Album Reviews

Pole – Steingarten

(Scape) UK release date: 19 March 2007

The music of Stefan Betke is difficult toplace, hard to get a hold on. That’s no bad thingthough, as his most recent album of Pole builds onprevious experiments that concentrated on hip hop anddub to explore sounds that float through space.

One thing’s for certain – you wouldn’t considerthis to be a ‘going out’ album, not unless you werethinking of going for an out of body experience. No, Steingarten is a record whose intimate confines bring it indoors to cover the background with atmospheric noises and loops, willing to be briefly indulged by their author.

Warum sets the tone, a loping beat supporting acouple of melodic cycles that sit there insistently,but don’t come too far forward. It’s almost as ifBetke is plotting a set of musical character studies,and the titles that imply a set of Robert Schumannpiano pieces.

It soon emerges that Steingarten is aboutstructures, some malleable, others concrete, thatinteract and play off each other. This descriptionfits a track such as Winkelstreben, where a beat that,taken out of context, could soundtrack a UK garagerecord from the late 1990s, becomes the set loop overwhich Betke’s atmospheric voices meander andcollide.

Usually there’s a warm feeling that accompaniesthese tracks, and Pole’s sounds are generallyconsonant, reassuring and soft. Yet behind therelatively comfortable exterior nags a feeling ofparanoia, barely perceptible on the warmer tracks suchas the softly pulsing D�sseldorf, but found lurkingoutside the door in Achterbahn, despite a jauntystart.

And so the soundscapes proceed as one, never loudbut traveling far and wide in their sonic range. Anextra boost on the woofer will reveal fulsome basslines and solid, unchanging beats, while thewidescreen – or better still, the headphones – will dosound justice to Betke’s vision of electronicallygenerated weather sounds and quasi-industrialmechanisms.

It all makes for a captivating listen or a dreamyforty minutes, whatever your preference – though apossible failing can be found in only occasionalglimpses of the human soul, which is what prevents itfrom reaching the next level. Don’t let that put youoff.

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