London label Touch brings its 40th-anniversary celebration to the International Museum of Surgical Science

London-based Touch isn’t a record label in the traditional sense; it’s far more multifaceted. It might be more accurate to describe Touch as a collective that also extends into publishing, performance curation, and site-specific multimedia events driven by a loosely defined stable of international avant-garde electronic and sound artists, who include guitarist and producer Fennesz, experimental electronic composer Phill Niblock, multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, noise and techno producer Mika Vainio, and Icelandic composer Hilda Guðnadóttir. 

This year Touch turns 40, and it’s celebrating its big anniversary with a chain of showcases in the U.S. and Europe that kicked off in Berlin in January. The Chicago event, held at the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, has a great lineup. Ohio native and Los Angeles resident Jonathan Thomas Miller is a multi-instrumentalist and composer for film and TV, and his credits include the Life Below Zero documentary series. Last year his versatile style, which blends esotericism and whimsy, landed him a composer-in-residence position at Columbia College. Hard-working composer and sound artist Olivia Block has been one of the brightest lights in Chicago electronica and minimalism since the 90s. Her latest solo work, last year’s Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea, is absolutely mesmerizing. The track “En Echelon” recalls noise pioneers Suicide while also managing to suggest glitch culture, harpsichords, and drum circles—all within less than six minutes, a span that feels longer than it is in the best possible way. For this show, Block will collaborate with minimalist Chicago 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 Cleared track to their 2020 album for Touch, The Key, and she’s collaborated with Hess in experimental group Haptic. Block will provide field recordings and synth organ for this performance, which she says will include a shared piece in two parts: one focusing on field recordings and electronics, the second on instruments and tones. The venue for the concert, the International Museum of Surgical Science, is a Chicago gem that deserves its own write-up—its environment creates an intense combination of the luminous and the grotesque, and these artists are perfect for threading that needle.

40 Years of Touch A showcase by London collective Touch featuring Jonathan Thomas Miller and Cleared with Olivia Block. Sat 5/21, 7:30 PM, Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N. Lake Shore, $22, 21+

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