After emerging in 1999 with the first in a series of three albums titled ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ respectively created with the aid of a Waldorf 4-Pole filter that he’d accidentally dropped and broken, German electronic producer Stefan Betke aka Pole has gone on become one of the more distinctive artists currently operating in leftfield electronic circles. He’s also continually shifted and developed his sound. While albums such as 2001’s ‘R’ slotted in comfortably alongside the then burgeoning clicks n’ cuts glitch scene fostered in part by Mille Plateaux’s compilation series of the same name, later albums such as 2003’s self-titled collection saw him increasingly adding more upbeat elements to his approach.
Following the release of his 2007 ‘Steingarten‘ album and its accompanying tour, the last several years have seen Betke taking a break from making music as Pole, a period that’s also seen the closure of his influential label ~scape. Indeed, this latest album ‘Wald‘ emerges a full eight years after its predecessor. As you’d expect, the nine tracks collected within exhibit evidence of a considerable shift in Betke’s sound over the ensuing years, but while there’s an increased use of both clarity and distortion, familiar traces of his dubby roots remain firmly in place. Chris Downton caught up with Stefan Betke via email to find out more about ‘Wald’s creation.
CD: After listening to ‘Wald’ I get the impression that you wanted to work with a fresh slate this time, away from preconceptions of your established sound as Pole, was this the case?
Stefan: That is correct, but I have to admit that I always try to develop something new. One conceptual element is to keep the good things from earlier releases in mind and replace the ones which are not really needed anymore. That way every new album starts from scratch, but has continuity as well.
CD: Eight years is a long time between albums; were there any particular reasons why you waited that long before releasing a new Pole album?
Stefan: After the release of ‘Steingarten’ I had been touring quite a lot. At the same time we were closing down ~scape, the label Barbara and I were running. That meant there was not much time or headspace left to work on a new album. Later when I began working on music again it took me a while to compose tracks that I was happy with. The idea behind Pole releases is always that I try to add some new elements, but that took time.
CD: Were there any things that you particularly wanted to do differently with this latest album?
Stefan: I think the biggest change is the fact that I slowed down the tempo a lot compared to ‘Steingarten’ and I added distortion. Distortion was mainly part of my live sets I played in the past, but it was never really part of any album release. I think this dirt is a great improvement.
CD: The rhythms are far more in sharp focus and at the forefront of many of these tracks, and there’s a greater sense of ‘clarity’ to many of the mixes – was this something that you were deliberately emphasising when making this album?
Stefan: The beats hold the music and the overall structure together. Together with the bass, this is the ongoing motor of the album. Clarity was needed to create space. A distinct job for every instrument or part.
CD: Listening to ‘Wald’ I get the impression that dub and its associated influences still have a big presence in your music, would you agree?
Stefan: Of course dub, or rather the method of dub is a key element in my music.
CD: Did you change your production / studio methods much when writing ‘Wald’ compared to your preceding work?
Stefan: Not really to be honest. The method is mostly similar even though I added a few more strange sound sources, like my rhythm box and amp distortion to the way I produce. Aside that I still begin with beats and bass most of the time before I add sounds and effects.
CD: Is it true that you ended up discarding some of your initial work when making this album?
Stefan: Yes. But that is a normal procedure and important to find out what you really want. Sometimes it is really hard to say goodbye to a track, but if the track is not good enough why should this track see the world?
CD: The tracklisting for ‘Wald’ is split up into three separate acts. Can you explain further how these separate acts work together, and is there a conceptual theme to the album itself?
Stefan: It is not about the number three, there were nine tracks that needed to be divided into parts/acts. These parts were supposed to make sense musically. So I grouped them into three parts following a kind of timeline and sometimes, if this worked better, I grouped them in a logical flow of sound. Like a choreography in dance I combined the songs to allow development, intro and outro as well as climaxes per act. Dynamic progress.
CD: What sorts of plans do you have in terms of touring behind ‘Wald’? Can you describe the sort of live show that you’ll be doing?
Stefan: We are working on shows at the moment. We will play a release party in london, September 24th at Village Underground, we’re gonna perform at Unsound festival in Krakow. There will be a show in London again in December as well as Mutek Barcelona and more will follow hopefully. When I say ‘we’, that means that the album will be presented as an A/V show featuring MFO and Marcel Weber, who is a Berlin-based video artist. We did a few shows together already at Mutek Festival Canada, in Boston, Seattle at Kremwerk, as well as in Malmö, Sweden. The show is really intense and includes great video work, a lot of bass, dub elements as well as distortion. Pretty groovy, I would say.
CD: You and Barbara Preisinger closed your ~scape label back in 2010; I was a huge fan. Do you ever miss running it?
Stefan: Yes and no.
Pole’s new album Wald is available now on Pole Music / Kompakt Distribution