petak, 28. rujna 2012.

Richard Skelton - Verse of Birds

Richard Skelton, koji osim pod svojim imenom nastupa i kao    Harlassen, Clouwbeck, A Broken Consort, Carousell itd., stvara instrumentalnu muziku za fotokopiranje klimatskih promjena. Teške su to, jako teške kompozicije koje viseći s oblaka dodiruju tlo, ponekad malo odskoče uvis pa opet padnu u blato... Sublimno, kažu neki.
Skelton sam producira i distribuira svoje albume a poprati ih i knjižicama stihova i fotografija.
Intimistički fundamentalizam (muzika kao polemički odgovor na smrt supruge) u doba ekološkog dadaizma.

Richard Skelton is a British musician. Following the death of his wife Louise in 2004, he began to make music as a way of coming to terms with the tragedy.[1] His music, which uses a number of instruments – principally guitar and violin, has been compared with that of Arvo Pärt[2] among others. His recordings explicitly reference places of emotional resonance, specifically the West Pennine Moors, and the area around the sparsely populated parish of Anglezarke.[1] His album Landings has been compared with Brian Eno's Ambient 4: On Land in its evocation of place and memory. Skelton even goes so far as to include artefacts, such as twigs and alder catkins, from significant places in the packaging of his releases.
Most of Skelton's releases have been issued by his own Sustain-Release label - under a range of pseudonyms including A Broken Consort, Carousell and Riftmusic, as well as under his own name - in small editions of CDs with hand-crafted packaging, and often including fragments of poetry. However, some of Skelton's work has attained wider commercial and critical success.
In 2011, Skelton archived the material he had released on Sustain-Release. A box set of his complete recordings to date, titled *SKURA and totalling 20 discs of music, followed. Skelton announced that future editions of both his music and writing would be released on the Corbel Stone Press imprint. The first release was Wolf Notes, a collaboration with his new partner, Autumn Richardson, under the name *AR. The album was released on January 1st 2011. To date, a number of print works and another musical collaboration with Richardson, Stray Birds, have been issued. Two more music works are scheduled for release in mid-2012.
Until 2010, Skelton lived in Standish, near Wigan, before relocating to the west coast of Ireland. - wikipedia

Verse of Birds

A collection of recordings from the west coast of Ireland. Verse of Birds comprises over 100 minutes of new music conceived during the spring, summer, autumn and winter of 2010/11.
The album can be thought of as an auditory companion to the texts of The Flowering Rock, which are collected within Field Notes (Volume One), also published by Corbel Stone Press.
The artwork for this new edition features a collage derived from W. Percival Westell's "British Nesting Birds".

Richard Skelton’s music occupies a world of its own that is both familiar and completely dreamlike, acting as a conduit for his deepest emotions, which he shares with his audience in a way that is affecting and musically elliptical at once, like an enigma the answer to which is only just out of reach. Many cite Arvo Part as a key influence, but the closest comparison I can think of would be William Basinski, another artist who has perfected the art of imparting intense feeling without going into overt sentimentalism.
Skelton’s Landings was one of the highlights of 2010, a desolate album overflowing with pathos and pain yet also one that was elegantly composed, with Skelton making exquisite use of violins and bowed guitar as, responding to his grief following the death of his wife, he embarked on a journey across the Lancastrian moorlands, recording on-location to better capture the mood of the landscape and of his own troubled soul. If the focus on Landings was possibly divided evenly between his emotional reflection and his musings on the woods, rivers and copses that surrounded him as he recorded, Verse of Birds seems to focus more closely on the inherent psychogeography of its creation, with every note feeling inhabited by the windy, barren Irish coastlines where it was recorded.
If that sounds bleak, then I’m doing the album (and Ireland!) a disservice. Although far from rapturous, Verse of Birds is traversed by a spirit of elation, the work of an artist rendered speechless by his surroundings but committed to translating this feeling in sound. Skelton’s talent lies in how he recaptures the land’s openness, and a sense of space and air dominates the album: it lies between the notes of his violin and guitar, it fills the musical mind-image he creates with thoughts of endless skies, rolling seas and uninhabited greenery. These images are palpable, but at the same time elusive, and what you’re left with is space. Not emptiness, just space. One to fill with emotions, sounds and thought, from a delicately-plucked acoustic guitar (a welcome addition to his sonic palette) to those heart-rending, airy drones he’s become a master of. In many ways, Richard Skelton is a descendent of the folk tradition of the sixties, a troubadour, of sorts, returning to the primordial geography and geology of Britain and Ireland and capturing the spirits there in music. On the other hand, his exquisite use of slacked violin strings and transformation of the electric guitar into a mournful generator of lamentations hint at a debt to the New York school of minimalism and drone.
Richard Skelton is more than a musician, however, and Verse of Birds should be seen as the musical companion to his collection of writings The Flowering Rock, which records his thoughts whilst wandering through The Burren, a remote and unpopulated stretch of land in County Clare, Ireland. As such, Verse of Birds feels more tangible than Landings, without losing its emotional resonance, merely tweaking it. His writings extrapolate on his experiences of places and scenery and, allied to the music, suggest a more introverted latter-day John Clare. It’s a process that allows his vision and composition to evolve organically, and he has noted in correspondence that recent recordings feature different interpretations of the same tracks, comparing them to the different takes in photography. It’s a fascinating approach, out of which his entire body of work becomes an immersive, endlessly engaging and evolving experience. As such, any similarities between his numerous works (even across different projects like A Broken Consort and *AR) are irrelevant, for each is a new chapter in an ongoing evocation of vistas and emotions that are at times damaged, ecstatic, wondrous or mournful, but -crucially- always beautiful. -

