Ghosts In The Machinery

Ever get so fed up with the radio that you tune between stations,

finding the static more appealing than the music? Ever listen to CDs and

long for the surface noise of vinyl, the pops and hisses that add

character to the sound? If so, welcome to the wonderful world of Pole.

Pole is Berliner Stefan Betke and his faulty Waldorf 4-Pole, an analog

filter that re-creates the sharp crackling sound of interference,

similar to what you'd hear on a scratchy record. After Betke

accidentally dropped and broke his 4-Pole filter, he came to love the

waves of static the cracked box emitted, and its arsenal of defect

frequencies provides the backbone for Betke's entirely instrumental

compositions. A one-man act, Betke tweaks his beloved surface noise and

adds dollops of bass and keyboards, often looping and cutting up these

sounds even further.

Where Pole's first albums, 1999's CD 1 and 2, could be

described as dub mixes of static, his latest effort, 3, is pure

dub with static mixed over and through it. It's a small adjustment, but

it pays huge dividends: By grounding his array of noises in rumbling

basslines and cavernous echoes, Pole's new music achieves a sensuousness

that's simultaneously lush and raw.

The eight compositions on this collection are so stark (no words, little

variation in their somber moods) that it's easy to miss their expert

construction. Shot through with shards of melody and texture and spiked

with repetitive riffs, these minimalist miniatures sustain their

hypnotic intensity throughout their lengthy running times, which often

track past seven minutes.

On "Klettern" (RealAudio excerpt), the crashing of sound effects and the

burbling hiss of static create an effectively jarring counter-rhythm to

the steadily droning bass riff. The percolating organ riff of

"Silberfisch" (RealAudio excerpt) bobs perilously through a sea of

skittering clicks and whirs, threatening to congeal or fall apart at any

moment. With its booming tower of bass and scorched soundscape lit by

occasional flashes of keyboard, "Taxi" (RealAudio excerpt) suggests a

dub version of a Portishead or Tricky song mixed by King Tubby. And on

"Strand", several strips of melody subtly wind their way through the

high-stepping bass line as the piece gently crests and wanes.

As the German titles of the compositions are all based on Betke's

subjective associations — "Uberfahrt" (Hallway), "Karussell"

(Carousel), "Klettern" (Climb), "Strand" (Beach) — they're unlikely

to offer listeners much of an entry point into the pieces. Still, the

music itself is evocative enough to conjure murky and overcast moods

that listeners can get lost in.

If it sounds like Pole serves a rather narrow musical function, well, he

does, but the austere and haunting compositions offer significant

pleasures as they explore the ghosts in Betke's machine. Emphasizing

grit over gloss, Pole creates beauty from the defects, limitations and

imperfections that ultimately make technology feel a bit more human.