What is your most popular Micropak and what are your top 3 personal favorites?

The most popular Micropak is an oldie but goodie – Eight Bit. It is a pack of sounds from a Commodore 64 SID chip.

The Micropaks I like the most are the ones I enjoyed working on the most. I love the ability in Live to reverse engineer the concepts behind some great synths. If you look at Puremagnetik’s Vector, Waveframe and P-50 Linear you will see that I have broken the synths down into their core components and reconstructed them in Live Racks. In Waveframe for instance, I took all of the Fizmo’s wavetable content and reconstructed the whole synth in Live using Ableton Sampler’s modulation functions.

Brian also did the same kind of reverse engineering in this month’s Omnichord inspired pack. In my opinion, this is where Puremagnetik really shines – when we break away from the same old multisampling conventions.

I know you make music yourself. Tell Wire to the Ear readers some of the bands you work or have worked with and some places online they can hear your music.

The only band I have worked with in the past few years is a local artist named Atarah Valentine. I got in touch with him through Ableton and Damian Taylor (Bjork). The highlight of my work with him was this past June when we opened for La Roux at Terminal 5. He’s a very talented singer so I look forward to working with him a lot more in the future.

My big project for the past year is Tectonic. It is a realtime sonification of earthquake data as interpreted by Max and then synthesized by a Kyma/Pacarana system. http://micahfrank.com/tagged/tectonic. For the past few years I haven’t really enjoyed making horizontal music. By that, I mean music that is pre-composed in a given timeframe by a horizontally oriented DAW. I am finding it much more gratifying to create a system like Tectonic or just grab my DrumKat and improvise under my alias Kamoni (kamoni.net) You can see and hear all of the other stuff I’m up to at micahfrank.com or soundcloud.com/micahfrank.

What music are you listening to lately?

Tim Hecker, Robert Normandeau, Ben Frost, Alva Noto, Zoot Woman

Here’s a public offer. If you want to make a Micropak out of my Electrocomp-101 (number 521 out of 2000) feel free but you have to come to my place. I’m not lugging that thing to Brooklyn!

Thanks Oliver! That would be totally awesome. You have just been inducted into PECSGN (Puremagnetik East Coast Synth Geek Network).

photo credit: Rachel Papo

SSL X-Patch

Sonic State has a great video review of the new SSL X-Patch. I’m seriously considering getting one of these. Like most musicians who have been making tunes for 20+ years I have countless little hardware effect boxes and pedals hanging around. Most of them are gathering dust. It’s not that I don’t love each toy it’s more that it’s a royal pain to wire it as an effect for just one synth, mic or drum machine just one time. This is why the X-Patch is a great idea. For example my Boss RE-20 Space Echo pedal could be wired to effect my Vermona DRM-1 or Roland SH3 with click instead of 20 minutes of wiring.

“X-Patch is designed to deliver the flexibility of plug-in style routing to boutique analogue processing. Developed from technology at the heart of SSL’s acclaimed Matrix console, X-Patch provides a 16×16 SuperAnalogue™ routing matrix that can be Ethernet controlled remotely from a standard computer. SSL’s Logictivity™ Remote Studio Browser application provides Set-up, Configuration and Preset Storage and makes the X-Patch the perfect tool to incorporate analogue processing into any production studio environment. X-Patch can function as a simple ‘X-Y Router’ or as a ‘Matrix’ to create complex processing chains. This allows for analogue processing to be built into favourite processing chains and then easily placed into signal paths, for example, favourite Mic Pre, EQ & Dynamics processors recalled as the perfect vocal chain at a single stroke.” – solid-state-logic.com

For more info: solid-state-logic.com

Muff Wiggler Brooklyn

September 2010 Wiggler meetup from Pete Shambler on Vimeo.

Here’s a nice video from a meetup in Brooklyn of members of the Muff Wiggler forum. DIY meets modular.

“… Muff Wiggler enjoys scaring friends, family, neighbours and cats alike with bizarre and frightning electro-analog mayhem.” – muffwiggler.blogspot.com

Visit the forum: muffwiggler.com

IMSTA FESTA Panel Review

I had a great time speaking on the “Geek Out” panel at this weekends IMSTA FESTA. The event put on by Shocklee has pro-audio companies show their stuff in different recording studios at SAE Manhattan. As I approached the street entrance a young guy stopped me and asked if I would buy one of his hip-hop CDs. I was surprised because I didn’t think I looked like a good target audience for him. I asked if he was coming inside and I was surprised again when he told me he had no idea what I was talking about. I let him know he should come up and there would be producers, djs and lots of stuff to check out. He looked a bit afraid and I got the idea he was probably 15 years old or so. Anyway I went in without him and wondered if there was anything at all on the CDs he was trying to sell.

On the 9th floor of SAE there were about 10 security guards in the halls. Once I meandered into the recording studios I knew why: there was lots of nice equipment inside! Immediately I ran into Fady Hayek who is the National Sales Manager for SSL. I was a regular at the Club Cubase meeting he ran when he worked for Steinberg in the 90s. James Bernard had a nice audience watching him go through some amazing tricks and tips with Reason and Record. I love watching him demo stuff. He really gets the software, knows the shortcuts and makes you want to run home and do it yourself.