 During the past decade, Richard Skelton has gone through many significant changes and in the process has become one of our most important modern composers.  In the early days, his releases under various monikers were graced by personal dedications; special editions were encased in handmade wooden packaging.  One of them even came with a full-sized boat.  Okay, just kidding about the last one.  For a long time, he was a well-kept secret.  Then Box of Birch hit it big, Landings hit it even bigger, and the artist scored the cover of The Wire.  And yet there remains about him an aura of mystery.  Much of this is due to the nature of his music, whose deepest layers, despite the deepest listening, remain impenetrable.  The simultaneously accessible and elusive nature of his artistry continues to be his primary attribute.  While others have emulated his signature style, laying clear guitar or string lines atop entangled filaments, Skelton remains the reference point.  When anyone familiar with his work reads the words, “sounds like Richard Skelton”, they know what to expect; this public understanding is proof of a unique talent.
In order to understand Skelton’s work, it helps to be aware of some of the shifts that have occurred in the artist’s life, his outlook and his music.  The first stage of his recorded career came to a close with Skura, which collected his output until that point.  This stage was one of grieving and dedication, a testimony of love for his departed wife Louise.  It was also the end of Skelton’s concentration on the physical packaging, although thankfully the physical packaging still exists.  Skelton continues to exude mournful sounds, but not quite as mournful; the timbre seems part of his nature.  In works such as From Which the River Rises (as Clouwbeck), a graceful, triumphant tone was already beginning to grow.  Trace this, perhaps, to new love, as Skelton’s marriage to friend and collaborator Autumn Grieve (A. Richardson) was a source of new inspiration.  Other gradual shifts include a deeper focus on the connection between land and memory and a fuller utilization of the power of literature.  This last aspect is most evident in the growth of Landings over its various incarnations, but is currently evident in the connection between Verse of Birds and Field Notes Volume One (specifically The Flowering Rock, which is collected within that larger work).  Land, literature, love and music are all intertwined like the various sources of Skelton’s sound.
The introductory words of The Flowering Rock serve as an apt description of Skelton’s music:
From the water       they rise and fallblue hills breathing       songs without words
While “songs without words” may be obvious, and “rise and fall” is not unexpected, “blue hills breathing” describes Skelton’s work in a parabolic fashion, which may be the only way to understand it.  A sense of creation is apparent, as land rises from water and form rises from the teeming mass of strings and processed instrumentation. Skelton’s work, despite the lack of words, is alliterative; the chords serve as the vowels and consonants.  Over this rests a synaesthetic veneer, a connection between color and timbre.  Tracks such as “Grey-back” (an alternate version/vision of the selection “Cappanawalla”, from Ridgelines) intimate height and shade; these pieces were inspired by the karst hills on the west coast of Ireland, Ceapaigh an Bhaile.  As Verse of Birds was born during a time of coastal excursion, one might conclude that the album’s first disc (including titles such as “Vessel”, “Promontory” and “Of the sea” is Skelton’s sea album.  The Flowering Rock‘s references to bell stones, ghost islets, and arterial passages bear this out.  The music explores caverns, dives below the surface, emerges to walk the wrack line.  When the music ends, the listener somehow intuits that the music is still continuing somewhere, as constant as the tide.
If Landings is Skelton’s earth album, and the first disc of Verse of Birds is his water album, then the second disc is his air album.  The Flowering Rock is as fascinated by the avian world as it is by the aquatic.  The first four (of five) songs on the disc reflect the pursuit of a merlin by a skylark.  In the first section, the lark ascends; this quieter piece sets the tone, lulling the listener into a sense of safety.  In the second, the merlin appears.  Even before one knows the background information, this piece stands out.  It’s louder, busier, and more immediate, assertive and slightly menacing in tone.  The skylark sings to the merlin while fleeing, mocking its ineptitude; but eventually, it succumbs.  The title, “Little Knives”, refers to the talons of the pursuer.  ”A kill” is perhaps inevitable, but no less sad.  From this point forward, the album makes a gradual sonic exit, culminating in the tender 18-minute closer “Domain”.
The artist continues to stretch his already-wide boundaries with every release.  This new phase is off to an incredibly satisfying start.  As Skelton wrote in 2010, “edge trees … will make a place for oak and ash and pine”.  Out of these ashes has grown new life.  (Richard Allen) -


Landings (2010) 

 Having recorded a significant body of work under various guises including A Broken Consort and Clouwbeck, Richard Skelton returns with a brand new and long anticipated album under his own name. Following on from 'Marking Time' (originally released via Preservation in 2008 only to be reissued on limited vinyl by Type over the summer), 'Landings' is an album steeped in the wild rural landscape of Skelton's surroundings. Over the span of just a few releases he's managed to establish a language all his own, standing apart from the dominant currents within the neo-classical, ambient and post-rock genres and becoming known for a bowed-string variant of modern classical music of his own making. From the first jagged strokes of 'Noon Hill Wood' you're instantly aware that you could only be listening to a Richard Skelton record - the hugely expressive, deeply mournful string arrangements writhe and overlap, squealing with harmonic overtones as if the strings were being sawn into. After only a few early playthroughs, Landings feels like a more ambitious and substantial package than previous Skelton outings thanks to an expanded instrumental palette and a duration that permits the exploration of a more complete and varied narrative. 'Scar Tissue', for instance, features tumbling minor-key guitar fragments, creaking along in some unspecified woodland exterior - you can often hear site-specific soundscapes of the natural world captured in the background during these recordings, and in truth the music is as much about these unusual, deeply atmospheric recording locations Skelton chooses as it is the instrumentation itself. On 'Green Withins Brook' you can hear gentle waves of concertina droning melodiously over the babble of a stream, while 'Voice Of The Book' is leant a reflective ambience by the dimensions of the ruined, ancient farmhouse in which it was recorded. Additionally, this odd and characterful locale is coloured by incidental knocking sounds that seem to emanate from the corners of the mix. Even during the less obviously in-situ productions there's an almost spooky presence hanging in the air between notes. 'Of The Last Generation' and 'Threads Across The River' are imbued with some kind of intense and palpable aura - if not an outright sense of place. Throughout Skelton's catalogue you'll hear pieces masked in naturalistic reverb, as if he's trying to distance his music from the listener - blurring the edges with a soft-focus mist, and that effect is put to especially good use during the closing moments of Landings: the detached and austere guitar of 'Remaindered' is like the ghost of a Nick Drake song while 'The Shape Leaves' serves as hauntingly aloof exit music. Perhaps even more so than on prior works, here Richard Skelton proves himself to be more than just a modern-classical outsider and consolidates his status as an auteur with a singular vision; Landing feels like the album he's been building up to for some time now. Amazing music. - boomkat

