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Pole - Waldgeschichten

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Artist: Pole

Album: Waldgeschichten

Label: Pole

Review date: Aug. 28, 2012

Dub, like so many Jamaican musical ideas, has never had any problems taking root in cooler climates. Berlin’s Stefan Betke has long incorporated dub both as a method and a source of tone. His productions are bass-driven and full of gaping holes. Taking the name Pole from the model of a synthesiser that he dropped and broke early in his experimentations, his work is builds on the happy accidents of production; scrapes and clunks that emerge when electronic filters don’t blend, small artifacts that he mixes toward the center of the stage, spectral like an old Studio One mix, but with the polished silhouette of a European designer.

More than most dub-techno peers, Betke has directly quoted the textures of reggae. The upstrokes of his late-1990s track “Huckepack” could be fully synthesized, but it chatters like a muted guitar with loose strings. The musical sounds behind his foreground glitch often have the easygoing tone of electric piano or Farfisa. But his latest batch of work — the three Waldgeschichten EPs for his own Pole Music label — is languorous. Now, there’s always been a lowdown calm to Pole’s work; remixers can only make it quicker and denser. But most all northward migrations of dub have emphasized druggy and cosmic roots, and Betke has previously been at the cold end of that chill. These tracks work in a different way, a temperate zone translation of a lazy day off in the tropics.

Which is to say, they don’t read as reggae at all, even if they’re constructed from the same cozy parts. Bass dips into depths that barely register over headphones. On the wrong gear, there are passages that are nothing but treble chirp. On the right gear, the chirp is the crest of a very dense wave. The rhythm on “Wurzel” is gradual and irregular enough that it risks leaving the listener behind, alternating passages of elastic snapping with regions of sparse orchestral chords. It falls to pieces in the first minute. But a groove forms eventually, a subterranean bobble that’s a cradles like a lullaby.

Waldgeschichten translates as “forest stories,” and the jackets of the EPs each shows a slice of moss-draped woodland. Rustic imagery permeates these sounds. They step at the pace of a hike over spongy ground. On “Lurch,” the pastoral is literal. The foreground noise is bleat, and the bleats multiply until they’re a flock, without rhythm, but with the pattern of sheep joining each other in mewl. It’s parallel to moo toy that Lee Scratch Perry layered into his seventies dubs, but manicured rather than sweaty and stoned. The next track is called “Moos,” though it doesn’t bend toward animal sounds, rather tapping like light rain. Betke makes no attempt to hide his influences, but he’s worked at his style long enough that it’s a reflection of his own world. His unique manner expresses something that almost never comes through in dub as a second language: sweetness.

By Ben Donnelly

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