Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Harsh Majesty

Someone – well it was Michael Holland – said to me, “ I dunno - why, Richard Skelton? What is it? I don't really get it. I can take or leave him really.”
Now I have sympathy with this point of view because when I first heard Richard Skelton there was such a hoo-ha , such a critical acclaim thing going on but when I listened I remember thinking it was scritchy scratchy,  just a heap of unpleasant sounds threaded through some otherwise pleasant drone. It was, to my mind, “spoiled”.
I thought, I bet this one's an awkward bugger.

But now I find it hits the spot. There is some itch I did not know I had. Skelton scratches it.
This is drone that could not be used as a background to the diaphanous, formless Northern Lights, oh no. Instead it is full of “all trades their gear and tackle and trim”. It is built of iron sounds, of teeth grinding through metal, of grit and sharp rock. Although it ends as drone: although it ends as a deep wide soundscape, it is built, not of water or air but from the breath of work, of abrasion. From life shaped by constant small contact with sharp edges. It is a soundscape redolent of the forge, of iron and of tearing flakes of rust.
I am listening to a couple of pieces Skelton's written about hills: Black Combe in the Lake District and Cappanawalla in Galway. Both overhang the sea and both - is it coincidentally? - face into the west. In them is a lyrical flow that might describe their flowing skylines and yet they are built from harsh wailing sounds that might be rock pushing against rock, mountains building or weathering, sounds that might be the hard bright glitter of sunlight on waves.
I really like Richard Skelton's work now. I am a sucker for drone, its slow hypnotic builds, the way its swathes swirl around like mountain mist, and I am provoked and needy about the hard edges of the sounds Skelton uses.
So, no. I can't “take or leave him” really. His cracked and unflinching look at nature, it seems, has something to say that I need to hear. And the unexpected overall beauty that emerges from God-knows-where maybe pretty much describes the way things are.

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