The Complete Landings

streaming ovdje

image In 2004, British musician Richard Skelton picked up a guitar bequeathed to him by his late wife Louise and strummed an open chord on the out-of-tune instrument. What happened next ‘was an epiphany’, he explains via phone from his home in northern England, ‘feeling the way it resonated throughout your body.’ Although he had been playing guitar for years, in that instant a new corporeal understanding entered the self-taught musician, sending him on an exploration of sonic texture, physical resonance, and landscape- and object-based composition.

Skelton’s work is published under various pseudonyms (A Broken Consort, Riftmusic, Clouwelt), primarily on his own ‘private press’, Sustain-Release. His music proceeds as if by geological processes: time feels stretched out, layers accumulate and interlock into complexity, and it’s underpinned by a gravity and drift whose appeal is at once emotional – Skelton’s biography looms large – and elemental, as if these sounds have always hung shimmering in the spaces between air and land. He describes layering improvised takes as ‘creating something far more beautiful than you could have written yourself’, and invokes selflessness to explain a penchant for scattering his work into pseudonyms: ‘I see the names as another layer of imagery to try and create a self-contained context for the music, so it’s not about creating a persona or some kind of identity for myself.’
Lancashire’s West Pennine Moors provide constant inspiration, from improvising out on the low hills to taking ‘very small things – pine cones, bits of wood, bark, grass, bits of bone [to] use these as plectra, actually use them to play my instruments at home in my studio.’ Skelton’s instrument choices evolved from years of outdoor recording, using ‘concertina, violin, mandola, guitar, small percussion, woodwind, anything that can be carried easily across difficult terrain.’ 
A typical piece is refined from multiple layers of improvisation carried out on various instruments. Bowed string lines take prominence, but one will rise to the forefront only to spill into compatible tones, and all the while a background field of tuned, reverberant textures remains dynamic. Change is everywhere.
Skelton’s most recent work, a limited-edition book and accompanying album titled Landings, is his most landscape-suffused project to date. A deeply personal historiography, the book traces ‘a connection with the land itself through its hidden narratives of displacement and loss; a solace in the regenerative cycles of nature,’ as twined by memoirs of his personal grieving and music-making processes.  
Skelton’s emphasis on contact and the material basis for sounds gains potency in the MP3-era of dematerialized music. Process and place are more than integral, they’re constantly shared: those who mailorder from Sustain-Release get individualized inscriptions and found objects. Poetic descriptions of Skelton’s philosophy fill Landings, and much of the text itself came from diaries he kept whilst on the moors: ‘I sit on the threshold of the copse. Grasp handfuls of balsam leaves and thread them into the sound hole of my mandola. Rub their greenness onto its dull brown strings. It strikes me that this process has been more about letting go than leaving a mark.’
The album alternates between gorgeous, melancholic pieces organized around overlapping bowed strings such as ‘Of the Last Generation’, and selections such as ‘Pariah’, where plucked lines repeat asymmetrically, quietly deconstructing amidst tonal swells. Field recordings of streams and birds creep around the songs’ edges, ushering listeners back to the moor. The 12-song album clocks in at more than 70 minutes, yet every piece feels too short. This is a good thing. As Skelton writes: ‘All that mattered was without weight or consequence. Nothing lingered or resonated beyond the instance of its own making. Everything listened.’- Jace Clayton

