London-based Touch is not a record label in the traditional sense; it is much more multifaceted. It might be more accurate to describe Touch as a collective that also extends to publishing, performance curation, and site-specific multimedia events powered by a loosely defined stable of international avant-garde sound and electronic artists, including guitarist and producer Fennesz, experimental electronic composer Phill Niblock, multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, noise and techno producer Mika Vainio, and Icelandic composer Hilda Guðnadóttir.
Touch turns 40 this year, and is celebrating its big anniversary with a string of showcases across the US and Europe that kicked off in Berlin in January. The Chicago event, held at the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, has a great schedule. Ohio native and Los Angeles resident Jonathan Thomas Miller is a multi-instrumentalist and composer for film and television, and his credits include the life below zero documentary series. Last year, his versatile style, combining esotericism and whimsy, earned him a position as composer-in-residence at Columbia College. Hard-working songwriter and sound artist Olivia Block has been one of the brightest lights of Chicago electronica and minimalism since the ’90s. Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea, is absolutely fascinating. The song “En Echelon” recalls the pioneers of noise Suicide while simultaneously managing to suggest glitch culture, harpsichords and drum circles, all in under six minutes, a span that feels longer than it is. The best way possible. For this show, Block will collaborate with Chicago minimalist duo Cleared, aka percussionist Steven Hess (who also plays in Rlyr and Locrian) and guitarist Michael Vallera (also of Luggage). Block contributed a remix of a track from Cleared to his 2020 album for Touch, The key, and has collaborated with Hess in the experimental group Haptic. Block will provide field recordings and a synthesizer organ for this performance, which she says will include a shared piece in two parts: one focused on field recordings and electronics, the second on instruments and tones. The concert venue, the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, is a Chicago gem that deserves its own review: its setting creates an intense combination of the luminous and the grotesque, and these performers are perfect for threading that needle.
40 years of touch A showcase for the London collective Touch with Jonathan Thomas Miller and Cleared with Olivia Block. Saturday 5/21, 7:30 pm, Museum of Surgical Sciences, 1524 N. Lake Shore, $22, 21+