2008 Pacific tour

A mesmerizing flight path, arching across Northern Siberia, kept the airplane always at the rim of Earth's shadow area, that was like surfing the edge of the night, actually contouring it…

Space Studies


18 Seoul, South Korea
20 Fukuoka, Japan
21 Oita, Japan
22 Kokura, Japan
23 Kyoto, Japan
25 Tokyo, Japan
26 Tokyo, Japan
28 Dunedin, New Zealand
29 Christchurch, New Zealand
30 Wellington, New Zealand

2 Auckland, New Zealand
3 Lismore, Australia
4 Brisbane, Australia
5 Adelaide, Australia
6 Melbourne, Australia



Space Study 2 – Modified MS-2 amplifier

Space Study 6 – Electrode oscillator with modular filter

Space Study 5e – Modified MT-10 amplifier







This time i managed to keep my luggage compact, so airport check-in was quick and easy, just as the flight to Frankfurt was. Here, at the 747’s boarding gate to Seoul i could readily sense a change of traveling scale. Lots of people, appearing to live in faraway places, holding passports of distant countries, not so much the European type of people one finds on these short flights…
It wasn't the most comfortable flight, with this fat German man always invading my (already narrow) space. Yes, space, here's one thing the Space Program is about. That guy was a source of saturation and noise.
A mesmerizing flight path, arching across Northern Siberia, kept the airplane always at the rim of Earth's shadow area, that was like surfing the edge of the night, actually contouring it… south of the plane it was night in Russia, north was a suspended sunset, for hours… like peeking over the planet's shoulder to keep an eye on the Sun, and no clocks made any sense, time was accelerating fast from flying East, gliding past eight time zones but totally suspended at the same time…


18 Seoul
Our 747 landed in Seoul under a wash of heavy rain. I couldn't see much of the huge, beautiful, organic-shaped Incheon Airport. I soon discovered that i had no roaming signal there, and couldn't find Sung-Eun (curator of the INSA Art Space) either, so i called her from a pay-phone. While i was talking to her describing my location, there she was right in front of me… We walked out of the building, and that's a moment i've learned to enjoy: the first breath of air in a new country. It was a warm, very humid air, and it kept raining. She drove us through a long highway into the center of Seoul, which seemed fascinating. We stopped at a small, family like restaurant for a bowl of spicy udon noodles in a milky soup, with chimchi (typically Korean entree, a sort of half-pickled cabbage with a hot red sauce). On to the INSA Art Space, where there was this big canvas poster with my name on above the door, wow…
There began the ritual/ routine of unpacking everything and plugging and patching it all together, almost everyday. The technicians there were intrigued about the coil spring. It was hard to do this setup/ rehearsal right upon arrival, i was desperate to crash in bed, for i had been awake for more than 24 hours now (except an hour of uncomfortable sleep on the plane)… finally i was able to get in the room i was staying in, actually a very nice residency apartment, and had a refreshing one-hour nap.
Eventually it was showtime, and i played in a still pretty tired state, but sometimes i play better tired, there's some sense of abandon and relax that brings up different results… anyway the performance was actually quite decent, and i got several enthusiastic responses from the audience, mostly from the local Sound-art scene. One person told me he had had a new "vision of the universe", which i found both amusing and touching, because he was meaning it. There was a kind of reception party upstairs with food and drinks, a very nice, friendly, uplifting mood.


I slept late next morning and woke up really slowly. Went out to find a place to have lunch, which i did after walking a bit around, near Anguk station. A narrow back street full of restaurants. I had a delicious salad with seaweed and bits of raw fish, pickled vegetables with spicy sauce, miso soup and rice. Then i took a long walk around Jongno Gu and eventually found the enormous Kwang Jang market, amazing… clothing, cutlery, pharmacy, vegetables, electronics, clocks… like a small city with labyrinthian alleys and narrow streets, people cooking along the central ways. There was an alley with consecutive stories selling nothing but batteries of all kinds and shapes.
Got back late, for a dinner appointment with Sung-Eun, who kindly agreed to take me and try a typical dish in Seoul: live octopus. A daunting sight, a plate full of curling, revolving tentacles… Definitely an experience to remember, the small suction cups sticking to the tongue and lips… it was actually delicious, and made me think of the ethical implications of eating a living being alive, but i soon realized that our sensibility to such issues is measured by consciousness and knowledge (or ignorance). We don't know that much about vegetable’s feelings, so we tend to think it's ok to eat them. We're just animals, after all.
I still ended the evening walking in the streets, and stopped by a stand on a corner which had left me curious in the afternoon. They had strange items among which some sheets of pressed dry fish and the thing i got, a bunch of squid tentacles that i thought were dried, but it turns out they had a kind of dry sweet seasoning and were then grilled right before me. Absolutely delicious. Still got to a supermarket and bought a bottle of sake the same brand we had at dinner. Later i enjoyed the rest of these squids with sake by the apartment window, gazing at Seoul skyline…