Richard Skelton – Landings

Thing-poems of the moor…
Landings is Richard Skelton’s second release for Type, after last years Marking Time. He has behind him an array of releases, put out under various pseudonyms: Clouwbeck, A Broken Consort, Carousell, Riftmusic. All of these releases have been on small labels, or on Skelton’s own Sustain/Release imprint, and are invariably in tiny print runs. They are all constructed from comparatively little, and are incredibly hard to describe – field recordings, a bowed string, a violin scrape, the arched wheeze of a concertina – yet they feel at times as grand as someone capturing the sweep of time, and the tiny movements of vibrating molecules. Skelton’s releases worry at similar themes: how we reconcile our self to place; how we track our passing through intimate and strange landscapes; how we cope with the climactic intrusions of grief. Landings follows these themes and with the accompanying text draws everything into sharp focus. It is the culmination of years of the near-obsessive recording of Skelton’s collaboratory relationship with the West Pennine Moors around Anglezarke. It is a conjuring, a chronicle of a disappearance, an insight into the process of healing. It feels like something of a summation. It is extraordinary.
All of Skelton’s work to date has been an explicit response to the death of his then wife Louise in 2004. His body of work – both the recorded medium and the exquisite packaging each release comes in – is a memorial to her passing and an act of remembrance. Landings, and the text that accompanies it (which appeared online as an ongoing diary between 2005-2008) is direct and nakedly open response to this event. In his relationship to the moors around Anglezarke, he has forged a collusion with the land that has allowed him to explore the inner landscape of his own grief. There is a kind of projection at work here, an outward mapping of the traumatic space, in which Skelton has sought to lose himself completely. Instead over time- and without wishing to presume too much – what seems to have occurred in this collaboration with the brows and slacks of the land, is both an intimate knowledge of place, and an intimate knowledge of self. The sparse text of Landings, and the exquisite, gripping nature of the recorded music is our privileged glimpse into this sacred process.
Skelton’s method in exploring and cataloguing his experiences of the landscape around Anglezarke was to attempt to become a kind of conduit – both for his own responses, and in the more complicated space of interaction between place and self. Initially, he would make field recordings of the ambient sounds – the whine of wind through a ruined farm, the grakking calls of rooks – and then augment these with his own instrumentation. This gave way to him actually making recordings in situ, using the moors as an open-air studio. Occasionally he would leave a dicatophone in the trees, returning the recordings to their original source – what he called ‘returning the music back to its birthing chambers’; or he would secrete a diary beneath stones – a votive offering. Over time though, he realised his methods were obscuring and obstructive, as if this method of recording the intimacies were somehow mediating his ‘true’ experience of the landscape. Instead, Skelton trusted to his imaginative recall, and instead used elements of the landscape to aid this collusion at one remove: a bone plectrum, the scrape of tree litter on metal strings.
This gradual exploration and layering of experience, both sonic and actual, is a fundamental aspect of the music on Landings. It is mirrored in the accreted layers of sound, which at times become almost textural, tactile. On a track like ‘Thread Across the River’ (where Skelton comes closest to sounding remotely like anyone else, in this case Set Fire to Flames, another project that was set up as a collaboration with place, this time a derelict mansion in Montreal – though there is something of Eno in ‘Green Withins Brook’s broad chords, and if Landings has an antecedent, then Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land is probably it) there is a simple layering of bowed cello and violin but they are treated in such a way as to sound like natural phenomena. This effect is added to by the way the track gives out to the thin cries of meadow pipits and the haunted, bubbling uprush of curlew calls. The closing track, ‘The Shape Leaves’ – which refers back to a CDR release from 2005 – comes as if from behind a curtain of moorfog, a distant piano figure beneath bowed strings, eventually giving out to an eddying storm of cymbals before returning to the murk. In truth, individual examples are largely useless, as the whole record is so of its own sound world, and so wound into the whole act of its creation, that these qualities are suffused and implicit. If you were to try to figuratively pull up one corner of it, you’d find the rest attached.
With Landings, Richard Skelton has created something vast, resonant and timeless. The work and drive behind it has created a document that requires a new kind of categorisation. It has gravity in the very real sense of that word; indeed, at times it seems to possess its own geography. It is a Romantic document, a record of an intimate relationship with place and a minutely observed mapping of the local – it might come to be put alongside Richard Long, Gilbert White, Alice Oswald, Ted Hughes. It’s also an almost unbearably moving chronicle of a grief observed. Sometimes you just have to stand back and admit a certain privilege at coming into contact with something. This is one of those times.

Richard Skelton: Words of Remembrance

