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LOVE (1993)

Rafael Toral plays John Cage. An old project from 1993, unfinished but finally released in 2013 as a free download. Includes a full pdf booklet, versions of Variations II, 4’33” and Cartridge Music, and a live version of Toral’s AER 7 E.

Noise Precision Library (digital release, 2013)
Download includes full pdf booklet

By the late 1980’s i became deeply interested in John Cage. I was in awe of the enormous dimension of his achievement, nothing less than the reshaping of our collective consciousness with respect to how we understand music, silence and sound. His inspirational discoveries are behind a contemporary way of thinking about the musical potential of any sound that we now tend to take for granted.

It has long been my opinion that his deepest, most far-reaching proposition is that “there is no such thing as silence”. He reached this conclusion after being in an anechoic chamber (a completely sound-proof room) and hearing two sounds, which he was later explained were the the sound of his blood circulation and the sound of his nervous system. There is, indeed, no such thing as silence.
Cage soon drew artistic consequences from this fact, writing what i think is the most important, influential and conclusive piece of music ever written, titled 4’33”. During the piece, no sound is played. Often misunderstood as a “silent” piece, the point of it is exactly the opposite — that silence is the infinity of sound. Any and every sound occurring in the four minutes and thirty three seconds of its duration, is the music. The shockwaves of this revolutionary statement from 1952 are still felt today.

By the early 1990’s i decided to record and gather my own versions of some of his pieces, ones in which the preparing process and the score fascinated me most for their openness. It turned out to be, however, an extremely rigorous, disciplined, painstaking work. One of my recording projects (Solo For Voice 23/ 0’00” No. 2, an amplified chess game) went beyond the score (cutting the recording of its performance in several parts and layering them on top of each other with multitracking), so i wrote Mr. Cage a letter explaining my idea and asking for permission to proceed. A few weeks later i was shocked by the news of his death. I felt a big responsibility on my shoulders, for i became more determined to go ahead with the project. As i had a scheduled performance three days later, i dedicated it to him (a fragile acoustic guitar quartet in the middle of a noisy art fair, actually more like a live installation in a way fitting to Cage’s spirit, which i included in LOVE). Later in the following week, a letter arrived in the mailbox, and i was thrilled to find it was from John Cage. I wondered if it was coming from heaven, but it did come from New York… While kindly granting his permission. he wrote an endearing line, “I am very busy these days because of my age”.

In 1993, i started working on the guitar sounds that would later become Wave Field,  then entered recording and production projects one after another, and somehow i ended up never getting to conclude LOVE. I had still intended to record Fontana Mix and Variations III, but never got to work on them (besides 4’33” and Solo For Voice 23, i also recorded Variations II and Cartridge Music). I see some lack of integrity in this, that i would not tolerate today — for lack of integrity is an obstacle to evolution.

Throughout many years i have been sharing findings and accidents in the path with my great friend Sei Miguel, from whose staggering lucidity and deep wisdom i have been lucky to learn a lot. He claims that my having introduced him to Cage’s music (in the mid nineties) was hugely influential to his music writing.
By the early 2000’s i felt a sense of completion in my own work and decided to start a new direction, one based on free individual (but disciplined) decisions, in a way inspired by jazz. One evening, as we talked about how i had grown some distance from Cage and became more interested in jazz, he shared an insightful vision: There was a limit, a threshold that Cage always refused to go beyond. Having devoted most of his life giving up control of his music through chance operations and other indeterminacy strategies, his output would always be a score to be performed, always having remained a composer, that is, maintaining a “classic”  composer-to-performer hierarchy. If wanting to let go of control, why not, then, create space in his structures of composition where musicians could make their own phrasing decisions? Had he crossed that line, he would have entered the realm of jazz… I noted this is exactly what i took distance from, for i was interested in exploring that “other side” — even while being part of the collective consciousness that Cage transformed so radically and keeping a deep sense of gratitude for his discoveries and teachings, which are now part of my DNA.

While the LOVE tapes remained stored in a drawer since 1993, i always believed it would see the daylight at some point. As a humble contribution to celebrating John Cage’s 101th birthday (i missed the 100th), i decided to release the incomplete recording project, offered as a free download in digital format.

Rafael Toral
Lisboa, February 1, 2013