Touch Turns 40

Photograph by Jon Wozencroft

This weekend, March 11 – 13, in Los Angeles, Touch.40 will take place at 2220 Arts featuring a series of live performances, sound installations, video screenings, film panels, and informal talks. Performers include Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Bethan Kellough, Jim Haynes, Geneva Skeen, Gabie Strong + Peter Kolovos, Yann Novak, and many more. Tickets are still available and can be found HERE.

To do something for 40 years is an accomplishment in and of itself. To do that thing for 40 years with the vision, high-level consistency, and grace with which Touch’s Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft have is something else entirely. Founded in 1982, Touch has presented countless editions, live performances, and more, all wrapped in the careful attention the organization is known for. They have worked with artists from all over the globe and fostered a space for experimentation, consideration, and growth. 

Looking through Touch’s catalog, it’s a treasure trove of crucial works from notable artists. Essential albums like Fennesz’s Venice, Lawrence English’s Kiri No Oto, and Oren Ambarchi’s Grapes From the Estate stand alongside new experimentations from the likes of Bethan KelloughClearedELEHYann Novak, and so many others. The thread connecting all of this work is the careful presentation that is always present. If Touch is involved with an event or album, it’s worth taking notice.

In 2020, as the world shut down and many were unsure what each day would look like, the Touch: Isolation subscription series appeared. Over a few months in 2020, the subscription presented exclusive works from Touch artists and shared the proceeds amongst the artists involved. It was a creative way to offer support during a time when gig money dried up while also putting beautiful new music into an uncertain world. 

Following up in Touch: Isolation came Touch: Displacing, another subscription with a focus on longform works. Again, proceeds were spread among the artists involved. Both the Isolation and Displacing series were further evidence of Touch’s artist-centered approach that has endured for the 40 years of operation. It’s a testament to their curatorial diligence and considered approach that allows Touch, 40 years on, to continue thriving.

To celebrate 40 years, a series of events are taking place across the globe in the coming months. This weekend, March 11 – 13, in Los Angeles, Touch.40 will take place at 2220 Arts. Touch.40 features a series of live performances, sound installations, video screenings, film panels, and informal talks. Touch.40 will present the world premiere of Philip Jeck’s film “Waiting Rooms” as well as a very special Cage+Cunningham sound/dance performance featuring Jmy James Kidd. Performers include Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Bethan Kellough, Jim Haynes, Geneva Skeen, Gabie Strong + Peter Kolovos, Yann Novak, and many more. Tickets are still available and can be found HERE.

Earlier this month, I conducted a short interview with Mike Harding about the past 40 years of Touch. Additionally, please enjoy this exclusive mix of selections from Touch’s catalog. I encourage hitting play before reading the interview and watching the Touch: Isolation slideshow below. The tracklist for the mix is at the bottom of this article. Visit Touch’s website HERE and hear all their incredible releases over at Bandcamp.

It’s amazing that you’re celebrating 40 years of Touch in 2022. It’s an incredible achievement. When you first started, what were you hoping to accomplish? Could you have ever imagined it would reach the place it has?

Thank you! IMO, no, we had little idea how it would pan out. We had a firm idea of what we wanted to accomplish in terms of “alternative media” and the individuals/artists we wanted to work with, but the climate was very different in 1981/82 and there were support structures, DIY enterprises, small venues and exhibition spaces that were intent on ‘doing something differently’. These openings still exist, in the broad sense, but today they are far more pressured by the lack of independent distribution and the economies of scale. And of course, then, there was no internet.

Also, it’s difficult to quantify, but in 1981/82 there was something in the air that put the wind in our sails and gave us the confidence and courage to do what we did. There was plenty to rebel against, but if you contrast the spectre of Thatcherism, Cold War politics, and the Falklands War, with what is happening this week, there was the feeling that resistance counted and resistance could make a difference. Today, so much is atomized, and protest itself is in danger of being outlawed.

Over the years, what has surprised you the most about doing Touch?

To have developed so many friendships with the artists we work with, and to have those friendships integral to the quality of the work we produce together.

From the outside, one thing I’ve always perceived as central to Touch’s long-term success and something I admire so much is that beyond the strong curatorial approach you’ve had, the community you’ve fostered, especially through mentoring artists and really trying to help them develop and grow, has been integral in experimental music/art and reaches well beyond Touch itself. How has this artist-centered approach helped Touch sustain itself for 40 years?

That is exactly it. The key to the whole set-up. It’s not quite right to call Touch a family – but you know what I mean. We do try to develop close relationships with all the artists and make sure the dialogue (or conversation) is continuous. We hope an artist could come to us with issues outside of their artist work too. We care about them deeply and hope those feelings are reciprocated. Each relationship develops at its own speed and hopefully, the nurturing aspect works both ways. And by taking things slowly… one of the central points behind our insistence that “We are not a record label”, was the decision from the word go, not to follow the market, and if ever there was a bandwagon passing, we would fail to jump on it. We got quite good at that!

In all the ups and downs, what’s been the biggest challenge for you? Was there ever something that happened that almost made you pull the plug?

Of course, there have been problems along the journey, but no, we’ve never felt our activities were threatened to that extent.

Several Touch 40 events are coming up, the next being March 11 – 13 in Los Angeles at 2220 Arts + Archives. What can people expect from the event beyond the live performances? I’m especially curious about the panels and keynote addresses… What are you most looking forward to?

It’s all desperately exciting yes and was huge fun to put together with Gabie Strong, my colleague for the festival along with 2220arts + archives (the venue) and dublab. We didn’t just want to present a series of concerts, preferring a broader range of activities to reflect Touch’s diversity of content. So we have talks, demonstrations, and a panel, a world premiere of a new film by Philip Jeck, and other visuals by Jon Wozencroft. 

Will you be at all the upcoming events?

Yes! Wouldn’t miss it for the world!

What do you see for the future of Touch? Will we be celebrating Touch 50 in 10 years?

I’m fearful for the immediate future, of course – how can you not be? But I’m confident we will be around doing something interesting or other – we’ve got some surprises up our sleeves, rest assured! But the passion and curiosity have in no way abated… so we ain’t going nowhere!

A Selection of Touch covers

All photograhps by Jon Wozencroft

Foxy Digitalis Presents: A Selection of Songs from Touch (at 40)

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai
Oren Ambarchi – The Strouhal Number
Mika Vainio & Joachim Nordwall – Live at the Chrome Cathedral
ELEH – Linear to Circular Vertical Axis
Chris Watson – Conversations
Mother Tongue – Rewording
Soliman Gamil – Echoes of Memphis
Philip Jeck – Surf Finger
Peter Rehberg – TT 1205
Jacob Kirkegaard – Coatilcue
Bethan Kellough – Al-Lat
Jana Winderen – Survivors of the Water World
Biosphere – Spring Fever
Hildur Guðnadóttir – In Gray
Lawrence English – Waves Sheer Light
Oren Ambarchi & Keith Rowe – Flypaper II
Phill Niblock – One Large Rose V
Fennesz – Rivers of Sand

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