Atmospheres 4 | Touch.30 Live
Beaconsfield Arts, London, 05 and 06 December 2012
Biosphere concluded this two-day Touch.30 event with a set that segued from IRCAM-inspired beats into an electronic reimagining of the music of Arnold Schoenberg. The audience response was effusive, but it seems Geir Jenssen’s hard drive lacked the makings of an encore. Specifically, it didn’t hold the files needed to grant MC Jon Wozencraft‘s request to hear Biosphere’s take on “Blue Monday” (as heard on a CD accompanying the February 2012 issue of MOJO Magazine); so Wozencroft busked it, beatboxing “Blue Monday” and reminiscing about his intimacy with New Order back in the day.
Earlier in the evening Wozencroft, who established Touch as an independent multimedia publishing company in 1982, recalled further postpunk exploits as a radio pirate alongside punk scribe Jon Savage. Savage had been due to appear in person but, unable to do so, had arranged for CDs of his 1987 Network 21 ‘Silence=Death’ pirate radio broadcast – a low-fi blast with seemingly little in common with latter-day Touch music – to be handed out instead.
24 hours earlier Edwin Pouncey, aka Savage Pencil, was on hand for an amiable on-stage chat with Wozencroft about their formative musical tastes and early record collections (Wozencroft liked early Kinks, he said, but “hated” reggae until, much later, he got turned on by dub). Each of these talks was a timely, perhaps necessary reminder that Touch started out publishing cassette magazines devoted to artists such as New Order, Current 93 and Ludus, and that there’s still a maverick spirit of independence, albeit in a more mature form, about the whoe enterprise.
Other talks involved Wozencroft’s business partner Mike Harding, originally a music publisher, in more philosophically pragmatic mode. These talks focused on topics such as: the merits of surround sound; mastering for analogue and digital manufacture; Touch’s digital presence on the web, and digital versus analogue sound, and how each determines listening outcomes.
Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Thursday’s afternoon session, when talks were held on the TouchRadio archive, the Touch design aesthetic, and the label’s responses to changing formats and download culture.
These semi-formal panel discussions were held in a small upstairs room, interspersed with ‘sonic interventions’ (playbacks of key pieces by Panasonic and Ryoji Ikeda), and followed by ‘screening situations’: short films soundtracked by Fennesz and BJ Nilsen, to the added accompaniment of trains rattling over a viaduct seeming inches from the building, flashing past a round hole situated disconcertingly just above the screen.
The main performance space was situated beneath one of the viaduct’s arches, so the frequent rumble of those passing trains also became part of the ambience surrounding each night’s main performances. Occasionally that fit right into the Touch signature soundscape aesthetic, never more so than during the surround-sound in-absentia playback of Chris Watson‘s short sound piece “Brussels Nord”.
Hildur Gudnadottir fared less well. Opening proceedings on Wednesday night with a ‘Beaconsfield version’ of Leyfɗu Ljósinu, the composition essayed on her latest Touch album, Gudnadottir created a meticulous weave of live and real-time processed cello, pausing more than once to allow the muffled heavy reverberations of passing locomotion to surge and ebb within the arc of a suspenseful silence. Hers was a beautiful set, with the piece requiring less ‘live’ cello playing than I’d envisaged, yet proving more elastic and malleable than I’d supposed.
Fortunately the acoustics of the performance space were otherwise favourable and the passing traffic was subsumed within Philip Jeck‘s masterly blend of vintage/bargain-bin vinyl loops and electronics. The multi-layered locked-groove crackle that’s so closely associated with Jeck’s music was replaced here by electronic effects that were sometimes tintinnabulary, or mimicked the clinking of empty milk bottles: a brave evolution making this the strongest set of the event as a whole.
In a likewise successful “audio intervention”, David Toop interspersed readings from his 1984 piece “Yanomamo Shamanism” with playback of field-recorded Shamanistic ceremonies, all illustrated by projected stills.
The first night’s headline act, Fennesz delivered a powerful but predictable set of burnished guitar processing, with perhaps a greater emphasis on the guitar part of that equation than before, and yet more reliance on volume. It’s a sound he’s settled comfortably into since 2008’s Black Sea album. A document such as 2010’s Knoxville (a live trio recording with David Daniell (guitar) and Tony Buck (drums)) suggests he could be more venturesome.
Further ‘audio interventions’ on Thursday included the screening of 4′ 33″ by Vicki Bennett, aka People Like Us: a drily amusing montage of stormy but otherwise silent clips from the Bogart & Bacall classic Key Largo; and a new piece by BJ Nilsen, recorded outside the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine titled “The Cackle of Dogs and Laughter of Death”.
Of the other people I spoke to at these events, many said they’d made the trip to this London edgeland locality primarily for the rare opportunity to hear a set by low-frequency sound/media artist Thomas Köner. An ambient pioneer, but new toTouch, Köner was first up on Thursday night with a set of new music – fine-grained multi-layered drones disconcertingly disrupted by mass transit field recordings – closer in style to his 2009 album La Barca (released on Fario) than to this year’s Touch debut, the superb Novaya Zemlya.
Carl Michael von Hausswolff had requested that the performance space be bathed in red light for his piece, which proved impracticable, but his music had the desired effect in any case. Creating a womb-like depth of sonic resonance by combining live-sampled breath sounds with layered tones, von Hausswolff created an ambience that was part sound-art installation, part nightclub catacomb.
It was only left to Biosphere to amplify von Hausswolff’s implicit beat quotient as a prelude to his transfiguration of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”, and for Jon Wozencraft to add his final eccentric twist, to wrap up nicely the 30th year of Touch, and to send the faithful home with a keener appreciation of an enterprise most of them surely loved pretty well already.
Related Posts – Concerts
Oren Ambarchi and John Tilbury at Cafe Oto, September 2012
Touch: Spire at St Botolph without Aldgate, with Philip Jeck, Charles Matthews, BJ Nilsen, Marcus Davidson, John Beaumont, June 2012
Touch.30: Oren Ambarchi, Charlemagne Palestine, Daniel Menche, and BJ Nilsen at Cafe Oto, April 2012