Pole | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Vinyl loyalists insist that records sound warmer than CDs, and plenty of reggae lovers say the music hasn't been the same since Kingston's engineers figured out how to clean up a signal path. These folks may not know it, but like city dwellers who can't sleep without the sound of traffic, sirens, and far-off car alarms, they're all addicted to noise. The subliminal rumble of stylus against groove--and the not-so-subliminal distortion that suffuses the classic 70s sides recorded at Studio One, Black Ark, and King Tubby's--are the musical equivalent of that constant urban background noise. The mesmerizing murk of classics like Yabby You's "Conquering Lion" and Lee Perry's "Revolution Dub" gave reggae an earthy, otherworldly quality that was all but lost with the adoption of commercial radio's tidier production standards. While remnants of that older reggae, especially dub, have been absorbed by electronic and instrumental artists like Seefeel, Tortoise, and DJ Spooky, the word "dub" used to be synonymous with the make-do process of warping already recorded sounds in the studio, adding new layers of echo and bizarre effects--and most modern dub is just too clean. Enter Berlin resident Stefan Betke, who makes music under the name Pole: he brings the noise back, basing his spare, drumless dub on random clicks and bursts of static from an analog synthesizer component, a Waldorf four-pole filter, that began malfunctioning after he dropped it. The kernel of each of Betke's compositions is a shifting, omnipresent crackle formed by strings of sampled sounds from the filter, to which he adds deep, dubby bass lines, electronic approximations of rhythm-guitar parts, field recordings of muted voices, and synthesizer melodies as winsome as anything Augustus Pablo ever wrote. In performance Betke preserves a sense of spontaneity and invention, augmenting prerecorded material with a keyboard. Also on the bill are Burnt Friedman and Farben. Tuesday, October 17, 9 PM, Subterranean Cafe & Cabaret, 2011 W. North, Chicago; 773-278-6600.

--Bill Meyer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Strada.

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