6 Jan 2014

Rob St John and Tommy Perman "Water of Life" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

A labour of love from Edinburgh based artists Rob St. John and Tommy Perman, ‘Water of Life’ is a paean to the city’s waterways and the flow of water from the Pentlands to the Forth that at times in history has become the city’s industrial power source, drinking water and lifeblood. St. John is known for his psychogeographical bent, including his recent work with archive film artists Screen Bandita (soundtracking a live showing of antique footage of the Western Isles) and Folklore Tapes. He is also an environmental writer and here his evident love and interest in his adopted city’s history is soundtracked in a limited edition 7”.
Found sounds and field recordings of running water introduce ‘’Sources and Springs/Abercrombie 1949’ before St. John’s harmonium maintains an almost kraut rock motirik pulse. The sense of machinery and water systems pulsating and pumping the life blood of the city is tangible. ‘Liquid City/The Shellycoat’ continues the analogue, Kraftwerkian vibe. The Shellycoat is said to be a water spirit that haunts the Pennybap Boulder that sits in nearby Leith and a chorus of voices recount the children’s song about this entity.  These tracks, an ‘alternative travelogue’, evoke memories of 1970s Tomorrow’s World style programmes about a brave new world and as such fit into the hauntological universe of acts such as The Advisory Circle and The Eccentronic Research Council. This music really should be sountracking a BFI release of archive footage; indeed both artists recently performed live to such visuals as a part of the ‘Echo of Light/ Water Of Life’ events.
The field recording element adds an additional dimension to this project; the drum sounds are from hydrophonic recordings made under water, the reverb effects deliberately replicating sub surface natural reverb. Sounds from rivers, manhole covers, spring houses, pub barrel rooms, pipelines and taps also permeate this recording bringing life and authenticity to the carefully orchestrated and beautifully descriptive music. 
Limited to an edition of 200, the 7” comes with art prints, essays by St John, and a hand, letter pressed folder. Appropriately the single comes on recycled vinyl. Artefacts like this come along rarely and when they do often do not reach the level of thought, care and quality of Water of Life. Take a drink or dive right in.

Stream or buy here.

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