Sunday, December 18, 2011

Richard Skelton's 'new' album "The Complete Landings"


This far into the game, I think it's safe to say this one's going to make my 'albums of the year' list for 2011. The story of "Landings" is an unusual one, as it originally came out in 2009, was then rereleased on the Type label as a LP with bonus CD of expanded material, and then in late 2011 released again as a further expanded edition titled "The Complete Landings", along with a Print edition, a Poetry series by Richard Skelton and lastly, a Muitimedia Edition for gallery. Building a cycle of works creating a larger, interlocking, unfolding narrative; what the Germans would call a 'Gesamtkunstwerk' collectively in it's execution. What originally struck me, and even put me off a bit initially, was that the plucked and bowed guitar and string technique of Skelton, didn't jibe with any improvisational 'Avant-Garde' sense I was really accustomed to. Instead I perceived allusions to Folk, Western, Americana... (and ahem), even a hint of New Age stylings in the approach. The latter soon faded into the abyss on further listens (what was I thinking?). Now what I hear is a heady drone and timbre focused concoction of ambiance, textural 'scapes' and fluid structures that are as much composerly as improvised in their loose, natural subtlety. His work, in-particular this one, is inspired by, or influenced by the rolling, open landscape of the northern UK where he lives in rural near-isolation. A avid naturalist and daily trekker of the landscape of Standish, just north of Wigan, his work draws on a vivid feel for location, where the music’s origins are tied to a physical sense of place as well as an emotional state. As he described it in the in-depth article in the April issue of The Wire; “Rediscovering the places I’d known where I grew up - connecting with landscapes that at once seemed ancient and intransient, and yet also ravaged by change - played a big part in my recovery.” His sounds are seemingly less 'about' the place and more 'of' the place, the relationship with landscape being the internal dialog that his work then relates to the listener. As well as being a Naturalist and lover of the 15th Century Unkoku-Rin school of Japanese landscape painting and poetry, he's done readings of his own work and is a follower of the Northern English and Welsh poets. It's no real conceptual leap then, but for all the references cropping up in modern visual/sonic art to W.G. Sebald's "The Rings of Saturn" which is a meditation on history through a walking tour of the open, austere, uninhabited expanses of Suffolk as though it were a haunted or dreamlike 'zone' (not dissimilar to those found in the filmography of Andrei Tarkovsky) that have manifest as recent works for Film, as Soundtracks and as Albums - that it's Skelton who I envision wandering that landscape, recounting the history/fiction/memory/ghosts of the land as the protagonist when I consider the novel now ...and his music that has become the soundtrack to my memory of the book. Somehow, I think Sebald would approve.