All music guide

It seems that, from now on, Rafael Toral’s discography will have to be filed under pre- and post-Space. Yes, his second album for Staubgold is that big a departure from his earlier sound. After spending years building a solid reputation as a soundscape guitarist, here Toral ditches the guitar altogether and renovates his instrumentarium and approach from basement to attic. Space introduces an array of self-built electronic instruments and controllers, here multi-tracked to form an orchestra of sorts. Some sounds are clearly computer-driven — morphing textures, for instance — while others have a more direct, percussive and hands-on feel, evoking the simple beating of a microphone or contact mic. To these two “categories,” one must add a gamut of vintage analog “space” sounds — anything you would instinctively associate with ’60s space-age music. Toral’s use of these elements also involves a lot of, well, space: silence, wide stereo spatialization, and other tricks to give the impression of infinite depth and interstellar void. For listeners familiar with his previous works the shock is brutal, but once you get used to the retro-futuristic sound palette, the composer’s touch starts shining through: skillful thematic development, dizzying passages, nice contrasts between activity and calm. In the last of the three extended pieces, just as the listener has settled comfortably in the assumption that they “get it,” Toral throws a curveball with the introduction of trumpet and trombone adding a strong jazz flavor to his cosmic experiments — without taking us anywhere near cosmic jazz as a genre. Space is successful as a stand-alone proposition. Time will tell if it holds up as a new artistic direction.
François Couture