BLACK TO COMM- ‘Oocyte Oil & Stolen Androgens’

Considering how Marc Richter has excelled at producing some of the most supernatural, least manmade-sounding music of the last 20 years, it was surprising, perhaps even mildly disappointing, to learn that this, his latest venture under the Black to Comm moniker, would be an exploration of the human voice. Sure, Richter has conjured up some ethereal wails before, but what could anyone possibly sing, what could anyone possibly say, that would speak louder than all of his past work has done without ever uttering a word.

Not much, it turns out. If the reading of an excerpt from satirical war novel The Good Soldier Sveik that rises and falls throughout the record is jarring in its stark, undistorted directness, elsewhere there are poems, choirs, and conversations so reversed and rearranged that they remain barely recognisable. In fact, Richter’s exploration of this new medium is so thorough, it’s easy to imagine him revelling in the infinitesimal fluctuations of just a few seconds of speech, before turning it into 20 minutes of alien ambience. This isn’t the human voice as commentator or even navigator. This is the human voice as a texture and shade. No one is talking over the movie.

The not-so-snappily titled ‘Gustav Metzger as Erwin Piscator, Gera, January 1915’ is an epic of horror film synths, spaghetti western strings, warm washes of noise, cold spoken word, and musique concrete. In the beginning it’s disorientating, like standing in a crowded airport in another dimension. Then there are frustrating abstract piano patterns that sound like a toddler let loose at the keys. But there is so much delightful ear candy too- underwater wooshes, and skittering insect percussion so crisp that it sounds like it’s happening just over your shoulder. The middle of track would still be eerie by normal standards but actually acts as light relief in context. Then, new, shrill layers of noise crescendo towards the end, a reminder that you’re still in the palm of Richter’s hand. The track is almost eighteen minutes long but capable of making time stand still. Yep, this still feels very much like a Black To Comm album.

‘Stolen Androgens’ is a beautiful piece of work, a combination of welcoming, breathy hums and piano loops that is a million miles away from last year’s terrific and terrifying ‘Seven Horses for Seven Kings’, ‘Oocyte Oil’ is crackling, primal stuff, much more reminiscent of fire or water than speech, and, as if he hadn’t made it obvious many times before, the layered and captivating ‘Gepackte Zeit’ is proof that right now someone should be inviting Richter to add movie soundtracks to his resumé.

‘Oocyte Oil & Stolen Androgens’ is actually a kind of compilation album, collecting old ideas and new evolutions of pieces previously written for art installations, alongside a swath of original noise. But there’s no disconnect. Not everything feels essential, but it all gels. It feels finished. I was worried that the human voice would upset the delicate balance of Richter’s compositions but instead he has succeeded in bending and breaking the voice to his will. The end result is a uniquely vivid, intense, and challenging thing. 

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