CD - 50:15
Considered by the Chicago Reader to be "one of the most gifted and innovative guitarists of the decade", Rafael Toral has been developing in the last 15 years a unique sound world, having been as influenced by Alvin Lucier and Brian Eno as by Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. Using the guitar as part of a complex electronic instrument, Toral has collaborated with Jim O'Rourke, John Zorn, Sonic Youth, Rhys Chatham and Phill Niblock and played in many European countries and in several states in the US. He's also a member of MIMEO, the electronic orchestra featuring Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, Peter Rehberg, Kaffe Matthews and many others.VDCA is a collection of ten small pieces crafted by Toral with extreme precision and care through the last seven years. Using guitars and analogue technology, it can be described as Toral's best work, embodying all the directions he explored in his previous critically acclaimed records, "Sound Mind Sound Body" [Moikai, USA], "Wave Field" [dexter’s cigar/drag city, USA] and "Aeriola Frequency" [Perdition Plastics, USA] but taking them into new dimensions.
LEE RANALDO: I think the most interesting thing about Raphael is that he lives out on the end of the world, which is about how isolated Portugal is, even for the rest of Europe, and that he has managed to forge some sort of interest and trajectory for himself in the esoteric realm of "new" music. He's a young man forging ideas out of what he has heard and read about, and has a good set of ears and knows what he's listening to. (He's) rather scientific in his approach...
JIM O'ROURKE: Rafael is a really good guy with a good ear, I think, and a sense of timing and density that is a luxury to find. He is a swell, honest person too.
This is his first album for Touch. The highly evocative intricate and subtle guitar drones are captured in the beautiful photography of Heitor Alvelos, a Portuguese artist, and in the artwork of Jon Wozencroft.
The background noise on track 10 is a recording of silence during a Space Shuttle mission real time webcast. All other sounds were released by electric guitars. The album was recorded between 1993 and 2000 and mastered at Noise Precision, Lisbon.
2. Measurement of Noise
3. Quiet mind
4. Maersk Line
6. Optical flow
7. Energy Nourish
8. Hay que trabajo me cuesta quererte como te quiero
9. We Are Getting Closer
10. Mixed States Uncoded
Design: Jon Wozencroft
The electric guitar is the perfect bridge between electric and acoustic sonic worlds and between humans and electric technology. The guitar as icon of the bridge between musical worlds in the age of electricity was evoked in at least two other FCMM presentations this year. The Media Lounge performance by Rafael Toral featured the use of electric guitars to create sonic textures through the simple vibration of the strings, feedback with amplifiers, and the harmonics that can be produced through both of these methods. Letting the guitars speak for themselves, propped up against their amplifiers,
Toral kept his hands on the effects box and mixer to gently coerce the ringing guitar tones into sound sculptures that meandered through various states of change over the course of the set. Toral directly addresses the place of the electric guitar in contemporary music, using it here as a bridge between traditional performance and electronic manipulation the way the same instrument once pushed the boundaries between the acoustic and electrified creation of sound. [Randolph Jordan, Montreal, Dec. 2001]
Since the mid-'00s, Portugal's Rafael Toral has been working on his "Space Program," a planned ten-disc exploration of homemade electronics and collaborative improvisation that brings together his love of early free-jazz and pioneering doohickery. Prior to this, Toral's calling card was his incredibly deft touch at turning guitar work into staggeringly beautiful vistas of hue and tone. Violence of Discovery was originally released by Touch in 2000 and, as this reissue proves, remains his crowning achievement in that field. Most of the pieces meditate on the vibration of strings, using them as a basis to tease and sculpt harmonious forms out of the generative accidents. Despite the EFX-driven processes, Toral's results feel organic and simple, like vivid descriptions of slow blossoms or clouds bursting. The album grows more organized and musical as it unfolds, culminating in "Mixed States Uncoded," an actually "played" guitar piece that could have been lifted from My Bloody Valentine's Loveless sessions. From start to finish this is a work of art. [Eric Hill]
"Drone" is the word writers and listeners use these days when dealing with music that deals in either extended, immersive tones, open-ended long-form works, or some combination of the two. Fifteen years ago, the word was "Ambient." Neither, unfortunately, really works for me, as they seem to be the end of analysis rather than the beginning. Rafael Toral knows this phenomenon well (his music has been described as both), and while he admits their usefulness as catch-all descriptors, he, too, is not satisfied with how they limit the music under discussion. “It describes only one aspect of sound, its duration, not its inner complexity and focus,” he said, in a 2006 interview in The Wire. “Can you imagine someone coming up with the term ‘short-note music’? Or, referring to piano music, ‘decay music’?”
Drone and Ambient are two labels that certainly do not apply to the music Toral has produced in the past decade, a concept of performance and research he has dubbed the "Space Program." But the quote above was directed more at the discussion that surrounded his pre-Space Program work, such as Wave Field, Aeriola Frequency and Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance, originally released in 2001 and now reissued by Touch.
In many ways, Violence... is simultaneously a culmination as well as an overview of the decade or so Toral spent re-imagining the guitar. The 10 pieces here each trace their own slow trajectory through imperceptible harmonic changes, textural refinement and inaccessible machine-like logic. Some use a pointillist sense to build drawn-out melodies, some contrast glassy high-frequencies with bubbling undercurrents. Toral also utilizes the full spectrum of frequencies and dynamics, with rumbling lows and long, soft codas. The fact that the longest piece here is only eight and a half minutes, and most don’t top four, doesn’t stop each from evoking their own shade of wonder and charm.
So if not necessarily about duration and immersion, what are the 10 pieces here about? First of all, they are about resonance (the power of which Toral says he fully grasped after hearing Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”). That is, they explore how sound behaves in a space and how it in turn affects us psychologically. They are also about release, about not only how we interact with technology, but how we give up control and allow technology to interact among itself. In Toral’s case, that means how his guitars, filters and pedals all feedback and speak to each other, seemingly without intervention by him.
It’s in this undefined and unplanned communication that, despite their similar lengths, the real difference between a regular pop song or rock tune and a piece like, say, “Optical Flow” lies. It’s only three minutes long, but a moment-to-moment complexity and unpredictability emerges, even if the whole remains somehow stable and intuitive. Attention shifts from the macro to the micro level, perception keener but somehow more expansive. What music as rich and subtle as Toral’s teaches us on Violence... is that just because we don’t have the words ready or the tools at hand to describe and interpret the sounds, it doesn’t mean we should put off the search. [Matthew Wuethrich]
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