Lost in Space

Celestial Pole: Stefan Betke
Courtesy of Rooftop Promotions



Sun Ra famously pronounced space the place. But Berlin electronica superstar Pole (a.k.a. Stefan Betke) goes one better, refiguring the air up there not really as a vague geo-spiritual locale but as a musical raison d'être. Like Lee Perry with less weed and more laptop, Betke created echoing compositions resting upon silence and sonic spaciousness, both of which are gradually eroded by skillful jazz-inflected clicks and hisses. His newest, R (EFA), builds upon the massively influential minimalism of previous albums 1 and 2 through subtle modification rather than complete reinvention. As the architect Mies van der Rohe said, God is in the details: Betke's skill as a producer guarantees that subtle tweaking of the post-dub formula he helped create opens up entire new aural vistas in his work.

Coming off as something between a remix collection and a new album, R dusts off two tracks from 1996--"Raum 1" and "Raum 2"--and submits them to variations by their creator as well as house artist Kit Clayton and experimentalist Burnt Friedman. Betke wisely updates the originals' overt dub essential micro-particles of rhythm and melody. In fact, Betke's reworkings are so successful that Clayton's shimmering funk and Friedman's twitching syncopations end up feeling superfluous. R caps these remixes with two entirely new tracks by Betke in collaboration with guitarist D. Meteo. Betke reconfigures Meteo's jazzy tones into swaths of texture that hang over the tracks' skeletal funk.

Where Betke's music matches Cage's philosophy that silence and nonsilence have equal musical merit, Richard Devine's new album Aleamapper (Schematic) aims to immerse the listener in a claustrophobic and disorienting blur of sound. An Atlanta-based computer-science student by day, Devine has always been partial to the unsettling and restless post-dance stylings of U.K. pioneers Autechre and Aphex Twin. His new work heads even further into abstraction than the recordings by his influences; he almost entirely discards beats. The result is a mercilessly experimental session that--according to recent interviews with Devine--draws upon theories of three-dimensional sound.

The album makes for brutal listening, with wide-panned whirs and hisses jostling for attention among stabs of synthesizers and granulated computer-designed chaos. The sheer density of the work is impressive: Check the overwhelming opener "Insil Segment," which bursts with harsh and tightly packed aural fibers. But while Aleamapper's individual components are often appealing, it suffers from a surplus of ideas. Devine is most successful when he favors restrained musicality over all-out bluster, as in the glitched-out crackle of "Float 82." Perhaps Devine's music, like much of its overcomplicated IDM brethren, would benefit from Betke's minimalist insight. Even if the universe is expanding, there's no need for Devine's music to take up so much space.

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