Music: The Waldorf Pole Filter comes of age

Meet Stefan Betke aka Pole, the Kaiser of Dub. He comes from Germany and yet he's in love with repeat-echo. Odd that.
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The Independent Culture
UPSTAIRS IN a converted Brixton church, a 30K sound rig is working its own electronic epiphany. The relentless, gnawing sound of hungry mice nibbling through an electric cable gives way to a strange, whooshing pulse. The volume of the bass stops just short of being frightening - imagine being picked up by a giant's hand and gently shaken so that your kidney ends up where your liver used to be.

One man is behind this disorienting but undeniably spiritual experience. He is, in the finest tradition of dub reggae, a German, and his name is Stefan Betke. Recorded under the name of Pole, Betke's debut album (entitled, with characteristic understatement, CD 1) was one of the most quietly captivating records of last year: a digital susurration that swept the unwary listener into its gossamer babble. The trade-name Pole is no phallocentric battle-cry, but a tribute to the Waldorf Pole Filter, one of the many obscure pieces of electronic equipment with which Betke interacts in the course of his day job as a tape operator at the Dubplates and Mastering studio in Berlin.

It's a sample from a broken Waldorf Pole Filter that supplies the constant, oddly reassuring clicking sound which suffuses the whole recording. (It also, clicking-sound fans will be pleased to discover, looms large on the equally beguiling 34-minute follow-up Pole 2). Betke - a jovial individual with very well organised hair - obligingly fills in some historical background.

"I started out with a group playing avant-garde jazz in the early Eighties. We were using lots of samples and delay effects, and I was very impressed with the space echo." For the less technically minded among us, how does the space echo work, exactly? "It's very simple - you don't need to know much about electronics. There is a tape inside the machine, the sound is recorded and then repeated - ding ding ding - you can change the speed and for how long it is repeated, but that is all."

That "ding ding ding" is not the only aspect of Betke's work that will ring a bell with dub aficionados; his recordings have the same depth of field as a classic King Tubby or Keith Hudson reissue on Blood & Fire. The extraordinary thing about CD1 is that Betke recorded it while living in Cologne, with no knowledge of any reggae tradition beyond Bob Marley. When he moved to Berlin and played it to his new workmates at Dubplates and Mastering, they said (and you really have to enunciate this in Germanically accented English to get the full effect of it): "OK, that's dubstyle!"

Has his subsequent crash course in dub science changed the way Betke makes music? "For me or for the audience?" For you, because everyone else knew about it before.

"I suppose the main thing listening to dub taught me was that I am not alone in the studio with my crazy mind and this bing bing bing." (Betke's echo-chamber impression is getting more uncanny with every moment that passes.) "Now, when I find a melody and I think it's a bit like Augustus Pablo, I put it away".

Anyone who thinks it strange that a reformed German jazz musician should find himself unknowingly echoing the innovations of Jamaican producers of a quarter of a century earlier should consider the overwhelming influence of Kraftwerk on the beginnings of hip hop. "So many styles of European music have been influenced by dub," Betke explains patiently. "At first sight, it seems strange that a man can come from where I do and make sounds like this, but it isn't: it's quite normal."

`Pole 2' (Kiff/PIAS) is out on 1 Feb

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