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Surface Tension

A 2 track ambient album (31m 11s) — released May 14th 2021 on Blackford Hill

Rob St John's 'Surface Tension' LP was made over the course of a year spent walking, recording and photographing the Lea Valley in East London. An electric-pastoral shimmer of field recordings, analogue synths, fingerpicked guitars, tape loops, tube organs and submerged rhythms, the record was originally released as two limited book/CD editions (which both sold out swiftly), and is now reissued on vinyl for the first time.

Rob is a musician, artist and writer based in rural Lancashire. In 2014 he was commissioned by Benjamin Fenton from the Thames21 Love the Lea charity to create a project documenting pollution, life and biodiversity through the Lea Valley's changing environment. Rob – who plays in kosmiche folk-rock band Modern Studies, has a string of critically-acclaimed solo releases, has installed artworks at Tate Modern, The Barbican and The Victoria and Albert Museum and had his work profiled on BBC Radio 3, 4 and 6 Music – used a variety of innovative sound and visual art techniques drawing from the local environment to create Surface Tension.

These include a variety of experimental microphones to record underwater and through different surfaces; and 35mm and 120 film photographs, many of which were taken with home-made Lesney matchbox pinhole cameras, and developed in polluted Lea river water. Tape loops of field recordings and guitar, cello and piano melodies – recorded in Scotland with Pete Harvey (Modern Studies, King Creosote, Andrew Wasylyk) – were also soaked in river water baths, causing new rhythms and melodies to emerge in their eroded playback. The results were mixed in Rob's home studio to create two sides of music which flit above and below the waterline from the Lea's pastoral source to its inner-city confluence with the Thames, evoking the tangles of human and non-human lives along its course. Think Virginia Astley and Boards of Canada out in the field.

'Surface Tension' is now being reissued as a limited edition deluxe vinyl package by the 'sounds in place' Edinburgh label Blackford Hill. The package includes Rob's 35mm and 120 film photographs and new sleeve notes by writer Richard King and conservationist Benjamin Fenton. The release also includes a long-form essay by Rob on the creative processes drawing from art, ecology and sound used to create 'Surface Tension'. Each record is pressed on eco-mix vinyl using plastic cut-offs from other pressings, meaning each copy is both visually unique, and more environmentally-friendly than standard pressings.

St John’s music is as interesting as the process which underpins it. It ebbs through passages of chamber piano and cello (reminiscent of post-classical ensemble, Rachel’s), analog kosmische and, at 18 minutes, eerily euphoric, Boards Of Canada-style techno. - John Mulvey UNCUT

After all of this experimental tinkering, what has been produced is an album that is intricate, layered and accessible – shape-shifting between rolling guitar, piano and cello to submerged droning organ oscillations and saturated kosmiche synthesiser excursions. - Caught By The River

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