Stefan Betke’s Waldorf 4 Pole-Filtered post-rock: The sound of a broken robot

By on November 22, 2015

In the late 90s, Stefan Betke’s first three CD releases under the artist name Pole — titled CD 1, CD 2, and (you guessed it), CD 3 — utilized a damaged sound-processing device he owned, the Waldorf 4 Pole-Filter, which began making very interesting, crackling sounds after it had been dropped down a flight of stairs, and it kind of sounded to our ears like what a broken robot might sound like if it made electronic music.

POLE 3

Admittedly, we realize this isn’t something you’re likely to see or hear on Night Flight on a regular basis, but sometimes we find it’s interesting to cleanse the musical palate, or perhaps smear your personal musical artist palette, and (hey, sorry for mixin’ all the metaphors here), sometimes it’s just fun to try something new, something you may not have heard before, to push re-set and download something your brain hasn’t heard before.

We thought we’d share this video above, in particular, because it curiously uses, for the visuals, a distorted interview clip from Penelope Spheeris’s first The Decline of Western Civilization documentary, and we don’t have to point out that Pole’s music is probably polar opposite from the L.A. punk scene of the early 80s, sonically anyway. Have a listen, though, it’s pretty punk on it’s own terms.

POLE 1

Betke — born and raised in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he played keyboards and synthesizer in different band projects — began work on this somewhat acclaimed and influential trilogy of post-rock electronic sounds in Cologne, Germany, and then completed them in Berlin, where he moved in 1996.

POLE 6

The Pole CD 1-3 trilogy we’ve mentioned above was released between 1998 and 2000. At the time, Betke was working as a mastering engineer for vinyl and compact discs at Dubplates & Mastering, a job he later left to start up his own pre-mastering studio, called Scape Mastering.

Then, in 1999, he also formed — with Barbara Preisinger — a record label called Scape (actually, it’s ~scape; on the label’s website it says that “The swung dash in front of the label’s name provides free space for thought and experiment, styles and ideas.”) The now-defunct Scape label lasted from 1999 to 2010, and during that time released interesting music by a diverse roster of electronic artists such as Jan Jelinek, Deadbeat, Kit Clayton, and, yes, many of Pole’s subsequent releases too.

POLE 5

Betke’s first electronic-avante-garde-experimental releases as Pole (named for that broken recording device, the Waldorf 4 Pole-Filter, see here) were originally termed “dub techno” by some (we never did like the term ‘techno’ though), and they’re subsequently associated now with what is called the “glitch” genre, which Wikipedia describes as “a genre that adheres to an ‘aesthetic of failure,’ where the deliberate use of glitch-based audio media, and other sonic artifacts, is a central concern.”

POLE 4

Today, many of the German artists who were making this kind of music —  with names like To Rococo Rot, Barbara Morgenstern, Tarwater, Kreidler, and Jan Jelinek, to name a few — are still referred to (as they were in the late 90s) as “post-rock,” and they probably can all be considered part of a group of Teutonic group of “chill out” (as opposed to “dance music”) recordings that were coming out at the time. We’ve also seen these artists commonly collected under the neologism”dubtronica” too, but you’ll just have to figure out what you wanna call this kind of music.

Imagine, if you will, entire albums recorded by Betke, propelled slowly forward by the textural sound of his broken pole-filter machine, with the audible lub-dub of a musical heart beating gently under each track, accompanied by subtle low-key keyboards and interesting sonic experimentation, and you get a sense of what was happening in this relatively short-lived German-born glitch electronic sub-genre.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.