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.