The A to Z of Ghostly Art & Design Influences: Jon Wozencroft of Touch
Today we’re kicking off a new series for the blog, entitled The A to Z of Ghostly Art & Design Influences. If you’ve ever wondered who has influenced the art and design direction of Ghostly, here’s an opportunity to check out our bookshelves, so-to-speak. Our hope is to highlight the work of people who’ve inspired us over the years. Sometimes we’ll do an interview, sometimes we’ll simply share a few jaw dropping images for your delight. We won’t proceed in any particular order, but we’ll try to share these influences with some degree of regularity. First up in A to Z: Touch.
Touch has existed for its 30 years of life somewhere outside the realm of classification. A record label in the eyes of many, Touch has nurtured the careers of musical artists like Fennesz, Bioshphere, Philip Jeck, and Hildur Gudnadottir with an ambivalence towards trends.
Jon Wozencroft, its helmsmen and photographer, is an inspiration not only for his non-linear approach to media and art, but for his sheer love of quality. His lens, in many ways, has created the way we see contemporary Western art music. For Ghostly, coming into early contact with the music and packaging of Touch was a signifier that art and music can share equal footing. For our first installment of A to Z, Ghostly’s founder Sam Valenti asked Wozencroft a few questions about identity, photography, and the state of the industry today.
[GI] Touch is very up front in not being a record label. How would you define Touch as an idea?
[JW] We try to resist defining Touch, which in some respects is part of the problem of achieving recognition… It’s not a question of being vague or elusive—we prefer to trust the chemistry of our artists’ work and our long-term narrative about independent activity to do that—but let’s deal first with the “record label” situation.
We make this point about not being a record label because we want our audience (and our artists) to move with the changing nature of music and its distribution, and highlight the new terrain of music and its status as a forcefield rather than the dead zone it has become in many respects.
A record company is basically a delivery system based on an outdated model of production and distribution. The aim was to deliver product into shops and to market said product to highly-controlled media platforms—TV, radio, concert hall etc. All of this has changed beyond recognition, but most labels still behave as if the ultimate goal is to get the new LP at the front of the racks, onto the public broadcasting channels, and the band on tour. And to do this, any record company needs some kind of marketing/advertising budget. We can’t afford it—not so much in terms of money, but in terms of making a statement about the integrity of the work, and our resistance to hyping or artificially inflating any of our artists.
It is notable, that if you look at most of the progressive music publishing labels at the moment—I don’t need to name names—they rarely work with bands. Bands/groups are a logistical problem of the first order because there are usually conflicting egos involved. Going on tour always exacerbates this. So we decided early on that if we were going to survive as a very humble operation, economically, we couldn’t work with bands. We have done so, symbolically, with the associations with Joy Division, New Order, and Wire, and in terms of Scala, which is a highly-underrated female echo of those energies. We created this model after working on the early cassette compilations. You see, then, we were always working with groups, and the finished item was a group statement. It’s incredibly difficult to sustain, if you have anything less than an office of employees. There were 3 or 4 of us at this time.
Money, then, always becomes not a problem necessarily, but first of all a question. How do you make a certain level of operation sustainable? Short-term success is a problem because it raises expectations on all levels that are quickly modified into disappointment and frustration.
You can’t act like a record label. Actually, more people bang on about the demise of record shops than they do notice the massive change in the record label culture. The artist is now the label. This is what we are trying to move forward. And we two, Mike and I, have always tried to keep an open system of collaboration with our artists and our releases, and every one has a different requirement in terms of input and curation.
Anyway, we’ve been called Touch for 30 years. Releasing vinyl records is just one aspect of what we do. So we get annoyed when people say Touch Records because if nothing else it’s lazy journalism.
[GI] As a photographer, who do you look up to, or over to, for inspiration?
[JW] This is an impossible question. Because it is digital photography as much as digital music that has determined our current situation. I have various strategies I use to reconcile the digital process of originating work. I’m as inspired by some fine art photography I see as I am by a tumblr site. Everything is chaotic. It takes a certain eye and a certain stance to pick the wheat from the chaff. You have the “plus” and “minus” of digital process and the most important thing is to reconcile these two switching elements into something “resolved”, if you can.
[GI] Can you tell me a little about the process in choosing a photo to represent an album, or perhaps, vice versa?
[JW] It’s a tricky thing to explain and it’s maybe in your question about ‘vice versa.’ I see colors and landscapes in music I find touching. When an artist sends me a new work, I (sort of) treat it as a performance; sometimes they take a few moments, some it can take months.
I’d say that for each of our artists, I’ve sort of developed a sense of smell about what is the right image-field for their signature sound. In design terms, it’s the polar opposite of how Peter Saville can operate—he claims to need no reference to the music to find an effective counterpoint. I do admit to trying to extend and intensify this aspect of “parallelism”: it not being the music but the deeper sound behind the music, and how to visually support that in quite an understated but progressive way.
I am quite happy to accept a level of quietness. It takes time…
[GI] As an artist and as and editor of Touch, do you consider your audience’s expectations or do you actively avoid pigeonholing?
[JW] It’s nothing you can control. We of course consider it and do whatever we can to avoid the obvious. Quality control in this sense isn’t anything you can regulate or put in a bottle. I guess the important thing is to try and avoid patronizing your audience in any way.
[GI] In this, your 30th year of Touch, how has the feeling changed for you, if at all?
[JW] Everything is more difficult…! Certain aspects of the production process having become much easier, editorial/curation becomes more vital. Our task has been to balance the impact of the digital music slipstream on our fluidity in working with our artists. Perhaps one equation is to be responsive, not reactive, to the changes in sound and music and see the long-term with optimism.
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