Even if he were to try hard, Richard Skelton would not be able to produce average art. Too many layers of experimentation, intimate awareness, sorrow, and responsiveness to the acoustic event per se to envision indifference towards his creations. Accordingly, A Guidonian Hand demands both patience and focus notwithstanding a relatively uncomplicated constitution. The reason why the album was named after an ancient device for learning music is unknown to us. The tracks that make it up surely sketch a reliable path across various stages of insight, aided by the moods generated by the composer, halfway between lonely exploration and “humbly cinematic”.
For the occasion Skelton appears to have set aside at least a fraction of the timbral transparency that distinguishes much of the preceding output. The origins of what you hear are (mostly) impossible to determine exactly, though we guessed at a “ruthlessly filtered and equalized regular instruments” approach. Sound buildups tend to overload quite frequently, in a stimulating contrast to the comparative straightforwardness of the pieces, typically anchored on one or two concepts repeated for the entire course. A trademark for Skelton, which we have come to cherish over the years. In more lyrical terms, you can feel that the sun is there despite the wave spray of a rough sea rendering the horizon hazy. The eyes – ears? – do burn a little.
One can’t help but relinquish any resistance, ultimately surrendering to a movingly evocative impulse. The discordance of contiguous partials may induce a bit of intoxicating stridency, but the harmonic discernment subtending the whole never fails to carry the listener through this reiterative ritual. Mesmerizing fragments of theme stroke the mind, regardless of the distortion; vibrant undercurrents entail meanings that remain unexplained. The awesome “The Late Afflicting Fire” leaves us with visions. A whale crying out in despair for having lost its way in the ocean; a man silently grieving for his beloved, unable to save herself from an undignified fate. A fitting finale to another Skelton signature gem.