Richard Skelton has been incredibly active during the pandemic, releasing a wide variety of albums on Aeolian Editions. These include Talus, a bright-toned diptych inspired by rock debris; Four Workings, with meditations drawn from a divination deck; and The Hollows, a sonic reflection of deep caves. In some way, each of these releases might find tangential relationship to lockdown: the cave, the debris, the questions about what the future might bring. But Stur and Sutr, a much longer diptych released two months apart, seems the best aural reflection of the current crisis. Together the pieces top ninety minutes, still shorter than most movies but requiring patient ears. During lockdown, the world felt the suspension of time: clock hands in molasses, struggling to move.
Stur begins so softly it seems not to exist. As Skelton is a linguist, we cannot help but notice the English homonym. Is this what it’s like to stir slowly and softly from sleep, to rise from torpor, to stretch, to finally place one’s feet on the floor? In a metaphorical sense, might the music imply a gradual awakening of the mind to issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, the dangers of xenophobia? By the fifteen minute mark, the piece has thrown off the blankets and discarded the pillows. The loops seem less circular than directional, the volume confident.
Halfway into the piece, one begins to notice melodies. Have they been there all along, yearning to breathe free? As with most of Skelton’s work, subtlety is the key. This new creature is still fragile, scraping off the remains of the chrysalis. In like fashion, many of us are learning to walk again, to sing again; but not all. Some prefer to sleep, physically and metaphorically. After stretching high enough to touch the low-lying clouds, the music returns to the cocoon.
Sutr begins in a more active state. The associations include suture, the stitching of a wound; sutra, a collection of Vedic teaching that means thread and stems from the Latin suere, to sew; and in a more foreboding sense, Surtur from Norse mythology (and the Marvel Universe), whose flaming sword may bring about the end of the world and its rebirth. The music will never grow that loud or signal such danger, but the relation to Stur, whether dyslexic or disruptive, suggests an alternate manner of perception.
These melodies are less shy than their siblings. By the time a third of the piece has passed, the volume has exceeded that of Stur. As we stitch our own worlds back together, are we not also sewing seams in the larger world? If Stur is the sound of a sleeper rising and returning to rest, Sutr is the sound of engagement. Even when the volume fades, the pianist continues to find notes, thinking forward, already mapping the possibilities. (Richard Allen)