20 Fukuoka
Again woke up very slowly, and had breakfast. I was heading to the airport on my own, taking the bus at Anguk to the impressive Incheon Airport. The flight to Fukuoka was short and easy. It was raining there, pretty humid but warm weather in Kyushu, Japan's southern island. Shayne Bowden was expecting me, and we rode bus and subway straight to the venue, Tetra Art Space. He had to distribute some flyers in record stores, so i went along with him. The owner of Popmusik store was very nice and had me sign the wall.
The concert was ok, followed by a talk and questions from the audience. I tried to explain some features and issues in my work, while thinking to myself "here i am talking about meaningful silence in phrasing, while the concept of 'ma' is Japanese, they probably know what i'm talking about better than myself"… but it was a very nice session, gave me confidence for the lecture in Tokyo days later.
We all left to dinner, one of those moments of sheer happiness (isn't sashimi a bit of condensed happiness?), a long and rich Japanese dinner with sashimi, yakitori, sake, and what else, everybody in a good, friendly mood.


21 Oita
Rainy day, sticky weather. After a morning at Shayne's place listening to some of his Japanese free jazz collection, we got a taxi to the train station, and so began the Japan train-based tour. It's funny how Japanese fast-food can be healthy and delicious, like the nori seaweed-wrapped rice balls, onigiri.
We left the Shinkansen (aka "bullet train") in Oita, heading straight to At Hall. While waiting for sound-check, i called my cell phone provider on skype, trying to figure out why i still hadn't gotten any roaming signal. It turned out i needed a different plan, so no phone and no sms for the rest of the tour. To make things better, i had experienced some radio interference on my wireless microphone, and it seemed to me that Japan's radio spectrum was different from Europe's, but in Oita the receiver just stopped receiving any signal – even with the transmitter one meter away. I used it in two of the 3 pieces i was performing. I was prepared to play the MS-2 amp "wired", but the MT-10 "bender" sounds awful when plugged in with a cable, with lots of AC hum.
I noticed this girl who arrived shortly after we finished sound-check and waited patiently for showtime, about an hour… I was feeling bad she was waiting so long and was about to tell her "sorry for the delay" while heading for the stage, but she quickly took her seat.
Shayne was doing the Kyushu tour with me, and opened his act with a sonic barrage of droney noise, screaming into overloaded mics and facing a pair of 120 W Roland amps. Intense stuff with genuine energy. My set was better than in Fukuoka. After the show, Yuki (the waiting girl) came and asked if i would sign her notebook, i said "sure, of course", and she told me to sign the cover of the notebook, which i found pretty touching.
After packing up we all went for dinner, musicians, staff and audience members who had paid ticket, which i found extraordinary. Another wonderful, delicious Japanese dinner, in such a friendly and happy mood. Shayne, a Fukuoka-based australian told me "enjoy, they won't feed you like this in Australia"…


