The River Beneath
There is a river
beneath the Yarrow.
This other is a dark
cascade. A black
and ceaseless torrent.
It is the lure
which all rivers
follow. And a line
that you can
(Landings: Names Dates Genealogies, 2011)
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?
This blog acquired its name from a loose-knit series of texts and musical recordings that engaged with a particular landscape – that of Anglezarke, on the West Pennine Moors of northern England. It has since gone on to document work produced about other places, notably Cumbria and the west coast of Ireland.
The first ‘Landings’ recording was published in 2006, and attributed to Carousell. Between 2006 and 2009 excerpts from my various notebooks were published online, here and elsewhere, alongside free, downloadable mp3s of music recorded at different sites on the moors. In 2009 a limited edition pamphlet and second album were published under my own name, and a 96-page book followed shortly thereafter. In 2011 the book was substantially revised and expanded to some 292 pages, and republished along with another musical offering, ‘Rapture (Reprise)’.
Despite the equal footing given to both music and text, many people may only be aware of ‘Landings’ as a musical work. Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with this blog will know that, if anything, texts have become a more prominent strand of my work. Part of the reason for this has been a growing ambivalence about the value of making musical recordings en plein air – a feeling that such gestures, which initially seemed intimate and worthwhile, became increasingly meaningless when repeated and publicly dissected. Moreover, I have felt a growing sensation that such actions are lacking in grace, tact and consideration. They seem less about a conversation with the landscape, and more about a conversation with the self – a game of catching echoes.
The texts that accompany the ‘Landings’ recordings chart this trajectory both acutely and obliquely. The poem ‘Bond’, for instance, alludes to the irrevocable connection made between an instrument and a landscape through the process of interment and disinterment. Burying instruments in the soil and later exhuming them became a way of taking the landscape with me, allowing me to make recordings in the landscape whilst being physically absent. Similarly, ‘Pariah’ describes objects found on the moor as ‘matter for the construction of song’. In the notes accompanying the text I wrote ‘these small items, and many more like them, collected from various locations across Anglezarke Moor, being of the landscape, are the landscape. They disperse the moor, extending its borders, conjuring it through touch and through memory. They collude in the sound-making process simply by virtue of their presence – their significance – but they can also become plectra, or sonic objects themselves.’
The following extracts from the current 294-page edition of ‘Landings’ hopefully give a sense of these issues playing out, whilst also reflecting on others, not least – the history, topography and voices of the landscape itself.
Click here to download excerpts from the book (PDF, 48 pages).
The book can be bought, with or without the music, here.
MOOR GLISK. A book of fragmentary texts about the West Pennine Moors in northern England. An extension and collage of Landings, amongst other texts, retelling the history of the county of Lancaster, its industry, language, topography, flora and fauna.
Anglezarke Moor “Wheel”, detailing a partial toponymic narrative of the place-name Anglezarke, from 1202 to 1894.