By Tom Ridge 

Image: Richard Skelton webPhotograph by Eva Vermandel

‘Labour of love’ is an overused phrase, but in the case of Richard Skelton’s Sustain-Release label it’s more than apt, in its original sense as work undertaken for the benefit of a loved one. Skelton started Sustain-Release in the wake of his wife Louise’s death in 2004 as a way of coping with what had happened and as part of a general process of recovery. “The name itself is loaded with meaning,” he says. “Something held/something surrendered. Something constant/something passing. The label is about more than just music, or even myself. It’s also a public commemoration of my wife’s life, incorporating her artwork and ethos in its individualised, handmade editions.”
The 33-year-old Skelton lives in Standish, just north of Wigan, and 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 describes it, “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.” As did the physical act of making music: “Feeling the guitar body resonate against my own, the pain in my fingertips as I fretted chords, helped to conjure me back from wherever I was to the land of the living.”
There have been a series of Sustain-Release limited editions (usually 50 per release) under a variety of names, but they’re all to an extent traceable back to Skelton’s original impetus. “It was as if I wanted to salvage something from ‘now’, to create a document that brimmed with inner meaning and significance in the face of time’s passing.” But Skelton’s music never sounds weighed down or constrained by this sense of purpose. It resonates with drama, but it isn’t dependent on any particular reading or metaphorical conclusion for its strength. Perhaps because Skelton’s methods are so intuitive, his music has a life of its own that transcends its origins. As he says of the different names he releases his music under, “The names and track titles for each release evolve out of the music itself. When working on a piece, I don’t necessarily know how it’s going to fit in. Once I have enough material that works together, I’ll start thinking about a name. If the music sounds sufficiently different from what I’ve done before, then a new name will suggest itself.” He chose the name ‘Harlassen’ because phonetically it seemed suggestive of the flow and turbulence the music evoked, and as a spontaneously arrived at choice it would hold no literary significance which might deflect from the music itself.
And while the various Sustain-Release albums are different from one another, they share certain characteristics and a non-specific, but identifiable tone which ties them to their single author. So while Carousell’s A Dead Bridges Into Dust has a starkly melodic, elegiac quality, A Way Now, released under the Harlassen name, is more strident, evoking elemental forces. Acoustic guitar, violin and piano predominate, but are often played in open ended, shimmering, droning waves and with quivering intensity. Musically, Skelton works against his own technical limitations to achieve vivid results: “It’s difficult to articulate because it’s all about the image it creates in my mind. The development of each song has more to do with capturing a particular sound out of the range that an instrument can produce. On “An Eddy Of The Blood” (off A Way Now) for instance, the violin in the opening section sounds almost wounded when combined with the piano refrain. The two elements work together in a way which is greater than the sum of their parts.”
Skelton’s latest release is The Shape Leaves, credited to A Broken Consort. There’s a hovering air of tension to be heard here and a greater emphasis on the textural quality of intense, fluttering violin drones. Inspiration for The Shape Leaves came partly from the image reproduced on the sleeve, by American photographer Mike Brodie, of a child’s hand outstretched in a field, clutching a bunch of wild flowers. This fits in with the strong visual inspiration behind the label – Skelton himself is a photographer and film maker, and part of his motivation for starting Sustain-Release was in order to work with his late wife’s art, which appears on the sleeve of A Way Now. “I’ve always felt a close perceptual overlap between sound and image,” he says. “And the music that has resonated with me most has often left a very strong visual residue... like Nico’s “No-One Is There”, Nick Drake’s “Time Of No Reply”, or Górecki’s Symphony No 3.”
Like many of Drake’s songs, Skelton’s music has wistful air underwritten by a profound sense of loss, of time passing set against impervious nature – exemplified by track titles such as “A Momentary Sun” and “The Longing Day”. What seems to be evolving in successive Sustain-Release albums is an increased emphasis on spontaneity and the importance of the actual process of creating the music, moving away from standard notions of structure and arrangement towards a more intuitively expressive sound.
Currently Skelton is collaborating with Manchester multi-instrumentalist Richard Mullen on new material, but his release schedule and the individual number of Sustain-Release editions available are subject to the usual constraints of time. Skelton is keen to retain the handmade individuality of Sustain- Release, which he sees as crucial to his label’s identity and ethos, but recognises the conundrum he’ll be facing if he’s to retain these qualities in the face of increased demand. “I’d certainly like to produce more,” he concludes. “I don’t want to be exclusive or elitist – I’m just limited by the hours I have left in a day after a long commute to work... It’s just a question of growing while staying true to the spirit of the thing.”

