Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Richard Skelton

Another week, another new musical enthusiasm. I came across references to Richard Skelton on Andrew Ray's consistently excellent blog Some Landscapes. Skelton seems to be the musical equivalent of a "land artist" like Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy, making site-specific musical works captured from and inspired by the landscape, using instruments that have been allowed to weather outdoors, with some ambient sounds, although the music is actively composed / constructed rather than passively captured "soundscapes".

If it sounds a bit hippyish, well, it is. And none the worse for that, from where I'm sitting. If you have a taste for long-form, minimalist, solemn, ambient, modal music which really does seem to emanate from a very British engagement with landscape, you should give him a listen. Think "the Third Ear Band meet Michael Nyman on the way over the moor to Thomas Tallis's house". A bit over-dependent on drones, repeated figures and some favoured harmonic effects, perhaps, but I found this music strangely capable of returning me to the root of why I love landscape and why I feel impelled to make art from it. Another time I must post about the deep, awe-inspiring drone I once seemed to hear emanating from the mountains in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain, which I have always called "El Tiburón" (the shark).

Skelton records under various names: Broken Consort, Heidika, and Clouwbeck, for example, and self-publishes what look like exquisitely-made books and recordings. His imprint Sustain-Release can be found here, and samples of the music can be heard there and on a blog relating to a recent release Landings here.

My instinct, whenever I come across someone like this -- creating single-minded art that flies in the face of every commercial imperative -- is to offer the only support that means anything, i.e. buy something. For £15 via PayPal you can have a copy of a 250 copy limited edition signed booklet and CD of Landings. Now that's what I call an impulse purchase.

No doubt, like the music of Guy Clark in an earlier post, this will turn out to be a rabbit-hole into a previously unsuspected parallel universe of enthusiasm. The walls between musical genres and allegiances, in particular, do seem to be remarkably soundproof. But I've started to glance nervously at The Wire magazine, also a new discovery (for me), and I'm already getting that vertiginous feeling...


Felix Wilson said...

You might find the work of Toshiya Tsunoda interesting (even if the recordings are less musical than what you're describing here), there's a fascinating article by him that really got me interested in the possibilities of audio representation of place here: http://erstwords.blogspot.com/2009/07/field-recording-and-experimental-music.html

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Felix Wilson, I'll check that out.

As I said in the post, I have no doubt that I will (or could) now discover a parallel universe that has been proceeding for decades, with its own myths, heroes and villains... Occasionally the inhabitants of these worlds surface* into the mainstream (like that guy in Australia who records wire fences) but they're normally contentedly invisible to most of us.

The world is large, and life is short... There is comfort in the thought that no-one now could possibly even be aware of more than a fraction of what is going on, let alone "know" it.

In some ways, I think music like Skelton's is a way of expressing a relationship with overwhelming complexity, as found even in a state of "nature". There's a sort of secular religious worship going on there.


* linguists may be interested that I was at a session on Monday where "to surface" was used frequently as a transitive verb, referring to "making data visible in a user interface" e.g. "We want to surface the number of rooms booked" in an iphone app.

Mike C. said...


Sorry, got carried away with my own thoughts there... If you are interested in experimental music, I meant to indicate the link to the website of Jamie Drouin on this blog.

Jamie used to be a photographer whose work I liked very much, but has increasingly concentrated on his music in recent years.


Plinius said...

Thanks for the mention of my blog. Those Spanish mountain drones sound intriguing...

Mike C. said...

And thank you, Plinius, for being such a reliable source of interesting things and comment. Taste is a rare commodity, and I'm happy to point it out wherever I see it.

Watch this space for El Tiburon...