Over the course of three special events in Manchester, London and east Sussex last weekend, Richard Skelton headlined explorations into experimental sound as three artists each evening introduced music for the landscapes in which they live. The music was not serene, pretty or easy listening but full of jagged edges, thought-provoking sound clashes and reverberations; and artists intent on making their audience think.
The shows were promoted as part of Saisonscape, Art Assembly’s bi-monthly series of experimental music, inspired by the seasons. Given the title Landscape, these spring shows would accordingly reflect on sound born out of, or inspired by, the land. The second of the three events was staged on Saturday 21st March 2015 in the beautiful art deco seaside building of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea situated on the south / south-east coast somewhere between Brighton and Hastings.
Joe Snape opened the evening with a 20 minute set played in almost complete darkness. It took me a while to a tune my senses. With no visual distractions I found most appreciation by closing my eyes. Rob St. John followed with a set of songs from his forthcoming album Surface Tension. He was joined on stage by another musician and an artist creating live projected silhouettes using water, exposed film and bubbles. Again, I found that closing my eyes allowed me to fully emerge into the music and flow with, what started as a picturesque spring countryside complete with birdsong, as it turned sharply midstream into something much darker and less idyllic.
Richard Skelton was using the three shows by way of introducing his forthcoming second album ‘Belated Movements for an Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984’ under the guise of The Inward Circles and was due to sell advanced copies of the new album at the shows. However both Skelton and I were frustrated to learn that the delivery of CDs had been delayed.
Taking centre-stage, Richard Skelton quietly took his place sitting at a table to the front and centre of the large stage. He sat behind a laptop and other hardware flanked by his wife and creative partner, Autumn Richardson.
Skelton began his set of experimental electronica with a quiet looping sound. The sound became sounds as he began layering with each cycle of rhythmic noise patterns until melodies began forming. As the density of the track grew, so did the volume. The volume gave the bass reverberations depth, and the lowest of frequencies began burning their way into head. I kept my eyes closed, enjoying the trance-like cycles of this wonderful avant-garde experimentation into sound. The music became louder still and I wondered if the auditorium was going to survive the reverberating bass and metallic noises. I had thoughts of Matt Johnson’s Burning Blue Soul, the very best Plastikman AKA Richie Hawtin’s early minimal trance and as the volume increased even more, the sonic boom power and dark dreamy sound of My Bloody Valentine – all three references, all of the time with no hint of percussion or a rock guitar in sight.
When each piece had reached a crescendo it would begin its decent as Skelton slowly began dissecting the track layer by layer as the volume continued to decrease. But before the track completed its withering cycle, Skelton with seamless precision began sculpting a further wave of entwined droning sounds emanating and flowing from the hub that continued pulsating throughout. Skelton’s set was truly amazing, and one of the most powerful performances I have ever seen. He played for an hour with no breaks, no time for the audience to applaud or readjust their focus. The whole performance was an onslaught on the senses.
As the reverberating sounds became quiet for the last time, the silence was greeted with rapturous applause. I needed a few seconds to adjust. My eyes opened, blinked a few times and returned to normality; as did my head. After his performance Richard Skelton crouched on the side of the stage and when I spoke with him he appeared to be as overawed as me. The PA sounded good and played Skelton’s set at quite a volume, though we agreed this experiment in music could never be quite loud enough.
The 90 minute journey home went quickly and was worth every minute spent driving to the most beautiful venue and the most absorbing performance I have witnessed for a very, very long time.
For more information on Richard Skelton and stream ‘To Your Fox-Skin Chorus‘ from Belated Movements for an Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984, Richard Skelton’s second album as The Inward Circles