TLOBF Interview : Richard Skelton (A Broken Consort)


Richard Skelton is an artist from Lancashire in the UK. He started his Sustain-Release Private Press in 2005 as a commemorative tribute to his late wife Louise, with the intention of publishing her artwork alongside his own musical offerings. Since its inception he has released a slew of raw, beautiful recordings presented in lovingly-assembled, individualised editions.
Operating under a variety of guises, including Heidika, Carousell, Harlassen and Clouwbeck, Skelton creates powerful, instrumental music out of densely-layered acoustic guitar, bowed strings, piano, mandolin and accordion, often laced with delicate, shimmering percussion. The result is something utterly unique – a music which is both life-affirming and yet etched with memory and loss, evoking equal parts Arvo Pärt and Ry Cooder, Nick Drake and Henryk Górecki.
It is with A Broken Consort, perhaps, that Skelton most-assuredly draws these elements together, creating an ever-changing drift of rich textures and interleaved melody that effortlessly evokes the landscapes which inspired it. Box Of Birch, his second album in this guise, was originally published in a boxed edition that contained, among other things, birch twigs collected from the West Pennine Moors. For Skelton these things act as a synecdoche for the landscape itself, a physical connection to the places in which much of his music is recorded. In this new edition for Tompkins Square, Skelton has created an exclusive series of artworks which draw on the hidden histories of the English landscape, and their narratives of displacement and loss. The result is something which perfectly complements the music whilst adding another dimension, providing a fuller picture of the artist’s vision.
The opportunity to speak to Skelton was too good to miss, and thanks to Scott McMillan over at Mapsadaisical we fired off some questions via email.
Box Of Birch is being reissued on LP, but it is a few years since it first appeared on CD. Why has it taken so long? How does it feel to listen to it after all these years?
I took a lot of persuading. Mostly, I spent quite a while anguishing over whether to allow the use of Box Of Birch in commercial contexts – syncs, and the like. In the end, due to the album’s provenance, and my reasons for making it, I just didn’t feel comfortable allowing the music to be used in that way. But I think it says a lot about the integrity of Tompkins Square that they came back and agreed to my terms. Not only that, but they gave me complete control over the artwork and format. It was a wonderful moment, a few days ago, listening to the album for the first time on vinyl. Many thanks to Josh, who runs the label, for being so patient and understanding.
The album seemed to be a word of mouth success, with very little promotion. Was this a surprise to you? Did it cause you any problems trying to keep up with demand?
Box Of Birch was the seventh release on my Sustain-Release Private Press. The level of public interest in the label has grown quite slowly and organically, over a period of years. I’m just finalising my fourteenth release, and haven’t really noticed the popularity of one particular album or pseudonym over another. I suppose I’m quite lucky, as people who become introduced to my work through one album seem to then progress onto the others, and like them in equal measure. I’ve also been very lucky in receiving favourable reviews from the Wire magazine in the UK, Blow Up in Italy, and through music websites, including Foxy Digitalis, SentireAscoltare, Mapsadaisical and Evening Of Light.
The album manages to be both minimalist, and dense at the same time. What do you play on it? How was it recorded? Why was it re-recorded for this release?
It’s mainly violin, mandola and guitar, with some piano, accordion and percussion. My aim when recording is always to create a kind of music that brims with life – to capture the uniqueness of each performance, those unrepeatable sounds, and to render something of the physicality of each musical gesture – the whine of horsehair on steel strings, or the resonance of an instrument’s wooden body. Part of this process is also engaged with how musical gestures can be tied to a place; and not just acoustically, but how music can be used as a conduit, or as part of a private ritual. In this way, the resulting sounds bristle with texture and beauty, whilst also becoming the vessel for private meaning.
The reasons why I re-recorded sections of the album are a little more prosaic. Coming back to it for the first time in more than a year, I was able to listen with more detachment, and noticed various technical flaws in the recordings which I felt could be remedied. This mostly involved studio work – equalisation, compression and the like, but some of the original source material simply couldn’t be fixed, and I opted to re-record those sections. But rather than attempt to imitate those original, “unrepeatable”, sounds, I recorded some new improvisations, in the spirit of the original.
Since the initial release of Box of Birch, there have been a lot of recordings under different names – as well as A Broken Consort, also Clouwbeck, Heidika, Carousell. Do the different names have any sort of significance in relation to the music?
I started Sustain-Release as a commemorative tribute to my late wife, Louise, who died in 2004. She was a talented artist, and bequeathed me a legacy in the form of her sketchbooks. The idea for a posthumous collaboration – a blend of my music and her artwork – was the driving force behind setting up the label. The adoption of pseudonyms reflects this collaborative nature of the work, by not identifying me as the sole author. And also, of course, it allows for a more imaginative engagement with the work itself; Clouwbeck, for instance, is much more allusive and evocative than “Richard Skelton”. Pseudonyms, album names and track titles are all narrative layers which add to the richness of the experience. But yes, to answer your question, the names themselves do have private references, and reflect different processes, as well as acting as external signifiers – hopefully you’ll agree that Riftmusic is a different entity to Heidika, for example.
You have also released an album under your own name, “Marking Time” on the Preservation label. Was there a reason for the dropping of the pseudonyms?
Preservation asked me to record something for them back in early 2007. Rather than release an album that I had already published, they asked for something which they could début themselves. It took a while – again, the label was very patient with me – but the album was finally released in late summer 2008. Given that Preservation had their own visual aesthetic, with all artwork being produced by them, it seemed appropriate in this context for the music to be released under my own name. I’ve reverted back to using pseudonyms for my subsequent releases on my own label.
“Marking Time” was the first time you released something on someone else’s label – why was this?
Are you asking why I didn’t release music with someone else before, or why I chose to release through someone else at all? Well, the simple answer is that they asked, and that they were passionate and genuine people. Sustain-Release always has been, and always will be, a small, private press. By keeping things low key, in limited editions, I can have a one-to-one relationship with people who contact me, and make art editions of music & photography that are individualised for each recipient. But by working in this way, it’s necessarily exclusive – and this can become a problem if demand for my work outstrips my ability to produce it. But rather than deny people access to it, surely it’s better to make it available in another form? This is where labels such as Preservation and Tompkins Square become invaluable, as they can produce albums on a much larger scale.
Until recently, the recordings were released in small, personalised “private press” editions, with photography by your late wife, with leaves and seeds, bound together with pieces of straw etc. Is there a strange dichotomy between the seemingly personal and private nature of this work, and now it being released in a larger run on Tompkins Square?
