‘A Guidonian Hand’ has a strong and pure link to the ancient past. In Medieval music, the Guidonian Hand was a mnemonic device which assisted singers in learning how to sight-sing, a system in which each part of the hand was assigned a particular note. Richard Skelton’s music has dug itself into the swollen and often-violent history of England, its murky marshes, ancient woodlands, sacred chapels, and fog-coated villages. In that sense, A Guidonian Hand is a continuation of his style, wherein the stale breath of past centuries echoes against the back of the neck.
Skelton’s music feels as old and as cold as a skeleton’s bones, its strings corroding away like age-old bronze. Sometimes shrieking, sometimes creeping, the music twists into torturous tones and thrums with Halloween-like stabs of subtle electronic rhythms. It is an unearthing. The melodies echo on and on, appearing as uneasy, trembling hymns, written on eroded pieces of yellow parchment and coming from a long-lost period in history. It is possible to imagine the music housing itself in Medieval times, waiting for the right moment to emerge from its soil-drenched cell.
The abrasive strings are thick and find it a struggle to move without creaking, making slightly disjointed gestures and stuttering movements. The music is something from beneath and from the past, where sustained, gleaming drones and dotted rhythms shunt through to the modern age. And age is not an issue for the music, as it emanates from the living English landscape, a dynamic, incessant presence. Melodies are sparse and are robed, or restricted to, tight confines and shackled clothing, which in turn ramps up the tension. The hills, valleys, ridges, rocks – these things never age, and neither does the music.