Caught by the River

Water of Life

11th December 2013


Review by David Hemingway

“Water will always underpin our lives as humans,” Rob St John has explained of his latest multi-media project, Water of Life, “However, the ways the way in which we’ve viewed, used, managed or represented water has always been fluid.”

Curated by frequent Caught by the River contributor St. John and artist/musician Tommy Perman, Water of Life is an “art-science collaboration” exploring the travel of water through Edinburgh and its surroundings. Tellingly, St John compares the research process that produced these things to “a geography field trip, in many ways.” There are drawings, photographs, text, sound, a website. iPads are utilized but so are letter-presses. I’m particularly fond of the project’s Sound Map , where you can play sounds archived by the duo: site specific recordings of wells and weirs, bridges and lochs, sewage works and storm drains are charted by location.


Nicely, Water of Life seems to have culminated in a delightful, limited press seven-inch record (lovingly packaged with a set of prints and essays) where these field recordings are used as sound-sources alongside burbling synthesizers and hydrophone drones. “Sources and Springs / Abercrombie, 1949” is asserted as a tune for “Edinburgh’s imagined and unseen landscapes inspired by Abercrombie and Plumstead’s futurist vision for the city.” The flip, “The Liquid City/The Shellycoat” mutates into a paean for a watery spirit said to haunt the local sewage work. “Drumbeats,” St. John and Perman have noted, “Were sampled from underwater recordings.” It’s easy to presume that the duo are fans of Chris Watson or Jana Winderen (whose own underwater recordings are incredible) but also the lauded Ghost Box imprint.

By coincidence or otherwise, I’m specifically reminded of the latter label’s Public Information Film-fetishists The Advisory Circle, in St. John/Perman’s affection for photographs of signs with instructions such as “Warning: Deep Water!” and “No unauthorized access!” The Seafield Sewage Works – one of those sites from which you’re urged to keep away – is intriguing, suggests St. John, in an essay: “It’s off-limits, seemingly unnatural and alien.” I write that Water of Life seems to have “culminated” in a record but in truth the single doesn’t feel like an end to the project, a full-stop, a plug. Rather, it’s more akin to a taking of a water-sample, a dipping of toes into something that might well develop a life of its own and surge onwards.

We’ve managed to get our hands on a few copies of this beautiful record / package to sell at the Social Christmas Market on Saturdays 14 & 21 December, or alternatively, you can buy them from our on-line shop at the special price of £12.00