Tompkins Square have been entirely sympathetic to the personal nature of the original work, and have demonstrated their intent to preserve its integrity by allowing me the freedom to create artwork for the new edition. Furthermore, we have an agreement for me to continue selling the album in its original format, in personalised editions accompanied by Louise’s artwork.
For me, the the transition from Sustain-Release to Tompkins Square has been much less fraught than the initial transition from private to public domain. And most difficult of all was the dilemma over turning something loaded with personal significance into a commodity, which the world may consume, absorb or reject. In an economic and cultural climate where it’s difficult to obtain subsidy for art, and where creativity seems only to be valued in monetary terms, it’s a decision that many artists can be forgiven for making without thinking.
The music seems only to be a part of a bigger “package” – how inseparable is it from the photography, the art, the packaging? What does it all mean?
I’m no more a musician than I’m a photographer, filmmaker or writer, although I work in each of those fields. For me, the medium of expression is almost interchangeable – that photograph, that song, that poem – they’re all saying the same thing. In the case of Box Of Birch, and my other editions published through Sustain-Release, the music and art symbolises that desire to perpetuate the memory of Louise’s life, and her creativity. On another level, it also encapsulates the way I respond to music – for me, music and artwork go together, they complement each other and add a reciprocal layer of richness.
I might be in the minority with regard to this, but there’s also something about a physical, tactile object which bestows a sense of weight and purpose. It has a beauty and integrity which cannot be ignored. Music is essentially aetheric and temporal, but the physical artefact grounds it in reality, creating a landscape for the music to inhabit. Moreover, with my personalised editions, the package feels very much like a gift, creating a connection between myself and the recipient. Consequently, many people write to me, describing their emotions upon receiving, opening and playing the music, and responding to the artwork.
Clearly, most people nowadays don’t experience music in such a ritualised way, and eventually a whole generation will consume music entirely through digital means, and never bemoan the passing of physical formats. Having said that, the proliferation of “tape” labels recently seems to indicate the resurgence of certain diy aesthetic, and a form of rebellion against the ubiquity of the MP3. Ironically, many of the kids making these tapes weren’t here to experience them the first time around, so perhaps they represent something of a novelty. And of course Tompkins Square releasing a lavish vinyl version of Box Of Birch represents a more elegant contribution to the object-fetish subculture. Perhaps these formats won’t completely die out after all, if they continue to be produced with such passion and dedication?
With Box of Birch, and even more so with the Landings diary and recordings, how separable is it from the geographical location? What is it about the bleak landscapes of Anglezarke that you found so inspirational?
I’m not sure why I was drawn to that particular landscape, although I’ve felt its call at various times during my life, and ever more so recently – pulled into its vortex, limning the borders of its fields, its woods and streams. I couldn’t explain it to you. Perhaps we don’t consciously choose these things, and instead are chosen? Whatever the reason, I felt compelled to play music in this landscape – I’d get up at 5 or 6am, drive out to the moor and play guitar, violin or concertina in the ruins of old farmhouses, as the morning light began to blush over the moor.
As time progressed, the idea of recording this process became important, and I started pressing individual CDs, packaging them in little boxes, and returning them to the place where the music was played. It was a private gesture – these things were, and still are, hidden. I didn’t want anyone to discover them. By this time, I’d started Sustain-Release, but wanted to keep this other activity, which I called “Landings”, quite separate. But eventually the lines began to blur, as more and more I began to feel the influence of the landscape on my studio work.
Box Of Birch represents the coming together of these two strands, being composed of a blend of studio and outdoor recordings. And just as I’d previously deposited boxes with music and natural ephemera out there in the landscape, so I packaged the first edition of the album in a small box with birch twigs wrapped in linen. At about the same time, I began to publish my hitherto private writings about the landscape online, in the form of a “Landings Diary”.
As to the question of geographical location, I was initially quite dogmatic about making all my Landings recordings in the field. I felt that the connection between the landscape and the music was only valid if the recordings were made in situ. I somehow wanted the landscape to impress itself onto the recordings directly, and felt that simply adding a flavour of the environment (bird song, river sounds etc) to studio recordings would be a kind of trickery. But after a few years of recording in this way, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the results themselves. My memory of events often conflicted wildly with the recorded documents, and what’s more, many of them were marred by the intrusion of unwanted sounds, such as wind or traffic noise.
I then began to observe how my writing about the landscape wasn’t contingent on proximity, and that, if anything, I could write more clearly when away from the place of inspiration. Increasingly, I began to visit the moor without instruments, simply to experience it. I began to realise that my music making had mediated my previous experiences of the landscape – that in some ways it was an intrusion, and that I needed to witness these places alone, devoid of the props of my art. Furthermore, I realised that I could still represent Anglezarke in my recordings – in miniature, by using the small stones, bark and other natural ephemera which I’d collected from my previous visits. These things could act as a synecdoche for the landscape, as well as physically colluding with my instruments, by being used as plectra, or as sound sources in their own right.
What forthcoming projects do you have – tell me more about “Crow Autumn 2″, the Landings Diary book/CD – tell me more about those.
“Crow Autumn Part Two” is the imaginatively-titled follow up to “Crow Autumn”, which was itself the follow up to Box Of Birch. It’s my fourth release as A Broken Consort, and sees the music becoming more drawn out and orchestral, with many interleaved layers of bowed melodies, underpinned by accordion billow and piano chimes. I’m also just about to release an album of Carousell music, entitled “Black Swallow & Other Songs”. By contrast, Carousell is much more sparse and obviously melodic, with most songs lasting four or five minutes.
Next month will hopefully see the release of an album of Landings recordings, under my own name, along with a book which collects various diary entries, poems and observations. I’m really looking forward to it, as it’s the culmination of four years work, and in many ways represents the ending of one chapter, and the beginning of something new.
Any plans to try to play some of this live?
Playing live is a difficult proposition on my own – it’d probably necessitate some kind of laptop performance, which I’m quite ambivalent about. Perhaps if I could incorporate a visual element, such as a film or photographic stills, then it’d sit we me better – otherwise I’m just not convinced that people would want to watch me gazing intently at a computer screen for 40 minutes. The only other option would be reduce the density of the sound down to something that I can comfortably recreate on my own, or to enlist the help of other musicians. I’ve done the latter a few times now, and it’s always been a really productive, enjoyable experience, but I’ve always been uncomfortable telling people what to do. I’d much rather play music with others on equal terms, rather than have them “play my music”. We’ll see. Hopefully something will work itself out.
A Broken Consort on Myspace