22 Kokura
Shayne and i stayed in a cheap but very comfortable hotel by the station. We got on the train to Kokura, but decided to explore the hot springs near Beppu. Leaving the gear in expensive lockers at Beppu station we got into a local bus to Hyotan Onsen in Hannaka. There were columns of rising steam everywhere in the village. There were several hot baths at Hyotan, with different kinds of water at different temperatures and environments, including a waterfall bath… one highlight was the hot sand bath, in a room smelling warm wood. wrapped in a yukata robe, it felt like a sauna, lying in a hotbed and covered with hot sand… what an incredible experience, i walked out of the Onsen feeling like i was born again, feeling deeply purified.
Back to Beppu station, we grabbed bento boxes (which in trains they abbreviate as "eki-ben") and jumped on the Shinkansen to Kokura. The evening was great, although a light dimmer noise in the AC made the wired bender sound even worse. Even so, my sets are getting better. Shayne had to get back to Fukuoka on the last train, while i enjoyed dinner with the Kokura people at a Korean restaurant. I tried some stuff i had missed in Seoul, but i felt Korean food in Japan is not as good as in Korea…







23 Kyoto
Stayed at a very comfortable hotel, but with a miserable breakfast. Woke up feeling a bit tired. Time to go on by myself, without Shayne's support. He was very generous and helpful, i would hardly have done the Kyushu tour without him. The weather changed, now it's drier and almost sunny, which is good. I got on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. One of the train stops was Hiroshima. From the train it looked like a large, beautiful city, busy as Japanese cities are. It was a horrifying image to recall than an atomic bomb had been dropped there. What a different feeling from just knowing about it, to be there and look at the city with my own eyes.
Arriving in Kyoto, i got a taxi, an old driver with white gloves who dropped me at the corner of Cafe Independants, but since i was at the corner i couldn't d see it and for a minute i felt pretty unsure where i was. But there it was, Katsura Mouri and Kimiho Mori were expecting me at the excellent Parallax record store behind the performance space. My friend Yoshio Machida was also performing tonight with his band Miimo. This was a larger space than the ones in the Kyushu tour, and the room was full. A very warm audience, gave me confidence. I've been fortunate to achieve consecutively successful performances of the Space Program.


Katsura and Kimiho kindly drove me across Kyoto all the way to the opposite (northwest) end of the city, to the Ryoanji temple, where the famous rock garden is located. It was an amazing experience, like a key to your mind, as if inviting you to tap into the wisdom that you already have and letting it surface, like looking at your thoughts. I spent nearly 3 hours there and the more i stayed the less i wanted to leave… later i walked up to Kinkakuji, aka the Golden Pavillion, but i was very unimpressed. I was actually happy for the richest spiritual experience i could ever have hoped for from Kyoto.
At a garden by the exit, i enjoyed a take-away raw octopus salad with onigiri, before taking the bus back to downtown. Met Katsura and Kimiho again there and they took me to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where each table had a touch screen for ordering other dishes. The ordered items arrived on a Shinkansen shaped tray on a magnetic track. You take the dishes, press a button and there goes the “Shinkansen” back to the kitchen…





25 Tokyo
The last Shinkansen ride… same humid, foggy weather, gliding fast past misty mountains covered with many types of forest patches including giant bamboo canes, and countless fields of rice. I’m slightly amused by the fact that this is now the third time that i pass by Mt. Fuji (Fujiyama) and i’ve still never seen it. It’s either too cloudy or i’m looking at the other side or i’m sleeping.
Atsuhiro Ito, famous for his impressive "optron" (a fluorescent light bulb he manually activates and plugs into electronic devices) kindly met me at the Tokyo station and we got into Tokyo's complex subway system towards Sendagaya, where Loop Line is situated.
Loop Line is a small place which gets full of interesting people. Besides Atsuhiro himself, Tetuzi Akiyama and Christophe Charles were also playing, a very diverse evening. Before the concert we had some delicious soba noodles just across the street.. It was good to see my friend Satoshi Morita again, as well as Toshimaru Nakamura and Naoaki Miyamoto.
I played the same set i've been playing: Space Study 2 (feedback with modified MS-2 portable amplifier), the new Space Study 6 (electrode oscillator with modular filter system) and this part of the Space Study 5 "suite" that almost became a piece on its own, the "bender solo" (on modified MT-10 amp). I use the amplified coil too, but today the plug has a bad contact which made a curiously rhythmic noise. I paused and let the noise play itself for a while. I had been playing the bender plugged into the mixer (with awful AC hum), but since the room was small and had good acoustics, i decided to play it "acoustic", only with the amplifier's own little speaker. After the show Satoshi and i went out to eat something and talk for a while. A quick train ride took me back to Iidabashi station where Christophe picked me up.


