Born 1947, he studied composition with Cornelius Cardew and was also involved in Cardew’s new music classes at Morley College. He was a founder member of the Scratch Orchestra in 1969 together with Michael Parsons and Cardew.
While the examples of Cage, Cardew, Feldman and LaMonte Young have been important to him at different stages. Skempton has remained independent of all mainstream tendencies in new music. His work has grown consistently from its roots in the experimental tradition and is characterised by an extreme economy of means, a concentration on essentials and an absence of rhetoric, drama and decoration.
He draws inspiration from a range of extra-musical sources, including Constructivism in the visual arts, with its emphasis on material and form. Working always with chosen limits, discovering internal detail within a defined structure, he is primarily concerned with the sound-material itself, rather than with expansion and development. The radical simplicity and directness of his music have come to act as a significant point of reference for a number of younger composers.
A colleague of Scratch days, the pianist John Tilbury, has performed Howard Skempton’s works for many years and a recent recording is available from Sony.