Interview with Richard Skelton

When I first heard the music of Richard Skelton, it struck me in that rare way, like being somewhere you’ve never been, but feeling some sense of familiarity. It’s warm and comforting music, unrushed and with plenty of breathing room. Whether working under his own name, or monikers like A Broken Consort (see video at the end of this post), Carousell, and Clouwbeck, each focuses on spatial layering of mostly acoustic instruments that reveals new details with each listen. I’ve long since wanted to ask him some questions about his music, but felt it difficult to even express my curiosity. In some ways, his music just is, and I partially feared that trying to define the myriad of layers and textures that exist within it might take away much of the listening experience.
However, the perseverance of my curiosity, and his answers, ended up proving there is indeed a wealth of value where the ideas come from. Skelton doesn’t overthink his work, but he does have a deep understanding of it, why he does it, and what he hopes to achieve by doing it. Read on to learn more about it all, and if you’re unfamiliar with his work, do yourself a favor and dive in headfirst – it’s a vast and magnificent sea.
How did you first become interested in music?
Richard Skelton: I’m not sure there was ever a pivotal moment that switched me on to music. I’ve simply loved it for as long as I can remember. At primary school, around the age of 8 or so, I tried violin but didn’t show much promise. It didn’t help that there wasn’t a very enlightened attitude to left-handedness back then. I was obliged to play the “wrong” way around. It made learning a difficult instrument nearly impossible. The legacy of those times still endures, though – nearly 30 years later and I still have difficulty finding a left-handed fiddle.
How did your current approach to working with it develop?
RS: My current approach has evolved from the simple desire to do something both commemorative and life-affirming. To be taken out of myself. To feel anchored. To grieve and to celebrate. Consequently, everything has its significance – the objects I use, how I use them and in what context. Over time this has come to involve a series of largely private gestures. One might call them rituals. As my music is instrumental, I find non-verbal ways of investing the process with meaning.
As for the music itself, to me it’s very grounded. Earthed. I try to capture with each recording the tactile physicality of the sound-making process – the collision between skin and wood, the resonance of steel and wood, the whine of horsehair on metal. It’s quite visceral. Each piece of music is a decoction of the unique, unrepeatable sounds, the moments of unforeseen beauty, the fortuitous mistakes…
What role does environment play in your work?
RS: For me, forging a connection with landscape through music has been a way of feeling part of something larger than myself, of anchoring myself during a time of great personal upheaval. The landscape itself has answered many of my questions and asked a good many more in return. The redemption it offers isn’t easy. It means the loss of the self, a surrender of those very things that we hold dear. Love. Familial ties. Memories. It can be a form of release and a kind of horror. But paradoxically, the landscape also remembers. It enshrines the smallest and the most seemingly inconsequential in layers of soil. A leaf. A bird skull. A seed.
This threshold between loss and endurance, the ephemeral and the remaindered, the spirit and the body, is a place that I’ve been drawn to time and again over the past few years. In a way music represents the former – the fleeting, the insubstantial, the aetheric – and the physical object (the CD, its artwork and its packaging) is the latter. This is why packaging continues to matter so much to me – it creates a landscape for the music to inhabit. Grounds it in reality. Gives it weight and form.
You might well ask – how can one form a connection with landscape through music? This is another paradox, because I think that music can do more than evoke, it can become. Literally, music is landscape. If the instruments partake of the earth – if they are played within the chambers of the landscape – then a bond is made. Similarly, if I lay a small stone, a piece of bark, a feather, on the body of an instrument, then an exchange occurs. Each becomes an extension of the other.
The fitting conclusion to such an act is to return the music to its place of origin. Hence recordings I’ve made in this way have been packaged and returned to the landscape in the form of a gift-token. This gesture is a way of memorialising place, of naming and letting go.
At some point, text can inhibit communication. How can sound carry it forward?
RS: It’s a moot point whether sound is any less mediated that text. Sound seems direct – less hindered by semantics, by rules of exchange – but when sound becomes music, it becomes a language, and is subject to similar complex dictates. There are rules of harmony, consonance and composition. Exponents of literature, art and music have all sought to liberate their respective artforms. Joyce. Picasso. Stravinsky. But such bold moves are rarely accepted wholesale into the mainstream culture. Inhibition seems to be the norm.
It’s also interesting to think that we rarely listen to music that is shorn of context. We like to place it in terms of its authorial and cultural provenance. We require liner notes and biographies, not to mention critical evaluations which assign merit and assess authenticity. Which instruments were played? Who played them? What style? Genre? And as music becomes subject to social and cultural dictates, so it becomes influenced by the whims and prejudices of fashion. Sound becomes dated. Boring. Obsolete.
Nevertheless, there is a whole component to music that isn’t necessarily about communication – about a form of language, or rules and protocols. This is music as reverberant energy, as vibration and resonance. Perhaps this is what we mean when we talk of music being “pure” – most of my musical work through Sustain-Release has been about exploring this transformative, life-affirming quality.
You’ve begun working with books as a medium – What kind of experience do you hope to achieve with these?
RS: At some level, writing and musical notation are the same thing. For me, the impetus behind them, the implicit gesture, is identical. They are both drawn from the same well-spring of creativity, and aspire to communicate the same truth. Part of the joy of the process is in not knowing what will come through. Any particular musical piece could just have easily been a text, an image or some other form of mark-making.
A good example of this diversity is “Landings” – which comprises 12 musical compositions that are nourished and enriched by the accompanying book. It’s my hope that the text adds another layer to the experience, by describing the music’s provenance and framing it within an oblique narrative about a particular landscape, its history and topography.
But equally, there are moments when the music or writing carves a channel for itself. Corbel Stone Press, founded by Autumn Richardson and myself in 2009, is primarily a poetry press, dedicated to writing about landscape, nature and a sense of place. Our aim is to create a kind of poetic map of the landscape, by enshrining a single poem or small collection in a hand-bound chapbook. So far we’ve published four, each dedicated to a different location within the British Isles. As we’re currently living in an area known as the Burren, on the west coast of Ireland, we’re hoping to extend the map in this direction very soon. These things are offerings. Small tokens. It’s our hope that they’ll resonate with people – especially those who might not normally read poetry – and inspire them to reflect on their own landscapes, and their own sense of place.

Corbel Stone Press
New Publications

» Domain
» Landings (New Edition)
» Moor Glisk
» Moor Glisk (Fine Edition)
» Multitude
» Verse of Birds (2nd Edition)

Also Available

» Field Notes
» Ritual Incense
» *Skura
» Stray Birds
» Terra Infinita
» Wolf Notes

Distributed Items

» Black Swallow (LP Edition)
» Box of Birch (CD Edition)
» Box of Birch (LP Edition)
» Crow Autumn (CD Edition)
» Marking Time (2nd CD Edition)
» Wolf Notes (LP Edition)
» Wolfrahm


Heidika ~ There Is No Cure & Other Songs
Carousell ~ A Dead Bridges Into Dust
Harlassen ~ A Way Now
Carousell ~ Landings
A Broken Consort ~ The Shape Leaves
Heidika ~ ‘Undertow’ on A Ride Across the Skies on a Knife Dipped In Blood
Riftmusic ~ Riftmusic No 1
A Broken Consort ~ Box of Birch

‘Earthfasts’ on Agitated Radio Pilot ~ World Winding Down
Clouwbeck ~ A Moraine
A Broken Consort ~ Crow Autumn
Heidika ~ Tide of Bells & the Sea
Richard Skelton ~ Marking Time
‘Gerroa Thursday’ on Saddleback ~ Everything’s A Love Letter/Everything’s Open To Interpretation
‘Dulcimer Music 5′ on Plinth ~ Dulcimer Music
‘A for Andromeda’ on United Bible Studies ~ The Jonah
Richard Skelton ~ ‘Untitled’ on Dreamsheep (Volume 1) 10 March 2009
A Broken Consort ~ Crow Autumn (Part Two)
Carousell ~ Black Swallow & Other Songs
Autumn Grieve ~ Stray Birds
Richard Skelton ~ Landings
Clouwbeck ~ Wolfrahm
Heidika ~ ‘Limn’ on With Friends Like These…….
A Broken Consort ~ Crow Autumn
Clouwbeck ~ From Which the River Rises

Autumn Grieve – ‘The Calling’ on Vertical Integration
*AR ~ Wolf Notes
*SKURA, a collection
A Broken Consort ~ The Complete Crow Autumn
Richard Skelton – Black Combe
Richard Skelton ~ The Complete Landings
Richard Skelton – Ridgelines
Richard Skelton – Verse Of Birds

Richard Skelton' Landings diary

Richard Skelton's blog

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