A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Stefan Betke enters the forest on Wald, his first album under his infamous Pole moniker in 8 years, with surprising results.
Electronic music, historically. is not known for looking backwards. The history of dance music, until recently, might look like a Civil War battlefield, with dead and dying genres and bpm’s littering the landscape, moaning and howling their lamentations.
This extreme reluctance to ever repeat yrself makes it difficult to know where yr coming from, which makes it next to impossible to know where yr going. It also sometimes prohibits appreciation of what you have while its happening.
Stefan Betke was on a roll in the late ’90s and early ’00s, releasing 5 albums and 8 singles & eps of absolutely essential glitch ‘n cut mnml digital dub. Pole’s entire oeuvre was cut from the same bolt of cavernous echoes, deep digital dub delays, crackles, static, and the radioactive ghost of melody. Betke’s methodology was nearly monastic in its dedication to the details, investigating how far a slightly bent analog Pole filter – from which the project derives its name – could be pushed.
At the time, it seemed like there would be an endless fount of noisy, experimental dub techno from Betke to enjoy. This may have led some to take his craft for granted, mirroring the fate of countless prolific experimental musicians during the heyday of the music blogs.
As more and more hyperprolific musicians faded into silence and obscurity, many devotees have realized and lament the drying up of this stream of innovation, creativity, and an endless stream of sounds.
Still, although we appreciate history and tradition, we are always moving forward, never backward. We cannot lament the way things have gone, merely ask what these tides and currents mean, tracing the outline of the collective unconscious, and speculate where we to go from here.
With that in mind, Wald seems both timely and current, while benefiting from the movements that have come before.
In 1998, Betke might have seemed like a zealot with his fanatical dedication to the analog. Everyone was downsizing, we must remember, fully in the sway of the promise of having all of our lives in one tiny box that goes everywhere with us. A few years of living with that reality, however, finds the culture wondering what they’d done. Do you really want your life contained in a four-inch screen?
Speaking for myself, after a decade or so of being pretty firmly online, i crave the physical, the tangible, something i can touch. I am passionate about tapes and records, even radios, as well as my controller surface which lets me interact, firsthand, with the software. Without these things, perhaps i’d hang it all up. If the future were n0thing but increasingly diminishing bitrates through progressively smaller speakers, i might take a vow of silence and permanently transform into Robert Crumb or Harvey Pekar.
But surely there must be another way; a way through the maze, through the digital haze?
Stefan Betke took his inspiration for Wald from the primeval forests between Germany and Austria, which you would not expect listening to the 9 tracks of headnodding dub narcosis and filigree of noise. Digging further in, it starts to make sense. Betke speaks of the eco-system of the forest, of the vertical architecture of trees and the hidden mystery of root and fungal systems (“Myzel” and “Wurzel”, respectively), which Betke approximates using a stripped down and refined sound pallet of efficient basslines and dusted drum machines.
Synths and drum machines being used to emulate branches and root systems is nearly a textbook definition of what Forestpunk is all about, almost coincidentally. The division between folk and academia is disappearing, as well it should; shaking the dust of the laboratory – emerging, squinting, into the moonlight.
This is technology as magick, sculpting worlds out of bare and base components.
Of course, none of it matters, or would even be apparent if it doesn’t sound good. Unsurprisingly, Betke’s music sounds very, very good indeed. The bass is deep and crisp, having a hefty dubstep growl, while being tight and focused like a techno track. All of this is filtered through Betke’s dub sensibilities, giving the omnipresent feeling of disembodied hands on the faders. In a world full of possibilities, Betke knows when to keep it simple. There are rarely more than three or four sounds happening at a time, which rise and fall in a nearly alleatorical fashion. This makes for strange glowing polyhedrons and rhombuses, as Atari veves give way to Dracula casino organs, giving way to broke-down fax machines muttering to themselves.
For anyone interested in exploring hardware, sound, silence, and spaciousness, you simply need to listen to Pole for guidance. Stefan Betke spent five years putting together this seemingly simplistic music, polishing each element to a glistening shine.
This is what it takes to cut through the noise. Either have something interesting to say, or don’t say anything at all. We don’t need more music for content’s sake. We need imagination, creativity, heavenly vistas, demonic urges. We need honesty and bravery and a certain amount of foolhardiness.
Pole – Wald