LP - Black Vinyl.
Essential UK experimental composer Richard Skelton returns to Phantom Limb for new album selenodesy, interweaving his newfound love of electronics and synthesis with mastery of gritty organic texture.
Skelton’s music has always been rooted in landscape, in the loam and grit of the earth: from his 2009 Pennine Moors-inspired modern classic Landings to his more recent Moraine Sequence of geological excavations, his work has been bound inexorably with the stark and untended wilderness of northern landscapes. With this new album, however, Skelton shifts his gaze skyward — in part the result of a move in 2017 to the countryside near the Kielder Observatory, and to a so-called ‘dark sky’ region of the UK. In this remote landscape, light pollution is minimal, allowing the austere majesty of the night sky to be seen with greater clarity.
The resulting album, selenodesy, reveals a new, reverberant spaciousness to Skelton’s use of electronics. It marries the twin worlds of his previous Phantom Limb release - 2020’s These Charms May Be Sung Over A Wound, and its abandoned-factory threnody - with the landscape-revering arcana of his earlier work, which saw him bury instruments in the soil to return months later to recover and record with them, newly imbued with the land they occupied. selenodesy was prefigured by a period of insomnia and the relief found in stargazing, during which Skelton tried to transcribe his hypnagogic visions: “much of this music came to me in the early hours, in that nowhere state between dreaming and waking. I’d look out the window and the night sky would be swirling with stars. Mars or Venus would be hovering in the corner of the room. I’d lie there and watch the Aurora Borealis dance across the ceiling.”
In selenodesy, we find the lingering, distorted sine waves of album opener “Albedo” that thrum and fizz with an icy, foreboding moonlight, rays of subtle movement that illuminate and darken alternately. Next follows lead single “The Plot of Lunar Phases”, whose passive shrieks echo about a cold, yawning space, reaching an ecstatic crescendo of hissing sonics and swirling celestial drone. Its dynamic range acts like the light of a lunar passage, from utmost darkness to radiant luminosity. Elsewhere, the pulsing, precessional bass of “Faint Ray Systems” gradually opens to reveal mournful, elegiac synthesis that reaches high into the night sky with an unearthly beauty. It is as if, during those long months of lockdown in the Scottish countryside, Skelton tapped into a series of sidereal electromagnetic transmissions, and transposed them into musical form.
The stark white-on-black album artwork - designed by Skelton - features the geometrical drawings from Copernicus’s 1543 treatise, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.
A1. albedo view
A2. the plot of lunar phases
A3. faint ray systems view
A4. isostasy view
B1. hypervelocity view
B2. impact theory view
B3. lesser gravity view
B4. fallback view