Monday, 21 May 2012

Review: Pole - 1 2 3

Pole 1 2 3
After giving Upwellings a bit of a kicking for being a pleasant but utterly redundant re-run through dub techno stereotypes, I figured I may as well give some coverage to one of the pioneers of dub techno, and who better than Pole? If, that is, you want to beg the question about whether there's any "techno" in Pole's music at all. Pole took the dub techno of Basic Channel and co even further into the realms of ambient electronica by almost completely deleting any reference to the dancefloor. He also has a good claim at being one of the pioneers of the glitch aesthetic in comtemporary electronic music, augmenting his minimalist sonic environments with trademarks hisses and crackles.

As so often in the history of electronic music this, innovation and advancement is intrinsically linked with a technological fuck-up. The legend goes that back in 1996, Stefan Betke (the name on Pole's passport) accidentally dropped a piece of studio gear called a Waldorf 4-Pole filter. The filter was damaged but still worked, and if anything became far more interesting in its malfunctioning state, as it started to add a distinctive glitchy crackling sound to the music it was used on. This glitchy sound worked perfectly with the detail-rich, textural nature of dub techno and was explored by Pole in a trilogy of simply titled albums - 1, 2 and 3, released at the end of the '90s and collated a decade later into this box set.

Listening back now, the early material of Pole is both fascinating for just how influential it sounds, and also faintly dated because of how frequently it has been imitated. While I won't deny the attention to detail and micro-arrangement of processed samples, clicks and pops and the deepest of basslines, the sound and concept of this album are still extremely minimalist and have gone on to crop up in thousands of subsequent records. This is most definitely music for those who like to play extremely close attention, because there isn't a broad brush-stroke to be found. To a listener who does like to zoom right in on the tiniest details, Pole's music is undoubtedly an incredibly rewarding listening experience. To those who would rather hear glitch integrated into larger-scale compositions and don't find it individually interesting to warrant a three album exploration, this trilogy will probably grow tiresome quite quickly.

Whether you buy into Pole or not, something that is undeniable is that there is much more love and attention put into this music than the third-generation imitations from labels like ZeECe, even though the music is over a decade older. Pole simply sounds next-level compared to the imitators, even on the most foundational material here. While these three albums undeniably sound pretty fucking similar, the complexity of the music also increases with each one, as Betke grew increasingly adept in the studio. It's possible to queue up all three albums and embark on an epic three hour voyage into some extended glitch symphony that evolves with almost microscopic detail over time. Although if you can hold your attention span over that length of time without the aid of drugs, you should really be putting your talents to the aid of the air traffic control profession, or something.

Genre: Dub-glitch-disco. 
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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