In the VIP room I met Peter Kirn (Create Digital Music) for the first time face to face. We spent some time thumbing through the latest Keyboard Magazine where Peter wrote the lead story about Moog. We instantly got into the Voyager XL and how it doesn’t make any sense and how awesome it is. I met the Micah Frank from Puremagnetik who apparently I had some emails correspondence with in the past but forgot. Sorry Micah! I briefly met Julie Covello (DJ Shakey) from Warper and we moved to the panel room. We decided to each chat about the one thing that’s blowing us away these days. Peter chose Pure Data and explained in other words it’s the code he’s got a passion for. That it can be on his old desktop machine or his phone and it’s been with him a long time. He’s pure geek for sure! Julie picked SoundCloud and YouTube. I didn’t even consider a non-tangible object so props to her because I think we all spend more time in Social Media than making music (shame on all of us!). I thought her pick was a right on. Micah picked Renoise the old school Tracker that was recently updated. I made the obvious choice to everyone that knows me… iPad! What was unexpected is upon polling the crowd we found that only two people there owned iPads besides me. I showed off iElectribe, SynthPond and SoundPrism. We had a short Q&A where we learned Micah translates earthquake data into sample packs. Yep… he’s a geek too. Propellerheads let me give a few shirts and hats away and it was a wrap. Thank you Jo-Anne for inviting me I enjoyed it greatly!

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Transistor Rhythm

808 Drum programming (by Eekkoo) from Eekkoo on Vimeo.

Roland TR-727 from Clocklife on Vimeo.

I start my songwriting with the drums. Touching actual buttons and watching flashing lights go left to right as the sequencer plays is more fun than pushing around a mouse. My iPad is getting a lot of attention these days for the fun factor too but the sound is not exactly the same.

“The famous Roland TR-808 was also launched in 1980. At the time it was received with little fanfare, as it did not have digitally sampled sounds; drum machines using digital samples were much more popular. In time, though, the TR-808, along with its successor, the TR-909 (released in 1984), would become a fixture of the burgeoning underground dance, techno, and hip-hop genres, mainly because of its low cost (relative to that of the Linn machines), and the unique character of its analogue-generated sounds.” – Wikipedia

For more info: wikipedia.org/Drum_machine

photo credit: Ethan Hein

Sounds of a Delivery

Dictaphone Parcel from Lauri Warsta on Vimeo.

This short titled Dictaphone Parcel won the Passion Pictures Prize in London, in February 2010. What does your package hear as it travels from source to destination?

“Dictaphone Parcel is an animation based on a sound recorded with a dictaphone travelling secretly inside a parcel. As the hidden recorder travels through the global mail system, from London to Helsinki, it captures the unexpected. We hear a mixture of abstract sounds, various types of transport and even discussions between the mail workers. The animation visualizes this journey by creating an imaginary documentary.” – Lauri Warsta

via laughing squid

photo credit: Kaptain Kobold

The Bit-52’s playing Rock Lobster

I absolutely loved the early punkish B-52s before there later happy happy stuff. I wore out my LP of the original 1979 album “the B-52’s” (iTunes link) containing 52 Girls, Planet Claire and of course Rock Lobster. The Bit-52’s are a computer generated cover band. I’m amazed at the effort.

“The Bit-52’s consist of: Fred’s Vocals – TI99/4a computer, speech synthesizer and terminal emulator ii module. Kate and Cindy’s Vocals – Two HP Scanjet 3C scanners (Not Printers), UBunto and sjetplay written by NuGanjaTron. The Guitar, Keyboard, Cow Bell, Cymbal and Tambourine are all controlled by various types of push/pull solenoinds for a total of 23. The Solenoids are powered by four ULN2803 darlington drivers and everything is controlled by two PIC16F84A microcontrollers.” – bd594

via boingboing

photo credit: thejcgerm

Madrona Labs Aalto

Madrona Labs are a crew of three named after a tree. Their new synth takes after a Buchla. Aalto is $99 and doesn’t use a copy protection scheme other than watermarking your personal copy. Sorry PC users it’s Mac only. This could make a nice sister to the XILS Lab XILS 3.

“Aalto’s sound engine lets you create sounds that have been difficult or impossible to make with softsynths before now. The heart of Aalto is a Buchla-inspired complex oscillator, with FM, timbre and waveshape controls that enable a wide range of expressive sounds. These sounds are uniquely malleable and alive, in part because they are made with dynamic calculation, not static wavetables.” – Sonic State

For more info: madronalabs.com

via Sonic State

Pocket Piano

Pocket Piano from Critter and Guitari on Vimeo.

The Pocket Piano is a little boutique synth from Philadelphia based Critter and Guitari. For a little more than double the price of a Korg Monotron you can have this synth made of aluminum and wooden keys. Be sure to also check out their Kaleidoloop and Television Oscilloscope.

“The Pocket Piano is a mini electronic synthesizer with a big sound! The synthesizer features six unique modes: Vibrato Synth, Harmonic Sweeper, Two-Octave Arpeggiator, Octave Cascade, Mono FM Synth, FM Arpeggiator.” – critterandguitari.com

For more info: critterandguitari.com