Numerous experimental print publications (E/I and Grooves
come to mind) have been boarding up their doors recently, if only to shield
their eyes from the glow of the Internet. All signs, written or otherwise, are
becoming detached, disembodied from any real content, floating in an immaterial
realm where everything seems exchangeable. This is an old story of which many
have taken notice; Touch have taken notice of it, using it as a
springboard for the tracks on their 25th anniversary album.
Touch 25 is not so much mourning for a real image as an attempt to
reconstruct one. The tracks side with the digital realm, pushing compositions
beyond the reach of gravity, beyond the plane of the real but with the
apparent intention that all this pushing will eventually bring about their collapse.
Sound artist BJ Nilson (who's followed by Oren Ambarchi, Fennesz, Chris Watson,
Peter Rehberg, Pan Sonic, Philip Jeck, Ryoji Ikeda and a host of others) opens
the disc with "Gotland," burying the sound of rustling leaves beneath caustic
digital textures and crashing waves, amplified so as to be recognizable yet unnatural.
The spatial acoustics and microphonic recording process are manipulated to bring
out a number of hidden themes, into which the following tracks delve further.
Philip Jeck's contribution offers a spectral woodwind hum, swathed in crackling
particles of static, rattling cymbals, with a wistful (though altogether out
of place) string melody giving the piece an uncanny air. Selections from Peter
Rehberg and Ryoji Ikeda, meanwhile, seem to find the group lodged all but
entirely in some far-off
hinterworld. Rehberg slips a flurry of sharp chords into jagged
rhythmic sequences, while a more minimalist Ikeda pastes cold microtones and
ultra-low frequency sine-waves into gray, cavernous drones.
The contributors' similar interests make the album flow well, especially for a
compilation. Even molecularized pieces such as the Mother Tongue's "Rewording" manage to keep the album's
momentum going. Tribal drumming gives the track a ceremonial
atmosphere; unidentified noises growl as a disengaged female voice tells a story of "Words/ Once these words
had been flesh/ Full like young lips/ Now without your breath, they are
dried-out/ Footmarks in dry
land." The standout work, though, is Icelandic composer Johann
Johannsson's. "Tu Non Mi
Perderai Mai" begins with the slow burn of a string section fighting against
the steely dissonance of its
background. Clusters of alien sonar signals soar above the turbulent violin winds, but the piece
never crests, and gradually the howling drone breathes in the strings and
high-frequency tones. A dreary, challenging and unrelenting album, Touch 25 allows each fragment to produce its own vertigo.