Scape - Indigo
November 9, 2007
from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)|
|Vocals : -||Backing : 5||Production : 5||Sound quality : 5||Sleeve : 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
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. And now 6 of the tracks from his "steingarten" (1 three times, 2 two times each) have been remixed for the four limited coloured vinyl 12"s that have now been compiled for this 10 track "steingarten remixes" album, with most mixes re-directing Pole's originals to the (experimental) dancefloors again.
The original "achterbahn" might not have been the roller coaster ride its title promised, yet the almost latin sounding percussive riddim with a piercing hissing beat on top lended that track the highest dancefloor appeal, but is in that aspect left far behind by the "achterbahn (shackleton remix)" by Skull Disco's dubstepper Sam Shackleton opening this set of remixes, that fully exploits both the mysticism of the original and its dancefloor potential by adding a more tribal beat under it, combined with true dubreggae key echoes for 8 minutes of brilliant dubstep, where the "achterbahn (frivolous remix)" by Daniel Gardner a.k.a. Frivolous is a 7 minute true minimalistic piece concentrating on the bassline with only few synth effects lending it its tension and undeniable groove, while the third reinterpretation of this tune "achterbahn (dimbiman remix)" sounds like a more syncopated blend (with also a length of 7 minutes) of the first two remixes, after its initial bouncy beats opening Berlin's Dimbiman a.k.a. DJ Zip segues into house groove.
The despite its dense arrangement still very minimalistic (except for its 'electric guitar solo effects) original "winkelstreben" (bear down on a corner) is remixed here by another British dubstepper, Bristol dubstep pioneer Peverelist for a rather subdued dark sounding blend of bassheavy dubstep and techno that works extremely well in his 6 minutes long "winkelstreben (peverelist remix)" and so do the 4 minutes of an even bassheavier mix of techno, ragga and hip hop (by himself 'cosmopolitan bass & chunky digital dancehall') by Montreal's Ghislain Poirier in his "winkelstreben" (ghislain poirier remix)". The minimal yet more experimental original "pferd" is remixed first by Montreal's The Mole into the 8 minutes long discohouse track "pferd (the mole's lost in the woods remix" before classically trained pianist and composer Thomas Melchior, one of the pioneers of minimal house shows his completely different view on this tune in the very minimalistic also 8 minute approach of "pferd (melchior productions' zodiac mix)".
Three one-off remixes form the very strong remainder of tunes collected on this extremely well-done "steingarten remixes" album, that despite maintaining a high level of abstraction like pole's original, will have a broader appeal because of its higher dancefloor-vibe. The "sylvenstein (deadbeat remix)" by (yet another Canadian from Montreal) Deadbeat, who started out as a techno and ambient DJ but who has moved closer and closer to dub and dancehall over the years turns the beautiful relaxed original into a highly percussive trance inducing soundscape followed by Gudrun Gut, who has been active in the music scene in Berlin since the 80s as a founding member of the seminal punk/wave outfits Mania D. and Malaria!. Since 1993 she forms together with Myra Davies the spoken word + performance project Miasma and since 1997 she produces and presents the Ocean Club radio show every friday night on Radio Eins Berlin together with Thomas Fehlmann. She is the only remixer/producer adding vocals to pole's music here in the superb "mädchen (gudrun gut abx remix)" in which she recites an A-Z of girl's names on top of a slightly dubbier remix of "mädchen"'s hisses, silences and subsonic sounds.
The last remix is by Mike Huckaby, one of the key figures of the Detroit deep house scene, who impresses with his remix of the original minimal-dubhouse influenced "düsseldorf" in deephouse style turning it into an absolute dancefloor-filler that still has all the minimalism so characteristic for pole's original tracks, called "düsseldorf (mike huckaby s y n t h remix-detroit)" to round off a set of brilliant dancefloor-aimed yet minimalistic (I'll persist to call it dub-)soundscapes that I recommend wholeheartedly to everyone into the minimal dub(-house) style of early Rhythm & Sound and all others who don't shy away from experimental dub & reggae influenced sounds(capes).