Talking about Richard Skelton and his music is not an easy task. The risk is to gaze only at the surface without being able to grasp its mystery.

We as enthusiasts are always looking for definitions and reference points, so we usually describe his music as ambient, drone and neoclassical.

In my opinion, however, these indications fail to fully grasp the essence of the English artist’s work. His music is not ambient but “environmental” or more precisely “about the environment”, considered in its biological and ecological meaning: everything with which every living being comes into contact, influencing (in a positive or negative way) the life cycle. Skelton uses the languages ​​of above mentioned genres to investigate the relationships and the dynamics between man and nature. If ambient, as commonly coded, is mainly a contemplative music, Skelton’s one is instead expressive; it doesn’t try to describe a landscape, but rather aims to grasp and communicate at a deeper level the perceptions and sensations that the surrounding environment transmits. A music that looks into nature to search for the roots and the essence of the human soul. Statements like these may seem too naive and a bit new age but you better know that this is a musical and human path that does not indulge in cheap philosophy and doesn’t take shortcuts as certain easy-going spiritualism usually does. The path chosen by Skelton is rigorous and respectful of the mystery of nature and human existence. There is no salvific nature or any of its idealizations: it is simply shown for what it is, something to which man himself belongs and to which, willing or not, he is destined to return.

And it is precisely the ancestral component that gives Skelton’s music an identity and a unique flavor. The use of acoustic instrumentation and, in particular, often striden, arcs is capable of making particular vibrations resound within the listener: a “disclosure” of hidden sensations and feelings, already present within us but that we can’t remember anymore. To be short, a feeling of “homecoming”.

Skelton’s discography is complex and substantial. Albums like “Landings”, “Marking Time” and “Verse Of Birds” but also “Box Of Birch” and “Crow Autumn” published under the moniker A Broken Consort are essential to delve into his poetry.

Today Skelton returns with a brand new project: “Border Ballads”. The album is once again linked to the environment where it was conceived and created. The press kit tells us that the boundaries of the title are those of the areas between England and Scotland. These regions are delimited by different watercourses that constitute the heart of the work and that have influenced the compositional methodology. In fact, the work does not show up in the form of long compositions as is usual for Skelton. The album is made up of a series of twelve shorter pieces that nevertheless form a unified vision as if they were pieces of a mosaic. As the author himself recounts, the new record revisits some compositional techniques used in the elusive “Marking Time”, but it represents a more earthy counterpart anchored to the ground, just like the waterways. Compared to that record, however, and also to the rest of his discography, the English composer manages to compose and synthesize all the qualities and fundamental elements of his work in a more accessible form that makes “Border Ballads” probably the most suitable episode to approach his music.

The first characteristic that stands out when listening to the record is in fact the melodic component, that is much more evident than in the past. Once again, however, the artist does not sell cheap beauty, but plays on borders and contrasts. A shadow corresponds to each glimpse of light, every fragment of melody must be conquered. As the water courses delimit a path made of loops and discontinuities so the music and, through it, life is reflected in the now clear and then muddy river’s waters.

The flow of water embodied by the discreet drones designed by viola and cello gives the disc a materiality and a link to the earth that seems to represent the yearning for a safe landing of the human soul. A yearning expressed also by the luminous melodies and the touching use of a fragile piano.

A desire however undermined by the same eternal flow of the river that draws fleeting and perpetually changing boundaries. Once again Skelton, despite apparently using a simpler and more accessible language, tells us a lot about the human condition, about the relationship between the search for stability and the destiny that condemns us to move constantly and chase after a calm impossible to reach because it is not part of the very nature of man.

But isn’t beauty just right here?

Richard Skelton - Altar Valley