Sunday, March 20, 2011

Threads Across the River

Richard Skelton is interviewed by Clive Bell in the latest issue of The Wire, talking about landscape and loss and photographed on Anglezarke Moor, standing alone by a dry stone wall near a recumbent (dead?) sheep. There is a fascinating discussion of Skelton's music making en plein air, as they walk the moors and visit places that feature on Landings - an album I discussed here in an earlier post.  The clip below features 'Scar Tissue', which was 'the result of a single encounter with a particular place', and 'Threads Across the River', 'an accretion of different times and different places ... a weave of sounds recorded in the two ruins which straddle the river Yarrow: Old Rachel's and Simms.'


The interview moves on to talk about ways in which the landscape has permeated Skelton's musical instruments - grasses and leaves intertwined around a fretboard, balsam leaves threaded into the sound hole of a mandola, bits of bark used as plectra.  "Because I was using really cheap instruments, I could leave them out in the wood and cover them in leaves.  It didn't matter if they got knackered.  I was coming to terms with a process of decay."  I've written here before about Ross Bolleter's pianos, left exposed in the landscape until 'all the damp and unrequited loves of Schumann, Brahms and Chopin dry out, degrading to a heap of rotten wood and rusting wire'.


The article also touches on a third way in which Skelton makes direct connections with the West Pennine Moors, in addition to exposing his instruments to the elements and recording himself in the wider soundscape (you can hear birdsong at the end of the clip above - 'Pariah', another track from Landings).  Discussing Box of Birch, Skelton says he has sometimes tried to play the environment directly: bowing barbed wire and playing trees to get a 'grating, rattling undercurrent'. "The barbed wire stretched across the landscape was like the strings on an instrument" he says, a comment that reminded me of my recent post on the aeolian telephone wires of Australia. I suppose the trouble with attempting to 'play a landscape' is the risk of seeming to possess and use it, rather than amplify its natural sounds. Of course it should be possible to making sounds from a living tree without harming it, and yet I wonder if the clip below (which I came upon via Twitter) would seem less acceptable if it involved a tree located out in some 'wild' location. 


Finally, I should return to Richard Skelton and mention his latest release, Wolf Notes, which was 'inspired by the landscape, place-names, flora and fauna of Ulpha, in Cumbria'.  There is a useful review at The Liminal which describes Skelton's use of 'the place names, the roots, of Cumbria ...  Wolf Notes derives from the etymological root of ‘ulpha’, understood to mean “the hill frequented by wolves,” from the Old Norse ulfr, “wolf”, and haugr, “hill or mound.”' The limited first edition (now sold out) came with a book of poems, a glossary and a 'phial of specially prepared, hand-mixed incense made from birch leaves, yarrow, wild grasses and a selection of resins.'

1 comment:

Saint Andrew's Bower said...

Thankyou for introducing me to Richard Skelton's music.