26 Tokyo
I enjoyed a very slow morning and breakfast, catching up on email (everything is happening, details on concerts after the tour, interview requests, last minute info on next tour stops, family, etc.). I left for Musashino Art University, where i was expected to talk for students. It was pretty far away from Tokyo center, took 90 minutes to get there. When i arrived there was this nice poster with my photo on and the catchy title "Rafael Toral – New practices in electronic music". Strangely, i believe what i do is new, but there's nothing new in what i do. Anyway – the talk was in a studio and it got full of students, some 120 people were there. I don't feel much at ease when it comes to talk, at least if presented as a lecture. I proposed to share some of my concerns and practice, and i've actually surprised myself that i was able to do it. I played a short set and after that a Q&A session took place. I find it important to share ideas through talking, so this session was a leap forward for me. I felt i could articulate the basic ideas of the Space Program in a structured way.






Another slow morning, this time catching up on sleep, of which i've been having not enough. I had a meeting at the ICC with Minoru Hatanaka (super cool curator who brought me to Japan in 2003) and Jim O'Rourke, who i have the fortune of being a friend of. We had a delicious soba and Jim shared a fantastic ebi (shrimp) tempura. It was great seeing both. After Minoru returned to work, Jim and i sat for a long while talking. He's always so busy that i felt privileged. I was happy to find he didn't change much. The same bright, generous spirit. It got late and i had to rush, because it was time to leave Japan… I learned to find my way on Tokyo's transport system, which once looked so complex and labyrinthian to me. Well, after all it's not that different from any other great city. So there i was at Narita airport… glad to fly on Japan Airlines again. After being spoiled with a whole week of delicious, fresh, healthy food, the dinner on the Boeing 747 was a bit crappy, but made it up with 2 bottles of good sake.


28 Dunedin, New Zealand
Landed in Brisbane airport early next morning, and i immediately felt i was in Australia, from people's faces, the kind of things for sale at the stores, etc. I had to sort out an issue with the boarding pass for the connection flight to Dunedin, New Zealand. I was excited about coming there for the first time, and also for entering a new phase in the tour, different places, different audiences, different food, different weather. The arrival was very nice, even after all my gear having been thoroughly searched (they must have found it too weird that this guy from remote Portugal with a suspicious black case was coming from Korea and Japan, so i was instantly "selected" for control). The gallery i was playing in had booked a pickup service called "Classic Jaguars". An old driver was expecting me and drove this beautiful Jaguar all the way into Dunedin, while telling stories about the first settlers, their travels and old architecture in Dunedin. He dropped me at the motel and i took some time to settle down, felling a bit tired after the night-long travel from Tokyo. It's winter in the South hemisphere, and this is not only a rainy day, it's also pretty cold! I went to the gallery to setup, and as i unpacked i thought i'd give a try on the wireless mic, maybe the radio spectrum here is different. Plugged it in, and there it was, full radio signal!
It was a busy time, between sound-check, eating something, a radio interview recording, the performance… it got late, so no dinner. It was freezing cold. John helped me finding a Japanese restaurant that was closed but kindly offered to prepare some takeaway food, that i ended the night with at the motel.


29 Christchurch
At the gallery, Lynda Cullen (the curator) asked me if i would take Sally with me on the drive up to Christchurch, which i found a pleasant idea and would make it easier find my way. She showed up by 9:30 at the motel, after a terribly poor breakfast. I realized this was Sunday morning, which explained why was it getting so hard to rent a car. Eventually we made it, but left pretty late, past noon. This was my first experience driving left side, and i got it ok, although a bit confusing at the beginning… Beautiful landscapes unfolded, as soon as we left the city. We stopped at Shag Point, a small fisher village with a homely feeling restaurant. We just meant to stop for a coffee, but as we looked at the food on the tables we were tempted to try some, although the schedule was tight. The friendly staff there suggested a seafood chowder, and it turned out to be one of the most delicious meals i ever tasted. Next stop was the Moeraki boulders, a beach with scattered spherical shaped volcanic rocks larger than a washing machine. They looked like miniature planets, worn out, some cracked, quite an otherworldly sight. Back on the road up north, more and more beautiful scenery, although the weather was rainy. It got dark, and i drove hours on heavy traffic and poor conditions. When we finally arrived in Christchurch, i was pretty tired. Mr. Bruce Russell, a pioneering musician from the Dead C was at The Physics Room door. I setup the gear fast. It was even colder than Dunedin, freezing cold. Kate Montgomery and Vanessa Coxhead, the beautiful organizing team, showed up meanwhile. It's always good to meet people who you've been emailing for months. Bruce opened with a vocal, organic sounding drone from an electromagnetic radio feedback loop, which was great. He kindly offered me to stay at his place in Lyttelton, in an old  and huge volcano crater. I was so cold that i didn't even dare to take my clothes off before crashing in bed.


