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Pole - 1 2 3

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Artist: Pole

Album: 1 2 3

Label: ~scape

Review date: Aug. 5, 2008

Even as some of techno's most prominent advocates have lamented the present state of affairs, this summer has seen the reissue of some of its canonical texts. The past month alone there have been a bevy of essential releases from the golden age of German electronic minimalism: a four-CD box set and separate book chronicling the hallucinatory pleasures of Wolfgang Voigt's Gas project; a new collection of some of the seminal, gravity-defying singles from Berlin's legendary Basic Channel; and this long-awaited box set reissue of the classic late-‘90s trilogy of albums by Pole, titled simply 1, 2, and 3.

Though his music is cut from similar cloth as the abstract dub of Basic Channel, Pole's Stefan Betke pushed its austere, reductionist aesthetic even further. Using the delicate crackling patterns of a malfunctioning Waldorf Pole filter as an impromptu rhythm box, Betke stripped away even the faintest traces of techno's foundational four-to-the-floor oompf oompf, leaving only echo, reverb, and beautiful, subterranean bass. Much has quite rightly been made over the years of Betke's masterful work at the low end of the sonic spectrum. But ultimately it's not the sheer, bowel-rumbling force of the bass that impresses, it's the subtlety and expressiveness - a Pole bass line insinuates, entices and seduces more often than it overwhelms by sheer heft.

Equally as impressive, however, is the delicate beauty of Betke's distressed effects filter with its beguiling array of crispy (to use Betke's own favorite descriptor) snaps, clicks and pops. Even now, 10 years after the release of 1, the first moments of "Modul" are as mysterious and unearthly as ever (at first, they sound like the run-out groove of a record). The frothy sizzle of the filter is most prevalent on the first record, with only vague intimations of dub lurking in the copious reverb and lovely, lugubrious murk of "Tanzen" or the pleasantly staggered gait of "Fremd."

Over the course of the three albums, Betke gradually submerged his signature crackles deeper in the mix, while bringing the dub elements more overtly to the surface, reaching a precarious equilibrium between crackle and bass on the ultra-dubby EP-length 2. In fact on 3, Betke replaced his signature filter with a disorienting mix of swirling field recordings and gauzey washes of static, all but eclipsed by Betke's exquisitely nuanced bass.

Betke's capacious dub experiments have gained new currency with the ascendancy of dubstep, which has occasionally looked eastward to Berlin, Basic Channel and Betke himself for inspiration. But 1 2 3 are more than mere precursors of 2562 or Burial. They're products of an altogether different age when the deconstruction of techno hinged on the fine art of omission, reduction, and a few fortuitous mistakes.

By Susanna Bolle

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