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Rafael Toral - Space Elements, Vol. III

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Artist: Rafael Toral

Album: Space Elements, Vol. III

Label: Staubgold

Review date: May. 6, 2011

Rafael Toral - "III.IV" (Space Elements, Vol. III)

NASAís shuttle program is shortly coming to a close, and the proposed Constellation project that was to be its successor has been scuttled by budgetary constraints. Monetary concerns as they are, itís not getting any easier for nations to send hunks of metal into the sky, but thereís one space program thatís still thriving, that of Rafael Toral.

The trajectory of Toralís Space Program has been covered in Dustedís pages before, and seven years and five albums in, Toral has indicated that this disc marks the end of the projectís first phase. Like its Space Elements predecessors, this third volume focuses on Toralís Frankenstein electronics in group settings, largely duos and trios. The Space Elements albums are a testament to Toralís electronicsí ability to play well with others; when considering that projectís dictum that electronic music should be as much about the musicianís input as the instrumentís output, theyíre a better example than his solo Space discs. At this juncture in the Space Programís evolution, Vol. III is notable not for its bracingly new and novel sound, but for how easily and naturally Toral is able to mesh his sound with that of his collaborators.

Space Elements Vol. III marries Toralís array of modified, modulated, and otherwise mutated electronics with an equally diverse cast of instruments, largely exploring the convergence of the Space Programís idiosyncratic implements with various members of the percussion family. Toralís name is the one on the albumís spine, but heís not always at the musicís fore. On ďIII.III,Ē his vibrant squeals and squiggles play politely behind Tatsuya Nakataniís sparsely spaced resonance. The brief ďIII.VIĒ finds Toral going spare and subtle in concert with Toshio Kajiwaraís ghostly lap steel guitar. At times, Toral even goes too quiet, such as ďIII.V,Ē on which his filtered feedback circuit is almost an ambient afterthought in subservience to Marco Francoís crisp and confident drumming.

Space Elements Vol. III finds its greatest strength in similitude. On ďIII.II,Ē Toral, Riccardo Dillon Wanke (Rhodes piano), and Cťsar Burago (small percussion) find a fruitful rapport in peppering percolation, and on ďIII.VII,Ē the trio (this time with Burago on kokiriko) poke through a noir-ish fog. Theyíre as dark and mysterious on the latter as they were pert and peppy on the former, and they prove to be the albumís best combo.

More incongruous timbral collisions can be just as pleasing ó see ďIII.IVĒ and its pairing of Buragoís claves and shakers with the gamelan-like sound of Victor Gamaís self-invented acrux ó but theyíre not always so. Toralís two encounters with the drums of Afonso Simūes bookend Vol. III with the albumís most straightforward forays into the conventions of free jazz, and while Toral is able to keep up with Simūesí kinetic clatter, his more unruly fluorescent splatter is less compelling. On ďIII.I,Ē the music seems to begin to bend against the Space Programís stated ideals, and Toralís contributions take on a tone of machine over man, his electrode oscillatorís inherent volatility refusing to be restrained. I canít shake the image of the Ghostbustersí first attempts at using their proton packs, their vibrant proton streams straining to escape their intended trajectory, with their human wranglers expending visible effort to remain in control.

Though this doesnít make for the albumís best music, itís perhaps the best illustration of the Space Programís emphasis on the presence of the player in what is being played. No where else on the album is the physicality of Toralís performance so palpable. That Space Elements Vol. III can feel a little unhinged is probably a good thing. With the Space Program only partway through its lifespan, itíd be disappointing to find Toral completely in control, to find this new frontier scrubbed of its uncertainty. Toralís been in Space for seven years now, and itís nice to know he still has new frontiers to explore.

By Adam Strohm

Other Reviews of Rafael Toral

Early Works

Harmonic Series 2


Space Solo 1

Space Elements, Vol. 1

Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance

Read More

View all articles by Adam Strohm

Find out more about Staubgold

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