Over the years, quite understandably, Landings has received publicity almost exclusively as a musical work – but when interviewed I have always tried to situate the recordings within a more diverse series of activities which began in 2004/5 and continue to this day. Despite an exhibition of both sound and text at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, in 2011, the ‘larger work’ of Landings has received relatively little attention. I’m therefore rather grateful to the work of two writers who have recently entered into a more holistic engagement with it.
The first is Robert Macfarlane, whose generosity to the work of others is evident in all of his books. In his most recent, Landmarks, he provides a keenly observed close reading/listening, remarking that “both sound and text are devoted to a kind of echo-location, used to measure the relations of distanced entities”. He goes on to describe how “the book possesses an archival intensity: long lists of the names of farms once active on the moors, retrieved from historical maps; or lexicons of Lancashire dialect terms, presented as litanies spoken against loss”.
The second is Martyn Hudson, whose in-depth academic paper features in the current issue of Landscapes journal. He too identifies the archival impulse at work within Landings, observing that “the entirety of Skelton’s corpus refigures the relationship between artistic practice and the detritus of the land and the lives lived upon it … his work is an inventory and a recalling of others – the revenants of the past who became emblematic of the lost of the moor.” He concludes by stating that Landings “provides the index by which the multiple narratives of the moor can be told, but also the beginning of a more comprehensive way of thinking about the deep mapping of land forms and the histories in which they are situated”.
The issue of naming, and specifically of multiple names or pseudonyms, continues to be of interest to music journalists. Between 2005 and 2011 I used seven different names for the music I published via Sustain-Release. At the time I didn’t think that my use of multiple names was particularly novel, or desirous of attention, but it did at least serve the purpose of foregrounding the textual element of the work. In a recent interview, I described the act of naming as a form of dowsing. The work “moves along its own dark channels, and the act of naming is like trying to delimit flow or current patterns”. Continuing the riverine metaphor, I also described name-giving as a means of bringing the work to the surface. The first time that Landings broke ground was in 2006, with the composition ‘Stolen Ground’ – prefiguring my later concerns with theft and trespass.
Until that point it had seemed nebulous – the act of naming and the resultant exposition conferred a certain fixity, even if, in so doing, it diminished or reduced what the work could be. What was once subterranean, hidden, manifold, became exposed, visible, singular. Yes, I had found a channel, but if I was under any illusion that I had found the river, then there were clear reproofs:
“What have you given, that you have not already stolen? Flaunted desolation. Made your woe-songs in dull chambers, with dull strings. But our song is the river, the song of all deaths, the song of passings.”
It often strikes me that our most significant ‘works’ are those which are in some way unrealised. They resist any attempt to conform to a predefined outline or ideal, or to manifest in an articulate and precise way. They don’t quite align, are unruly or incoherent. Perhaps it falls to the work of future archivists to sift through our unfinished corpora, piecing them together into new, undreamed of configurations?