Pole: 1 2 3

Pole exists in minimalism's ghetto and its grotto, impoverished and sparse but never lacking in appreciation of its personal surroundings.


1 2 3

Label: ~Scape
US Release Date: 2008-08-05
UK Release Date: 2008-08-04

Few probably imagined that Stefan Betke's Pole project would amount to more than a blip (mind the pun) on the cultural radar. It's hardly dramatic music. It focuses mostly on microsounds, tiny infractions that pierce into the vaguest of melodies, which are themselves accompanied by a sub-bass groove line that is generally more sensory than auditory. A casual listener could probably put this music on in the background, go about his routine, and forget that it's even on. To average ears, it sounds like gutted music with the meat and potatoes ripped out of it. The disemboweled remains are only skin, a pulsating heart, and sonic splatter. Few might even realize, were it not for the recommendation by a close friend or your friendly local music journal, that such a dish is actually a delicacy.

At the time of 1's release in 1998, Pole had few predecessors, but the critical complex was sure quick to link back to them (Basic Channel, Microstoria, Oval) in an effort to throw the disc, whatever it was, aside. Even Betke's central gimmick, that busted Waldorf 4-Pole Filter that started producing more interesting sounds by accident than the techno Betke meant to make come out of it, seemed like a novelty at best rather than a kind of musical Dogme 95, a limitation device to make the most concisely effective spontaneous sounds.

By the time 2 and 3 were released, in annual succession of one another, an international ovation for "glitch" music was under way. Within this excitement, a quiet commotion made by imitators and newcomers seemed to overwhelm the faculties of listeners. Thus little attention was paid to those making longform statements like Pole, who was not only album-based, but also seemed to be working in continuance (as part of a proposed trilogy). Upon first hearing 2, my first Pole album, I thought it was brilliant. But at the time I couldn't imagine that hearing another two albums worth of the same kind of music could thrill me in the same way or realign my perceptions further. I couldn't have been more wrong, but I also needed a new set of ears with which to sink into the rest of the catalogue.

History and hindsight have been kind to Pole. Not only have his discs made their way onto many retrospective critical favorites lists, but they've become a something of a fetish object for aspiring new artists. They've become the bottomed-out end point for IDM, an inspiration for what terminal echo space is capable in dubstep (last year also saw a pair of remixes by Shackleton and Peverelist respectively on tracks from Pole's latest album), and a trimmed and shaven core that diminuitive minimalists can look to for guidance.

Far from austere, Pole's music is psychosomatically plangent art music. In an era when percussion had been reduced to formalist or utilitarian functions, Pole defenestrated traditional percussion and tiled the multitrack floors of his songs with scratchy remnants of sound that he applied rhythmically. These elements cooperated with the dub bass groove (which is far more prevalent on 2 and 3 than 1) to structure each track as an open-ended sonic procurement. Rather than let each individual melodic motif loop itself into some kind of Basic Channel-style recursion, Pole allowed his first three albums a certain degree of indeterminancy within a hollow pop framework, commiting long-term to the kind of accidents that created those Waldorf 4-Pole Filter sounds in the first place.

1, now a decade old, is perhaps the most vastly divergent of the trilogy, particularly in how it only hints at a connection to sound systems and deep-fried dub reggae (though "Fremd" comes pretty close at precisely foreshadowing that later sound). Yet it still shares an implicit kinship with Jamaican music in its application of sparse daubs of melody--simple chords, protracted echos, and an emphasis on the space between notes as a song's affective thesis. Otherwise, most of the cuts sound like organic explorations of the minutaie of a Mouse on Mars track, temporal elements from IDM fully realized and stretched out to song length. 1 is fantastically intricate, if not the most consistent of the discs included on ~Scape's newly released box set, which contains three monopantoned, chronologically numbered albums.

2 and 3 are both fully realized dubscapes, biovular brethren raised in the same household as 1's bastard stepchild. The three-disc set adds only a few bonus tracks from the era, all of which appear at the end of 3. They're all nice cuts, but they also subvert the entropic force of the preceding album.

Both 3 and 2 are urban, though never urbane. They connect the digital grit of glitch with the messy echolocation of King Tubby excavations. 2, and especially the more narratively deteriorative 3, have a more phenomenological than tactile resonance. Sure, the bass is stirring and trance-like throughout, but the overarching sound is one of abstract, almost anti-terrestrial formations, feeling more at home in outer space (rather than inner space) or underwater (rather than above sea level).

Thus, its urbanness is like graffiti, intended to be alien and off-putting to those who don't speak its language, making it perhaps all the more alluring as such. Pole exists in minimalism's ghetto and its grotto, impoverished and sparse but never lacking in appreciation of its personal surroundings. His music that creates an environment that starts out as controlled and tempered as a Barnett Newman painting. However, soon its vibrant colors become blunted by thick layers of ganja smoke and the consistency is betrayed by a quantum deck of variables which are quark-like in their unpredictability. It often sneaks up on you, much like Pole and Betke snuck up on history, though it's most often extremely rewarding when it does. It's quite the happy accident.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.