Patrick Pittman on Richard Skelton...
There’s a Canadian film from a few years back about a competition to discover the saddest music in the world. I’ve thought many times that if that competition truly existed, we’d soon enough find the English composer Richard Skelton trudging down from the hills to ask politely for an entry form. To hear his music is to stumble upon the secret sounds of an ancient forest. It is sparse, built on bowed strings, guitar and the occasional hint of a piano. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound of birds, of leaves drawn against wire, of the mud of the English moors underfoot. It is music to turn up, in an empty house, and be transported in your bodily entirety to worlds long lost, but perhaps to come again.
For many years, Richard was a mysterious musical figure to me. His music was never released under his own name, rather under a series of pseudonyms, such as ‘A Broken Consort’, ‘Clouwbeck’ and ‘Riftmusic’. He only began to seriously release music in 2005, following the passing of his wife Louise, a mixed-media artist who left behind a legacy of artwork in sketchbooks and folders. In tribute, and as a way of working through his grief, Richard began a private press called Sustain-Release, which would issue limited handmade editions of his music, accompanied by her work. These beautiful packages are gifts that reach out across the world, not just with hand-pressed CDs and notes but with fragments and found objects from the land itself.
Sadness is not an end. It is part of a cycle, as with the seasons of nature. While he continues to issue his own work, Richard has also been championed by some of the most innovative record labels I’ve come across, such as Australia’s Preservation Records, New York’s Tompkins Square and the pioneering British label Type. His most deeply personal project, Landings, was created over four years of meticulous archaeology on the Anglezarke moors of his youth, documenting and calling out to the things that once existed but are now lost.
Last year, Richard married again. He and his wife Autumn have spent almost two years on a stunning new work called Wolf Notes (released under the name *AR), which took them to an entirely different landscape.
Our conversations began with a handmade copy of that album received in the post, and continued over cross-world Skype and subsequent emails. Throughout, Richard’s kindness and deep sense of giving continued to astound me. He’s far from home now, living quietly with Autumn on the west coast of Ireland, surrounded not by endless countryside, but by roadworks and traffic lights.