(New Album Review) Rafael Toral- Space Collective 2
Portuguese sound artist Rafael Toral is self-taught, something that, for three decades, has always reflected in the fearlessly exploratory spirit of his consistently striking output, once focused on richly-textured guitar-based drones, now on a hands-on praxis to even more rough and abstract electronic experimentation. It is fitting that Toral, who labored without much encouragement in the years leading up to his full-length debut Sound Mind Sound Body, would deliberately steer down a seemingly completely fresh path, considering how his work comes from a love of trying to forge new tools for new ways of speaking. The Space Program series, which Toral began to work on around 2003, is sometimes a solo effort, other times a collaborative one with any number of friends from the always-expanding Space Collective; what unites the project as a whole is its underlying goal to form a stylistic analogue to free jazz by way of rudimentary electronic tools (generally an oscillator and a modified amp meant for generating feedback controlled by light-sensors). Space Collective 2 is a recording of a performance by Toral and drummer Afonso Simões made at the 2012 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, finally seeing a physical release through a limited run of tapes off the always excellent Notice Recordings.
This may very well be the perfect entry point for one new to the Space Program. I actually saw Toral give a solo performance in October at The Projection Museum, an art studio and living space right at the edge of Northeast Portland on Burnside, at the invitation of a friend, and while one does get a very visceral sense of what Toral means when he says he wants to make a more humanized, meaningfully expressive version of electronic music by emphasizing a sense of precise control over his tools in his solo performances, something about this 2012 collective effort stylistically falls into a place, if for the fullness of its sound. As Side A gets underway, Simões gives Toral room to breathe, offsetting Toral’s exploratory stabs into the silence with distant thunder. With an electronic shriek, the gates of sane madness open and that silence explodes into a whirlwind of violence, with Simões’s frantic strokes keeping time with Toral’s Braxton-like sonic attack. It’s a startling synthesis to behold (the actual sight of Toral yanking piercing cries out of these unassuming-looking handheld boxes is mesmerizing, I might add), but at the same time it’s one that makes one wonder why it was not stumbled upon before Toral took the leap. This is experimental electronic music operating at a higher level of deliberation and thoughtfulness than nearly everything else in sound synthesis and free improvisation– an essential document and a real pleasure to see getting a proper release.