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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

NASA’s 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, it’s not getting any easier for nations to send hunks of metal into the sky, but there’s one space program that’s still thriving, that of Rafael Toral.

The trajectory of Toral’s Space Program has been covered in Dusted’s pages before, and seven years and five albums in, Toral has indicated that this disc marks the end of the project’s first phase. Like its Space Elements predecessors, this third volume focuses on Toral’s Frankenstein electronics in group settings, largely duos and trios. The Space Elements albums are a testament to Toral’s electronics’ ability to play well with others; when considering that project’s dictum that electronic music should be as much about the musician’s input as the instrument’s output, they’re a better example than his solo Space discs. At this juncture in the Space Program’s 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 Toral’s array of modified, modulated, and otherwise mutated electronics with an equally diverse cast of instruments, largely exploring the convergence of the Space Program’s idiosyncratic implements with various members of the percussion family. Toral’s name is the one on the album’s spine, but he’s not always at the music’s fore. On “III.III,” his vibrant squeals and squiggles play politely behind Tatsuya Nakatani’s sparsely spaced resonance. The brief “III.VI” finds Toral going spare and subtle in concert with Toshio Kajiwara’s ghostly lap steel guitar. At times, Toral even goes too quiet, such as “III.V,” on which his filtered feedback circuit is almost an ambient afterthought in subservience to Marco Franco’s crisp and confident drumming.

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

More incongruous timbral collisions can be just as pleasing — see “III.IV” and its pairing of Burago’s claves and shakers with the gamelan-like sound of Victor Gama’s self-invented acrux — but they’re not always so. Toral’s two encounters with the drums of Afonso Simðes bookend Vol. III with the album’s most straightforward forays into the conventions of free jazz, and while Toral is able to keep up with Simðes’ kinetic clatter, his more unruly fluorescent splatter is less compelling. On “III.I,” the music seems to begin to bend against the Space Program’s stated ideals, and Toral’s contributions take on a tone of machine over man, his electrode oscillator’s inherent volatility refusing to be restrained. I can’t shake the image of the Ghostbusters’ 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 doesn’t make for the album’s best music, it’s perhaps the best illustration of the Space Program’s emphasis on the presence of the player in what is being played. No where else on the album is the physicality of Toral’s 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, it’d be disappointing to find Toral completely in control, to find this new frontier scrubbed of its uncertainty. Toral’s been in Space for seven years now, and it’s 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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