Surface Tension, a new music project drawing from both art and science, seeks to creatively explore and document pollution along London’s second largest waterway, the River Lea
In summer 2014, Ben Fenton, Coordinator of the ‘Love the Lea’ project run by leading London waterway charity Thames21, got in touch with Rob St John, a Lancastrian musician, artist and writer. Ben had an unusual commission in mind: could Rob design a project drawing from both art and science to creatively explore and document pollution along London’s River Lea?
Almost a year later and the result, Surface Tension – an album of new music and field recordings taken along the Lea – is unveiled. The album is accompanied by a book of writing and photographs documenting the Lea Valley and the creative processes in Surface Tension; as well as an exhibition of film photographs from the project upstairs at Stour Space, Hackney Wick, London (E3 2PA) throughout April 2015.
Ben Fenton of Thames21 said: ‘The River Lea suffers as it travels through London, here at Thames21 we’re raising awareness of this and taking action to help it. Rob’s work portrays the plight of the Lea through an inspiring mix of words, photos and music; we hope this to engage a new audience to support our Love the Lea and make a positive difference for this amazing river.’
Over the autumn and winter, Rob processed the recordings and photographs in ways designed to echo the water pollution of the Lea. Tape loops of the field recordings as well as new music composed for the project were soaked in tubs of polluted Lea river water – duckweed, decaying leaves, oil slicks and all – for a month. When replayed, the loops slowly disintegrated, the river etching new channels and tributaries onto the tape, which slowly peeled off and faded away. The negatives of the film photographs were given the same river water treatment, with their prints developing odd new microscopic marks, layers and flares.
Rob St John said: ‘The name Surface Tension comes from the variety of different ‘surfaces’ in the Lea Valley: from the polluted river surface overgrown with neon green weeds and gleaming with oil slicks, over rusting and crumbling brick and metal surfaces, to the shape-shifting role of environmental sound in telling us about people, places and the environment. I am very pleased to be involved with Thames21 and their work to improve not just the River Lea, but all of London’s rivers’.
Surface Tension is an album that is intricate, layered and accessible and it will hopefully contribute to raise awareness of the pollution problems facing the River Lea.
Surface Tension is released on April 10th.
Format: CD in book (48 pages, full colour, perfect bound) and download.
Label: Surface Tension
Single stream and free download:
Album stream and free download:
Surface Tension website for project photographs, field notes, recordings and sound map:
Surface Tension CD and book shop:
Cover image (square): https://surfacetensionofthelea.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/surface-tension-cover-square.jpg
Cover image (portrait): https://surfacetensionofthelea.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/surface-tension-cover-portrait.jpg
Notes to Editors
Thames21 | Love the Lea project:
East London’s rivers are some of the most polluted in Britain, running with high levels of e-coli sewage bacteria, waste water from people’s homes and poisonous oils and chemicals from our roads. This polluted water flows down the Lea Valley past the homes of thousands of people, reducing the quality of the rivers they enjoy, killing fish and destroying ecosystems.
Thames21’s Love the Lea project is working with local communities to improve the rivers of the Lea Catchment:
• Free river education for schools across the catchment giving young people the knowledge to help reduce pollution;
• Planting new reedbeds and caring for existing ones; to break down pollutants within the rivers and providing habitats for wildlife;
• Introducing sustainable drainage solutions, to reduce pollution entering these rivers;
• Engaging the public in free festivals, talks, and volunteer opportunities.
Rob St. John’s work has always had a foot in both art and science: working with sound, photography and natural processes in ways that are both experimental and accessible. In 2011 he released a critically acclaimed LP ‘Weald’; in 2013 the Water of Life collaboration with Tommy Perman; in 2014 the Bastard Mountain LP; and in 2015 Surface Tension and a sound installation ‘Concrete Antenna’ at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. robstjohn.co.uk
Rob St John live in March 2015:
20 March: Islington Mill, Manchester;
21 March: De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea;
22 March: St John at Hackney, London
(all with Richard Skelton, commissioned by Art Assembly)