Caught by the River

Limnology by Richard Skelton

8th January 2013


A book about rivers, lakes and other inland waterways, Limnology is a sequence of word-lists, text rivers and myth-poems that explore the rich corpus of water words found in English, the dialect of Cumberland, Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic, Irish, Manx, Welsh and Proto-Celtic. Reviewed by Simon Scott.

The association of Richard Skelton previously exploring the rural landscape, immersed in its transiency and integrating himself into the environment is a relevant one. In his new project Limnology, Skelton creatively explores the source, rather than subsequent water inspirations, of the rivers and lakes of Cumbria. His depiction perhaps suggests that planet earth, 70% of which is covered in water, should have been called ‘Planet Water’.

Presented as a book with an accompanying CD Skelton explores the mercurial waterways using both words, including ancient water terminology, and as a piece of music. Skelton’s book is cleverly presented, it is pleasing to the eye, and the ‘text streams’ are visually arranged on the pages to lead your gaze and attention both vertically and horizontally. Sections are reminiscent of the way light oscillations reflect and dance across the water surface and I find myself drawn to the patterns and scattered words. The current of music flowing gracefully into my consciousness accompanies the book well.

The twenty-eight minute piece slowly reveals itself as a gradually intensifying and swelling waterscape. The ebbing and flowing tones glide around one modal pitch without ever becoming too bellicose. It graciously represents the complex characteristics and physicality of a body of river water and the cartography associated with its movements. It pans around the stereo field impressively as cymbals and bowed instruments move around inside the compositional journey. The piece becomes calm, depicting a short moment as dusk falls off the horizon, at an aural moment when silver shimmers of moonlight begin to outline the shadows that emerge inside the dark inky waters.

The grieving process associated with his previous wife’s death in 2004, conceptually prominent in his career-defining album Landings released on Type Records, revealed Skelton tracing the rural Lancastrian countryside in search of hope and personal healing. His recent newfound personal happiness, following the marriage to his second wife and their relocation back to the North of England, after briefly settling in Ireland, has not decreased any of the intensity or visceral musical characteristics of his subsequent work, including Limnology. His music is simple yet intense, atmospheric and ambient but not devoid of ferocity and passion. There is also an undercurrent of danger that works as a perfect juxtaposition with the wonder and beauty that is central to Limnology.

Human beings are spiritually and physically connected to water, imaginations fueled by powerful undercurrents and intoxicated by the water cycle of ephemeral change. Anyone who has already finished their “Best Of 2012” lists will wish that Limnology had floated up stream before they written it.

Simon Scott is a sound artist and multi-instrumentalist. Visit his website.

To buy Limnology or to find out more about the work of Richard Skelton visit Corbel Stone Press.