Techno-Hypnotist Pole Clatters, Hisses Onto U.S. Dub Scene

Now U.S. fans can tag along on German artist's sonic odyssey, CD 1.

CD 1 plays like worn-down, old vinyl on a system without Dolby:

it pops, it cracks, it hums, it burps. And it's wonderfully warm and

inviting. German uber-artist Stefan Betke -- a.k.a. Pole -- has somehow

managed to fashion the sonic irregularities of his recordings into a

kind of underwater, omnipresent bass line. The effect is eerily intimate;

listeners may feel they're eavesdropping on an intensely personal,

perhaps even sordid, conversation.

The Berliner's CD 1 is the first full-scale opportunity for fans

outside Germany to get a readily available taste of Betke's musical

sorcery. While it was previously released on the Kiff label in Germany,

we should all be thankful that Matador has chosen to release this 12-song

post-electronica masterpiece in the U.S. While technically falling into

the dub/electronic genre, this isn't dance music, it's not overactive

or crowded. Indeed, the overwhelming feeling one gets when listening to

Pole is one of wide-open, uncluttered space.

In some parts, CD 1 sounds like Ry Cooder gone electronic; in

others, like a spaced-out techno Grateful Dead. Circuits crackle,

transistors fart and Moogs warble. In "Lachen" erratic clicks recall

someone fruitlessly trying to flick a Bic. "Kirschenessen"

(RealAudio excerpt) -- which means

"Eating Cherries" -- sounds precisely like juicy, electronic mouths

slurping succulent summer fruit. And rattlesnakes? In Berlin? That's

just what "Berlin" calls to mind, unless your mind travels first to

slithering Andean percussion or to chattering teeth. In "Modul" you'd

swear your ear was to the wall while your enigmatic neighbor -- the one

who taps into the wee hours on an old IBM Selectric -- keys in one of

those balanced-hand words, maybe "t-h-e, t-h-e," over and over in hypnotic

typewriter triplets. The CD's overall effect is one of a slowly unwinding

sonic hallucination.

Betke is one of those spaced-out, millennial poets who can inspire

wholescale worldview changes. You can imagine him as a minor character

in Philip K. Dick's hallucinatory, apocalyptic fiction of 30 years ago

-- maybe in "The Man in the High Castle" or "Do Androids Dream of Electric

Sheep?" (the latter of which inspired the cult-movie classic "Blade

Runner"). In fact, when I listen to Betke's repetitive, intoxicating,

forlorn creations, I can't help imagining one of Dick's stricken antiheroes

being propelled along by a series of hisses and blips.

Betke, instead of looking to the British and German dub masters for

inspiration, looks back to musical pioneers as disparate as Brian Eno,

Phillip Glass and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Betke nods to a host of musical

genres in his work -- everything from Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis

to the understated bombast of Dead Can Dance show up on the album.

Betke spends his days working as a vinyl cutter (yes, you read that right)

in Berlin's Dubplates and Mastering studio, home to Basic Channel; when

the sun goes down, he fashions narcoleptic, coma-inducing soundscapes

dominated by the old-school crackle of a defective 4-Pole Waldork Filter.

Or is that the sound of crackling paper you hear?

Maybe it is you, tearing out that calendar page, crumpling up

those bills, that report that's due tomorrow morning, as you reel under

Pole's spell -- bent will, skewered plans and all.