Richard Moult


At first, Sjóraust spatters and then cleanses the skin with a fine ocean spray. The Atlantic yawns up ahead as the music walks along a beach silent apart from the rhythmic whoosh of the waves and their intakes of breath. The effect is instantaneous: you are there, so much so that the white specks of sand start to trickle out of the headphones.

Richard Moult’s music has always been highly evocative of place and of period, and Sjóraust, his third album on Second Language, is no exception, detailing the remote and ancient islands of the Outer Hebrides that stand just off the west coast of mainland Scotland. As well as enjoying a coastal glow, Sjóraust ingrains the history of the isles into the music. The Gaelic culture is not only included – it’s an essential part of the music, as are the references to the Norse peoples, who, in Moult’s words, “considerably shaped the face of these islands…thus the ‘new’ word, Sjóraust: a conjoining of two Old Norse words, meaning Sea Voice”.

The piano is the same as a bright blue day – but a chilly one, as well– and the textured, leathery layer surrounding it is a thick jacket that braces itself against the Atlantic wind. A lovely tidal flow surrounds the music. The piano serenely plays before disappearing; a musical thought rises to the fore before passing away, in much the same way that the shoreline’s waves stretch out and then recede.

The chanting of ancient saints still haunts the area. Their voices echo dimly from distant catacombs and dusty crypts that always seem to be wrapped in a silky, cobwebbed fabric. The grey stone of the mausoleum brightens as notes twinkle and light up the older, worn and wrinkled textures. A bass-driven midnight drone creeps around, seen only as a flittering shadow at the entrance to the crypt, and its gentle draught gives more substance to the sound. Things brighten with the morning chirping of birdsong. Along with the piano, strings start to appear, bittersweet and incredibly young. The instruments are wedded together and are never apart for long. As the bow grazes the strings, a slight reverb falls away and hangs there, suspended in the gap between silence and sound. As listeners – as travellers – we are outside, in the sunshine once again.

In the final piece, voices are blown in on the wind, arriving at this sacred, delicate place. The airy arrangements help the music sink into its surroundings, consuming the space without ever occupying it. The notes sparkle as they flow over this shrine, hitting the light that shines down from a gap in the stone. Music is a kind of sorcery through her, the isles are alive.

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