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Marc Richter aka Black To Comm released his debut record 20 years ago. In 2023 he is still busy releasing music under various disguises and is currently signed to the Thrill Jockey label. To celebrate this anniversary his own Cellule 75 label is re-releasing some classic out-of-print vinyl albums that originally came out on the defunct Type and De Stijl labels. The LP will feature a full-colour printed inner sleeve exclusive to this edition.
In 2009 the Type Recordings label run by John Twells had just released seminal records by Grouper, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Yellow Swans when they signed Richter and put out his breakthrough Alphabet 1968 album. The LP sold out within two weeks, receiving a glowing full-page review in The Wire Magazine by the late Mark Fisher (later reprinted in his book Ghosts Of My Life), was selected for Boomkat's Top 10 releases of the year (alongside debut albums by Leyland Kirby, Demdike Stare and Oneohtrix Point Never) and was greeted with universal praise in the underground blog network as well as established magazines such as The New Yorker and Pitchfork.
The music itself played with the notion of nostalgia without being nostalgic itself. It's the sound of half-remembered dreams, a surreal distorted vision of the past, an aural polaroid of long forgotten musics, a ghostly voice from a non-existent era.
From the original Type one-sheet:
"The mission statement for Alphabet 1968 was to write an album of "songs" for want of a better word. Short tracks which represented genre points, the milestones which stuck in Richter's mind when he thought back to his favorite records. What we arrive at is a breathtaking 10-track album which, over the course of 45 minutes, explores world music, techno, noise, avant-garde, ambient music and even exotica. Each track is linked with a loose thread of radio static or environmental sound, dragging you through the album, as if tuning in to a stray broadcast or a particularly adventurous mix. Richter has pieced the album together from hours of recordings made at his studio with home made gamelan, small instruments and loops gathered from a collection of ancient vinyl and 78 records. The scope of the album is admirable, but ignoring this, it is simply a shockingly arresting collection of experimental oddities, with references ranging from Moondog to Basic Channel by way of Bernard Herrmann. It's not hard to fall in love with Alphabet 1968, far harder would be to place exactly where the record should fit into your collection."
Mark Fisher in The Wire:
"But what if we were to take Richter's provocation seriously - what would a song without a singer be like? What would it be like, that is to say, if objects themselves could sing? It’s a question that connects fairy tales with cybernetics, and listening to Alphabet 1968, I’m reminded of a filmic space in which magic and mechanism meet: JF Sebastian’s apartment in Blade Runner. The tracks on the LP are crafted with the same minute attention to detail that the genetic designer and toymaker brought to his miniature automata, with their bizarre mixture of the clockwork and the computerised, the antique and the ultramodern, the playful and the sinister. Richter’s musical pieces have been built from similarly heterogeneous materials - record crackle, shortwave radio, glockenspiels, all manner of samples, mostly of acoustic instruments. ….. JF Sebastian's apartment was itself an update of older spaces in which science and sorcery co-existed: the workshops of ETA Hoffmann's inventor-magicians, or of Pinocchio's creator, Geppetto. I think, too, of Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's astonishing 1886 tale The Future Eve in which Edison, using the expertise he has recently acquired from inventing the phonograph, sets himself the task of constructing an artificial woman. But if there are songs here, they are sung by the gramophone and other recording and playback machines. Richter so successfully effaces himself as author that it is as if he has snuck into a room and recorded the objects as they played (to) themselves. Rather than simply automating his music, as in the case of Pierre Bastien and his mechanical machines, Richter makes us feel that he has merely recorded the unlife of objects. ….. Indeed, the impression of things winding down is persistent on Alphabet 1968. Entropy has not been excluded from Richter's enchanted soundworld. It feels as if the magic is always about to wear off, that the enchanted objects will slip back into the inanimate again at any moment."