Stefan Betke, aka Pole, is the Berlin sound engineer who has elevated the
dub craft of hypnotic basslines and echoes to the status of art.
Betke manipulates sounds and noises with his electronic filters.
CD 1 (Kiff, 1998) was his artistic manifesto.
Modul exudes slow-motion aquatic dub waves drenched in static noise and sailed by jazzy bass lines.
Fragen, on the other hand, is a fibrillating Latin-tinged dance on
cheap electronic keyboards,
and the static noises dances along with the rhythm.
Kirschenessen changes rhythm again, turning to a polka-style beat.
Obsessive cadences such as Fremd evoke the experiments of German
prog-rock of the 1970s, but dilated and diluted in a formless jelly.
Things get even spookier when Betke abandons the rhythm altogether and
lets Lachen breath in empty space: this is a "concrete" concerto for
unstable drones, creepy noises, metallic clangors, whispers, breezes,
gas leaks. Paula seems to be just dissonance for the sake of dissonance
until a reverbed accordion-like sound spreads into the soundscape.
CD 2 (Kiff, 1999) was a no less adventurous and atmospheric serving of
On the other hand,
3 (Matador, 2000) was a little too icy.
R (Scape, 2001) compiles singles and remixes.
Betke simplified Pole's sound a lot on Pole (Mute, 2003), flirted with jazz and added a rapper.
The album (which largely draws from the EPs 45/45 and 90/90) is
rather a set of notes than a cohesive work.
The hip-hop tracks (Slow Motion, Arena and Round Two, The Bell) have little to commend themselves: the fusion between dub and rap
is too superficial. Saxophonist Thomas Haas weds Pole's glitch dub to jazz (Bushes, Green is Not Yellow), but it sounds like the saxophone is
as cold as a laptop. The moody soundscape of Umbrella and the
frantic twitching of Like Rain promise interesting developments but
deliver very little.
Thankfully, bassist August Engkilde rescues the album with his contribution to
the closing Back Home.
Having found his new mission at the frontier of hip-hop, Pole repeated it on
Steingarten (Scape, 2007). Despite the four years of hiatus, Betke
simply offered more of the same in a slightly sleeker format.
The production was the real breakthrough: the man who had co-invented minimally
arranged dance music was now the master of a sophisticated form of arrangement.
After the introduction of Warum by limping and whining androids,
the looping dub-hop of Winkelstreben and Sylvenstein achieve
a synthesis of sorts between the three cultures (dub, hip-hop, digital soundsculpting).
The playful Achterbahn is a lighter version of this synthesis.
And the techno-polka Duesseldorf beats them all in terms of sheer danceability.
On the other hand, the mechanical patterns of Maedchen bring back
the gloomy expressionist element that has always been lurking in the background
of Betke's music.
The triple-disc 1 2 3 (Indigo, 2008) collects the albums of
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