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Wald Euan Andrews , September 25th, 2015 09:38

No matter how strong the allure of the big city heat, eventually there may come a cut-off point for even the most committed urbanite. A time of sudden, splintering fracture when the remorseless chatter and grind, the constant in-your-face scream, of the modern metropolis must finally be escaped. So, you take off in search of renewal and refreshment, travelling fast down tracks or autobahns as landmarks rush by in a blurred smear. You make for a place of necessary retreat, to become a solitary pilgrim within your chosen landscape, and when you finally reach your desired location, your beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere, you tentatively put one foot in front of the other and you begin to walk.

That initial steady tread, the sound of feet being found again, is how Wald begins, with 'Kautz'. A silence and then the metronomic beat of two limbs starting to move once more. The realisation takes hold that you can still do this, you can still walk, when you might have taken that simple action for granted and then stumbled. Further rhythms start coalescing around the original plain footfall beat, lifeform extensions springing up in clusters around that initial presence. You continue to walk as oxygen filters through to the brain and lungs and gradually, unhurriedly, the surrounding natural terrain opens up to you as you become part of the constantly flourishing ecosystem.

Eight years on from Steingarten, Stefan Betke has created a record which reflects his own private wanderings through forestry in search of both inspiration and personal "headspace", that nebulously elusive inner mantra that the frazzled urban mind so desires. Carved into nine individual tracks spread across a three-part suite, Wald is Betke's glitch-beat electronic ode to the woods in which he walked in search of replenishment. Designed to be assimilated and experienced in a seamless whole, that steady rhythmic pace persists throughout much of Wald though traversed by gushing rivulets and streams of flurry and scree. Sometimes, you can almost hear an artificial wind gently brushing trees in your wake.

There are shades of Sowiesoso-era Cluster herein as each individual piece blossoms and blooms, transforming within itself like shifting weather patterns patterning a visual landscape. Indeed, Wald feels indebted to past German musical pioneers such as Michael Rother and Hans-Joachim Roedelius who made their own bucolic retreat to the country and composed romantic pastorals in veneration of its transfiguring effect upon their mental and physical identities. Occasionally, as on 'Aue (Live)', there are the flickerings of a dub bass pulse, vague nods to Betke's past urban ruminations. But much of Wald feels so richly adorned with glittering furnishings that it seems a distant relative to the sparse imagery and cavernous, hollow spaces of Pole's original ground-breaking trio of albums some fifteen years ago.

So, Wald nods towards electronic Kosmische music of bygone years while simultaneously reflecting and commenting upon Betke's own back catalogue. It's the sound of an artist moving on, in search of something indefinable up ahead while warily keeping an eye on his past. While Betke keeps forging on, there are the sounds of birds tweeting like delicately manoeuvring hydraulic cylinders, nature expressing itself in the form of synthetic gear changes and a digital sunrise across a rural idyll represented in contrast to the tension of an urban vacuum. Finally, on 'Eichelhaeher', there is the same steady rhythm of feet walking with which we began. Then, a sudden flare of white noise, almost as though a heavily processed guitar solo has intruded into the peaceful glade, before a final halt. Another pause to catch one's breath is commencing, for however long it may take.