Title
Artist
Label
Format
Date

steingarten
Pole
Scape - Indigo
CD / LP
March 16, 2007

Track list
  1. warum
  2. winkelstreben
  3. sylvenstein
  4. schöner land
  5. mädchen
  6. achterbahn
  7. düsseldorf
  8. jungs
  9. pferd
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : - Backing : 5 Production : 5 Sound quality : 5 Sleeve : 4/5
The music of Stefan Betke, a.k.a. Pole, is constantly in a subtle state of flux. His recordings are evidence of his music’s evolution, milestones along an open-ended journey. But this does not mean Pole's albums are provisional or incomplete; on the contrary, they express a kind of perfectionism always aimed at reaching an imagined musical core. The way Betke strips layer after layer of sound, working toward a minimalist essence, everything is possible. For Pole musical reductionism isn't repetitive or deterministic. It involves constant motion around an ideal core, the smallest possible unit. As a result, all of Pole's releases, despite their differences, are united by a central question: How can one extract the most intensity from the least amount of material as possible. Consolidation and purification as mutually beneficial processes. It does not make any sense to try to approach Stefan Betke's music with buzzwords or narrow musical categories. At the beginning there was, however, an often repeated anecdote, namely that of a minimalist dub musician who found his style by chance, if not accident. In 1996, Thomas Fehlmann and Gudrun Gut gave Betke a Waldorf-4-Pole filter, which had been damaged in a fall. Betke found it made beautiful static noise – a kind of crackling -- that became an integral part of his first series of recordings. The releases were just sequentially numbered ("1" in 1998, "2" in 1999, "3" in 2000) so no titles would interfere with people's interpretation by preconceptions. The covers only differ in their colour – blue, red, and yellow, the primary colours of the spectrum from which all other colours can be mixed – mirroring the fact that for Betke, this series offered a musical equivalent to the three primary colours, able to be mixed in infinite combinations. The track titles "Stadt" (City), "Fremd" (Strange) do not really go a long way toward explaining the sounds, either. For Pole, titles only serve the purpose of making it possible to discuss tracks - they do not constitute any statement about the music. Pole's minimal-electronica and dub remains abstract, but not empty. From the very beginning Pole has been using a warm, groovy, and elastic sound, but doesn't lose himself in dancefloor functionality. The music can be heard as sound-architecture, as well as a story.

Stefan Betke, who was born in Düsseldorf - after a couple of years in Cologne - now lives in Berlin and works as a DJ, remixer and studio operator. In 1999, together with Barbara Preisinger, he set up the label ˜scape. These days he's cut back on his DJ-ing to devote more time to his own music and his production work. But DJ-ing allowed him to keep on the lookout for new sounds to incorporate into his own music, too. His sets ranged from dub, jazz, and minimal music to hip-hop (for an impression of a gig from 2003, read this concert impression, the latter leaving its mark on Pole's second series of records, which consisted of the two EPs, "45/45" and "90/90" and the album "Pole" (mute, 2003). For "Pole", Betke abandoned the static noises and, for the first time, worked with vocals, which were supplied by rapper Fat John from Ohio (US). Since 2005, Betke has also been working as part of a live trio, with bass (Zeitblom) and drums (Hanno Leichtmann). After numerous live gigs with this line-up, a mini-album is planned for 2007, which is set to update Betke's musical ideas in an even broader format.

But neither hip-hop nor dub were the defining elements in Betke’s first two musical phases. Betke has never been a reggae or hip-hop artist. His music isn't based in a scene or in private experience, but in musical structures, which he decontextualizes in order to integrate them into his own personal musical language. In Pole a.k.a. Betke's 2007 latest release "steingarten" (rock garden) there are no more references holding the music together. Electronics, loops, minimalism: all of that is there, of course, but now it's all operating in a space all its own. Even the most minimalistic works of either Berlin's Rhythm & Sound (e.g. the self-titled "Rhythm & Sound" or the Small Axe People (e.g. their "The Wildest Version") and renown minimal music composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich are not as dry and stripped to the bone as Betke's work here, seemingly created in a vacuum, independent of musical trends and clearly defined reference systems. Yet immediately from the start "warum" (why), "winkelstreben" (bear down on a corner) and "sylvenstein" draw the listener's attention and can keep that attention of the obliging listener, who will suddenly be pulled out of his meditative listening by the intruding noises in "schöner land" (nicer country(side)) before being sent back into the hisses, silences and subsonic sounds of "mädchen" (girls).

"achterbahn" might not be the roller coaster ride its title promises, yet the almost latin sounding percussive riddim certainly changes the mood completely, having a piercing hissing beat on top that lends this track the highest dancefloor appeal, followed by the tune that is named after his place of birth "düsseldorf" that also has an undeniable minimal-dubhouse feel. "jungs" (lads) is stripped down again to get back to the more reflective sound of the earlier tunes on this album, before "steingarten" is closed with the once more truly minimal yet at the same time more experimental "pferd" (horse) to round off a set of brilliant minimalistic (I'll still call it dub-)soundscapes that I recommend wholeheartedly.