Released 1975 on Pôle
Reviewed by achuma, 13/03/2006ce

The obscure French Pôle label produced a varied and often experimental range of LP’s in the mid 1970’s, which have since become sought-after items of high interest amongst the small group of record collectors who are aware of them. An air of mystery has surrounded the label and many of the artists who recorded for it. A fair portion of the music released on this label was highly original, experimental and ahead of its time.
Pôle was established and managed in Paris by an entrepeneur named Paul Putti, with his wife Evelyne Henri. Aiming at attracting attention by confusional tactics, Putti made the first release (this one) himself with others, under the group name ‘Pôle’. Several following albums released on the label had this name prominently on the cover alongside the artist’s name, even when totally different musicians were involved, creating further confusion about what was the label, what was the band, and what was the album title! The label released 15 LP’s from 1975-1977, which were sold door-to-door by students and other young people in the poor neighbourhoods of Paris. Presumably some were sold through the mail in small numbers to music vendors in other countries, where some of the records have ended up. At least some (and probably all) of the musicians who recorded for the label did not get any royalties from albums sold, and after this short period of activity the label went bust. Putti went on to found a porn mag named ‘Pulsion’ which apparently did quite well. Many of the Pôle label releases were shortly after reissued on the Tapioca label, but many of these suffer poor sound quality at least in part. I have been told this was due to the use of acetates shoddily ‘remastered’ from the original vinyl, or something like that. On the other hand, many Pôle pressings I have bought or borrowed, that appear to be in near-mint condition, still often don’t sound as clean as they look, at least in part (ie. some tracks or an entire side will be pretty crystal clear, whilst others suffer from lots of high-end distortions on louder trebly bits; a fair bit of surface noise also seems to be common).
Note: although catalogue release numbers for the label run from 0001 to 0020, 0016-0019 were never released as far as I know.
Pôle ‘the group’ was not really a proper group, but rather a loose assemblage of experimentalists (note: there’s a more recent group or person around using the name Pole, and I think they do some kind of techno, but they’re nothing to do with this lot). Initially this consisted of Paul Putti, with the aid of like-minded friends or associates. On ‘Kotrill’, the first release for the new label, Paul Putti contributed to tracks 1 & 3, Thierry Aubrun tracks 1 & 3, and Daniel Bodon track 2. Instrumentation credited on the sleeve was synthesizers, magnetic tapes and treatments, but without noting who did what.
‘Kotrill’ featured pretty rudimentary black & white hand drawn artwork, with a few photos of the group members (or are they just different-looking pictures of Putti alone?) stuck on for good measure. In the middle was the drawing that would grace the label of each Pôle release to come – the sketch of a long-haired person reaching up with one black-sleeved arm to push a button. What it’s meant to signify, if anything, is beyond me – it may be intended to be similarly meaningless as the choice of band and label name. The back cover was just French text written out in pen on a plain white background.
The album featured three tracks (2 of them very lengthy). The title track ‘Kotrill’ [16:35], opening side one, is an abstract slab of weird electroacoustic experimentation that is the most obvious inspiration from this album for Nurse With Wound, who listed Pôle in their notorious list of influences, and it also sounds a bit like the obscure Finnish experimental group Sperm, who are included in the same list. It sounds rather like they were making it up as they went along, and they probably were, but it’s a fascinating sonic stew regardless. Beginning with stereo backwards machine-like sucking sounds looping away, it soon fades and gives way to an ominous wavering drone straight out of an eerie horror movie, and the backwards loop sounds drop back in and out of the mix. The drone builds in creepiness, a primitive rhythm machine joins in, followed by a crappy taped drum loop and various other low synth throbs murking about. There’s backwards melting vocals, everything is rising and falling, like a sea-sick ship of dead souls floating through dark fog to damnation and madness. After a while the darkness fades and it’s just weird, instead of weird and dark. The middle of this track sounds to me like a primitive precursor to parts of Boredoms bassist Hanadensha’s album ‘Acoustic Mothership’, and then fades out to frenzied drumming over electronics that could be a peek into Can’s ‘Tago Mago’. ‘Osiris’ [3:30] concludes the side, with subtle gong strokes setting a slow pulse under rising and falling oscillators and freaky tones. All up a pretty subtle affair.
‘Villin-Gen’ [20:00] takes up all of side two, and is more synth-drone-based, slow and minimal. It’s still dark-ish in a low-key kind of way; perhaps sombre is a better description. There’s not much in the way of changes here except for the backing electronic sounds passing by slowly like deep sea fish freaks, with the main synth only ever really hitting the same two chords throughout the first half of the piece. Perhaps Terry Riley would have sounded like this if he was really into tranquillisers... This is definitely a track for late at night when you want to start shutting down your brain ready for sleep, not that it’s boring (though some people would probably say it is), but rather pleasantly calming and soporific without being saccharine or clichéd. Around the 13 minute mark everything falls away to a slow heart-beat click loop, before growing back with a shimmering drone and the sounds of trickling water, and suddenly we’re washing in a brook or waking up in a daze in the bath with the tap running, take your pick. The drone gives way to an alien operating room and the water sounds fade like a nitrous oxide hallucination, and for the remainder of the track we’re lying there unable to move, pleasantly drugged and anaesthetised while the interdimensional beings do their tinkering and take notes. Then, that wasn’t too painful was it, they’ve finished up, fly off to whatever loophole they came out of, and leave you with your heartbeat ticking away, comfy in your own bed and ready for a good sleep.

The original LP is pretty rare, and remains to be reissued on CD. After this, Pôle the group made one more album (see review for ‘Inside the Dream’), though the label of the same name continued to release albums for a couple of years, some of which as mentioned above were presented in such a way as to make them appear to be also by the group Pôle – such as the Besombes-Rizet and Henri Roger albums (see separate reviews to come).

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