The elegiac music of Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson (*AR) has always been about much more than music, and Succession is no exception. The new work is enriched by optional publications that expand upon themes investigated in the work, while the music in turn investigates history and land. Perhaps the clearest expression of Skelton’s love for landscape was an injection of original work into the landscape a few years back; some of these Easter eggs may have since rotted or calcified, but one dreams of visiting Cumbria, sitting on a crumbling, lichen-covered stone wall, reaching into a crevasse and discovering a poem.
The new work takes up exactly where Wolf Notes left off, as Richardson’s vocal line on “Succession” repeats that of “Return” and Skelton’s looped orchestra wraps its branches around the same chords. Yet subtle changes have occurred: the higher operatic notes have subsided, while the cello’s clearest notes have become further assimilated. One has the choice of two versions, abridged or unabridged; the unabridged, 19-minute version on the accompanying digital-only Echoless contains a wider investigation of sound and silence, especially in its near-silent mid-section. To these ears, it’s the preferred version, especially as it provides an aural echo of *AR’s themes. The couple’s affinity for the preservation of historical names is apparent is apparent in A List of Probable Flora. It’s a list, to be sure, but simply to read it is a pleasure, as one encounters names like curled dock, sun-dew, ox-eyed daisy. The extended “Succession” provides a metaphor for the use of such words: common language, silent language, rediscovered language. The finale, louder and richer in the extension, reflects the joy of preservation.
The “tree diagrams” of the letterpressed Relics continue this theme, presenting etymology in the form of diagrammed tree rings. In related fashion, the shuffled phrases of the Wolfhou pamphlet address the fact that language can become decontextualized to the extent that its original meaning can only be gleaned. The accompanying piece “Wolfhou” (or is it the other way around?) presents prominent string lines that evolve slowly throughout the first few minutes, devolving into counterpoint at the center. Richardson’s tone-rich voice ebbs and flows, mingling notes of regret and gratitude. So much lost, so much found. “Relics”, on the other hand, comes across as turbulent and wild, the reflection of a landscape continually in flux. The final minutes are especially effective, as the calmer strings strike a balance with the agitated orchestra, like entropy taming chaos over time. A longer version is again available on Echoless, the expansion noticeable primarily in the mid-section.
The thick instrumental “Seed Memory” inspires a series of unspoken, fanciful questions. Might a seed recall the name given to its ancestors, or whether its parent’s soil was fertile or fallow? If a seed grows in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Might this be the sound “an angel leaning over it whispering grow, grow?” And might this voice sound like a filtered cello? This is the sound of possibility: more than just recovered history, but recovered imagination.
One doesn’t listen as much as experience Succession. The music creates a mood, and perhaps an intention. *AR’s music is the indoor reflection of an outdoor setting. It’s not music that one takes outdoors to drown out the wind in the hills; it’s music that one plays indoors as a reminder that there are hills to begin with. Best of all might be a temporary site-specific sound installation, integrating music and poetry, live and looped, leaving no environmental footprint. Such an experience can be recreated in one’s own environment with readers and playback devices. If one then wonders, “What is that tree called?” or “What bird is singing that song?” one might strive to find the answer, thus forging an intellectual connection to augment one’s physical presence. (Richard Allen)