New Zealand, South Island



30 Wellington
After a short tour of Lyttelton, Bruce showed me the way to the airport, and i had to stop by a gas station to fill the tank. Delivery at the airport was simple and easy. I decided to fly to Wellington, on the North Island, for driving would just take too long. The original idea was to drive all across New Zealand. The flight was short and beautiful, with lots of high mountains below. Jeff Henderson was picking me up at the airport, and drove across beautiful Wellington up to his place, which was up on a hillside overlooking the bay, what an amazing view! After a strong coffee at his place we went on the Happy bar, a warm, comfortable and friendly place, with a small stage and couches. They had a soldering iron, so i could fix that plug in the coil spring, it actually had a broken wire. Dinner was on a Thai restaurant, where they had this amusing distinction between "hot" and "Thai hot", which meant truly hot. So i asked mine "Thai medium", but it was pretty hot anyway… Back to the bar, Daniel Beban played a boiling, volcanic set, with tape loops and speakers facing up on a table on which he poured beans and other things, making a nicely fitting organic rattling. After my set, we played a trio, since Jeff had his tenor there. It was great fun.





2 Auckland
In the morning Jeff helped me rent another car, for the long drive to Auckland, which would take two days through gorgeous places. Some of the highlights were a pipe at dusk on a deserted Lake Taupo shore, Huka Falls and the Craters of the Moon. However, the weather wasn't the best for sightseeing, it was grey and hazy and rained a lot. Many miles of not particularly pleasant driving. Anyway – at some point i gave up sightseeing and just headed straight to Auckland, where i arrived early. I met Zoe from the Audio Foundation, who organized the gig, and she showed me the gallery space, a shiny and reverberant white box. She asked "are the acoustics ok?" and i replied the acoustics are always ok, that's just one of the variables i have to deal with everyday and adapt to… I met Rosy Parlane, and later Dean Roberts joined for dinner, it was great to see him again. Adam Willets played a very lively set with radio interference and Wii controllers, having it dedicated to Michel Waisvisz, extraordinaire electronics inventor who sadly left us a few weeks ago.
My set in Auckland had parts that i had never played before.
By this time i began feeling tired of the tour with accumulated fatigue. Driving so many hours in rainy weather really drained my energy away. Auckland felt such an interesting city that i regretted not having flown directly, but i refocused on the positive and unique experiences i had with the drive.


New Zealand, North Island



3 Lismore, Australia
Up at 6:20 am to get to the airport on time and deliver the car. I got there just in time to board the 747 to Brisbane. In Brisbane i was expected by my friend and generous architect of a large part of the tour, Lawrence English. We were fulfilling an idea we'd had two years ago, having me coming to Australia and perform at the Liquid Architecture festival he's curating. He was at the airport with my MIMEO colleague Marcus Schmickler, who had just arrived from Germany an hour before. Later at his place, Mike (great bass player on A Taste of Teeth) picked us up for driving down to Lismore, a town about 2 hours south of Brisbane. In Lismore there was this vegetarian place with outstanding pies, i had 2 different ones, both excellent.
Ended the evening very tired and sleepy, and Rex (Sound Crucible curator) drove us to his place by the sea, not far from Ballina. There was the bed i had been dreaming about for the last 2 hours, and crashed after another too long day.


