Richard Skelton – Last Glacial Maximum

Northern England’s Richard Skelton has travelled back to a distant age, but Last Glacial Maximum is also an immediately pressing work, both relevant and deadly serious, uncovering the landscape of the British and Irish peninsula at a time when it once lay under ice, as well as taking into account the Earth’s current fevers and modern environmental concerns.

Glaciologists have come to largely agree upon the timespan of the British and Irish Ice Sheet – known as the ‘Last Glacial Maximum’ – and it’s been placed somewhere in the region of 27 – 21,000 years ago. Through music, Skelton recedes back into the ice, but it also issues warnings amid a collapsing world.

There isn’t any glint of sunlight to thaw the music. It is bleak – there’s no getting around that – and sombre at the current climate and the humanitarian response, or lack of. His slow, elongated chords stretch out like a sheet of pristine ice, but something is shifting underneath; something is dislocated, snapping. Something is wrong.

Uncomfortable tones are warped with an uneasy, seismic dissonance. A poison has seeped into its monolithic towers of ice, the pollution of the ages clouding the music in sorrowful and menacing timbres.

Appropriately, Skelton’s grey drones move at a glacial pace, stuck in a lengthy erosion rather than a transition, and a sharp severity is buried within its shifting sounds. Glimpsed from underneath the ice, swimming in sub-zero waters, one will find a range of slow-moving, skeletal chords that are capable of cutting through the ice with lashings of razor teeth.

Last Glacial Maximum is a record of incredible weight and power, its music shifting like an almighty ice sheet in the throes of shedding its cold skin, heaving itself forward while slowly counting down to its inevitable death.

The music resides in the low register, giving it a lasting, ominous texture. The drones shriek and clang; it’s the sound of a monumental ice sheet as it slowly collapses. The record is one of stark uniformity, its textures of isolation and the white stretches of ice leave the listener snow-blind. It cultivates a musical independence, standing alone, isolated, and imbued with a cold core to rival that of the polar region. Don’t expect anyDisney endings here – this is reality. Rather than turning one’s eyes and ears away, the changing needs to be seen and heard. Until then, Skelton’s music is an overture, the start of the end, and the birth of a new ice age.

Richard Skelton is taking part in Radical Landscapes: Innovation in Landscape and Language Art at The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington, Devon from 23rd March to 22nd April 2019.

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