Every year I get asked by various people for top-10 lists of songs and albums and all the usual things. I spend no time on these things, often just picking the first ten to come to mind or tailoring the out-come so as few of my choices as possible will end up in the final, published list. Either way, like most sensible people, the lists are not something I put any major stock in. Still, one of the down-sides of my approach to them is that I sometimes forget about records that have been very important to me during the past twelve months. Unfortunately there was one very obvious case of this in 2011 as one of my favourite musical experiences in recent times was completely left off all of my lists. In some way, that might be because I have trouble thinking of it as an “album”.
Richard Skelton’s Landings was installed in the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity College for the month of August. The installation was a small room with a two pine tables in it. On one table were three large sheets of paper, each displaying lists of words. More on that later. On the other table were four navy, hard-back books and four pairs of headphones. That was about the extent of it.
You sat down at a chair. Sometimes you were alone in the room, sometimes it was kind of crowded. Six or seven people was all it took before it began to feel very full indeed. It was a very small room. You sat down at a chair. Put the headphones on and opened the book. The music was playing on a loop. I never checked to see if the four headphones were playing the same music at the same time, but I don’t think they were. I started the book at the start, as I’m wont to do. I don’t think it was really necessary to do it that way though, it felt like you could start anywhere.
The music was playing on a loop. It was “just” sound. The textures of harshly bowed strings brought to life the vastness of the moors so factually described within the book’s pages. Rivers ran and were crossed, the sound of shallow water on rocks not imitated but suggested. Everything was implied, nothing obvious about it. Everything was a little deeper than first suspected, the possibilities more open than could be imagined. The land was seemingly dead, but here it was re-discovered and made new. Not exactly living but not gone either. The sound faded out and the page turned and we’re a little further up the hill, there’s an abandoned stone cottage. The name of a town-land appears on the page in a language old, forgotten but somehow familiar. It begs to be said aloud, its awkward consonants outnumbering the vowels until you can barely make sense of it. From that, something else before and something else after. Repeated, developed, changed, renewed. The music was playing on a loop. Changing each time into something slightly new and unheard. The strings were now a concertina, air slowly flowing from the bellows. You probably missed the change, but that was the point.
You sat on the chair. You eventually got up. Time had passed and there would be different people in the room from when you sat down. Maybe it was darker outside, maybe colder. It wasn’t that different though, just a little. The greater shapes were all the same.
I think about this music a lot, even now some months after I last visited the Douglas Hyde. I went away recording down the country with some friends during it’s stay so I didn’t get back to it as often as I would have liked but I took it with me when we were out in that open silence trying to make something new. I’m a rural man at heart and I take it with me every time I go home. Landings made me think about home in a new way, renewing my love for a land and people that are slowly dying away. I’m noticing a lot more these days, taking more in. I know very little about Richard Skelton as a person. There are a few facts that I know and I keep them in mind when I’m listening to him or talking about his music. I see elements of those bits of knowledge in what I’ve written here. But I’d rather not dwell on them, I’d prefer to look at what he’s shown me. There are not many albums or pieces of music that will affect how you look at the world, not people or ideas or cultural things, but the physical world itself. This one did and I’m loving the new view.