4 Brisbane
Next morning we went to Byron Bay, enjoying a beautiful seashore landscape. Up by the lighthouse we spotted some whales and later a group of dolphins having fun riding waves. We had lunch at the Bay Leaf and for a change i got a thick hamburger with a nice salad. It reminded me of this hamburger place in Manhattan. And we drove back to Brisbane, straight to the Powerhouse, an arts center that once was what its name suggests. Really nice place, well equipped and with balconies overlooking the river. The room had a 6 channel surround system, although i just play mono. It had a comfortable feel, with a carpet and pillows scattered on the floor. Maybe too comfortable. I got to think about how appropriate that setting was. Pillows on the floor are good for enjoying an immersive sound experience, but what i'm doing is actually different, it's all about focus and attention. I felt a bit overexposed with people lying on the floor just a meter away from where i was standing. Strange feeling – it didn't hurt the performance but it certainly didn't make it better. Whatever, it was a great evening and the collective sense of togetherness was far more important than what i felt like. There i was in Brisbane, participating in a long awaited event. The mood in the room was great, full of positive energy and Lawrence was happy. I had a chat with him at the lovely balcony about this record titled "Pacific Hybrid" that i intend to record for his label, Room 40.


5 Adelaide
I couldn't change to a later flight time to Adelaide, the only option was an early one. Lawrence was really kind, woke me up at 6:45 am to drive me to the airport. It was a Qantas flight, the crew was nice. In Adelaide, South Australia, i was expected by Daniel, a guitarist with an impressive collection of pedals. We stopped by the record store where Lenin Simos – the organizer of today's gig – was working. An avid music collector, he's knowledgeable and enthusiastic about things that i didn't even know existed. The Jade Monkey is a nice, welcoming bar. Like any bar, it has plenty of noise. Bars are not appropriate settings for this music either, but i usually survive the adverse conditions typical of bars.
Dan used his complex guitar setup to play a warm-toned droney looping set. It was getting late and i woke up early, couldn't help falling asleep halfway… It got so late we missed dinner, but at 2 am all i wanted was to crash in bed…


6 Melbourne
Fortunately i could sleep late in the morning… Lenny and Dan both took me to the airport, where i got to fly towards the last stop in the tour – Melbourne. Robin Fox was waiting for me at the airport, in his old yellow Mercedes. We had some coffee and chat at the rooftop bar on the building where the Toff in Town, the venue i was playing in, was. Driving into the city i could enjoy Melbourne's architecture, light and movement, i was feeling good about it. Then i took a walk down Swanston St, crossed the bridge over the river and i was delighted about how beautiful Melbourne is. Great architecture, old and new, a sense of wide scale and proportion, and the sunset light, it was a perfect moment and allowed me to feel the city. I felt great, as if Melbourne were recharging my energy. The Toff felt really nice, a nicely scaled and very comfortable stage with a high quality sound system. Robin was playing with Anthony Pateras, their sound-check sounded great and promising. We went to a Chinese place next door where they had good dumplings and were joined by Marco Fusinato, whom i had been in touch with years ago but had never met. Oren Ambarchi, to whom i owe having set up this wonderful evening, was touring in Europe. In a relaxed mood, i had plenty of time and a glass of red wine and at some point Robin and Anthony started their set, advertised as “Breakneck pacing, vocal hysterics, blistering textures, bodily functions/dysfunctions and more”, which was pretty accurate. They were awesome, i loved having seen them live. I was feeling so well and relaxed, my set started flowing well and grew in intensity, the phrasing unfolding in perfect flux. It was soon clear to me that this was the best performance of the whole tour besides a really happy evening. Thanks Melbourne, i must come back…


In the morning Robin drove me and his friend Gabriela (a student from Guatemala who was there yesterday, happy that i could speak Spanish) to have breakfast out. Back to his place, a refreshing shower got me ready for the long journey back. As Robin drove to the airport, i was feeling the strong energy recharge i got from Melbourne, i felt now i could go on playing more shows. But that energy didn't keep me from being very homesick now, i was really missing home. Although the weather in Australia was much nicer than in New Zealand, i really missed Lisbon's sunny warmth. The travel took 25 hours, through Singapore and Frankfurt, and i arrived home without quite knowing which day it was. I just had a day to reset the clock, before heading of to Zaragoza's Expo 2008…