[De Stijl; 2012]

When he’s not running the droney and experimental Dekorder label, Hamburg’s Marc Richter releases his own droney and experimental music under the Black to Comm moniker. The follow-up to 2009’s excellent Alphabet 1968 LP, Earth was originally intended to soundtrack the Singapore director Ho Tzu Nyen’s film of the same name—a film which itself was originally meant to accompany another set of music. So what we have here is effectively an alternate score to a movie that I doubt any of us have seen. Thus, we’re left to judge the album on its own terms, which admittedly might miss part of the point of this work.

While there are similarities between Earth and Alphabet—the mélange of electroacoustic instruments, the crackly sounds of old vinyl getting a workout for the first time this century, the occasional distant child’s voice calling out across some imaginary, halcyon playground — the most striking update to Richter’s work here is the addition of vocals, courtesy of London-based electronic artist Vindicatrix. Dude’s got one hell of a warble, and while I don’t know how much of actual value it adds to Richter’s hazy musical stew, it maintains the listener’s interest as an additional textural element. Towards the end of “Thrones,” for instance, he repeats a single word: “Awake.” Is this a command? A descriptor? Just a random word? In the background we hear the slowed-down vestiges of some long-lost heavenly piano-and-choir ballad along with what sounds like a tea kettle whistling in reverse. The results are at once disorienting, disconcerting, and yes, strangely soothing, like a spoonful of bitter medicine with a surprisingly sweet aftertaste.

Another difference between Richter’s two most recent Black to Comm releases lies in their respective musical themes. Whereas Alphabet seemed to explore a variety of genres, from drone to Sawako-esque electronic circuit-bending to (distant, decaying) techno, Earth presents a more unified collection of tracks. Richter seems to have slathered all sorts of instrumentation in crazy glue and then thrown them all at the wall, ensuring that they all stick (a method that reminds me of Sean McCann’s The Capital more than Alphabet 1968). One especially conspicuous repeating element is human breathing, a sound that opens both the album as well as the 14-minute-plus track “The Children.” And Vindicatrix’s unique vocal intonations result in plenty of clipped breaths and phrasal pauses. More than any meaning behind these particular lyrics — which is bound to be arguable at best, anyway—Richter here seems more interested in the rough, throaty edges of human speech and the way those qualities mingle with other kinds of instruments. Like Earth as a whole, this doesn’t make for the most pleasant of listening experiences, but it does represent another evolution in Richter’s artistic progression.