get it here:
CD Bandcamp
release date:

May 11, 2018

  • Lisboa I
  • Porto
  • Coimbra
  • Lisboa II

Space Quartet (2018)

After the conclusion of the 13-year-long Space Program series, Space Quartet marks a new horizon in Rafael Toral’s ongoing music explorations. Referring both to a record and a band configuration, Space Quartet embodies a maturing moment for the Portuguese musician. As one of the most internationally-recognized figures in the leftfield domains of music, Toral describes the album as “an advanced application of the Space Program principles”: electronic music with a human touch. Over the years, Toral developed a jazz-like phrasing using abstract electronics. Operating within the context of a typical quartet, Space Quartet features the interplay of two electronic voices, one played by himself, on melodic feedbacks and hacked amplifiers, and one by Ricardo Webbens, on modular synthesizer and other custom stuff; rounding out the quartet is the versatile Hugo Antunes on double bass and the inventive drums of João Pais Filipe, who also plays gongs and bells of his own making. The electronics are the driving core of the ambitious Space Quartet, setting it apart from many examples of electronics in jazz. Inspired by some of the principles and methods of enigmatic master Sei Miguel, the music develops solely according to the musicians’ free decisions. The result is a sense of flux and ever-renewing forward motion, continuously unfolding into new places, through spirit and matter from jazz-rock to ambient music and “the singing of standards from another planet” (Toral dixit). One thing is for sure: you’ve never heard anything like this before.



Rafael Toral is renowned for treating electronic instruments as solo or lead instruments, liberating them from the textural roles they often play in improvised music. Having completed his decade-long Space Program in 2017, the Portuguese musician is now working on applying the ideas and practices developed in that project to more expansive musical contexts.

Space Quartet teams Toral with regular collaborators João Pais Filipe (drums and percussion) and Ricardo Webbens (modular and network synthesizers), with double bassist Hugo Antunes completing the line-up. One way of viewing the Space Quartet is as a free jazz band in which the electronics take on the frontline role of the horns. There are moments where the staccato spurts and arcing tones recall a trumpet or saxophone, but perhaps that’s just my brain trying to make sense of these alien sounds.

As a performer, Toral explodes the cliché of the electronic musician as stony-faced knob twiddler by dramatically wielding his axe of choice — a modified Marshall pocket amplifier which he manipulates with a photo cell torch to produce an array of feedback tones. That instrument plays a major role on Space Quartet, alongside a circuit-bending Fender pocket amp and a modular feedback circuit. “Lisboa I” opens with inquisitive electronic skirls that sound not unlike the bamboo flute improvisations of Don Cherry, keening but rounded and airy. But for the faint metallic gleam and occasional glitch, the listener could easily mistake this for an acoustic instrument. Antunes’s strummed bass chords provide a harmonic centre, from which he stretches out with probing runs and glisses. Filipe Enters with a tight canter, before turning up the heat upon the brash arrival of Webbens’ belching robot synth. “Porto” is less indebted to free jazz, with the long electronic tones and bowed bass of its first half giving way to ragged bleeps and clattering junglist polyrhythms.

Toral works with a relatively limited range of tones, but the magic is in his phrasing, as he integrates his twisting lines and glimmering blips into Space Quartet‘s 21st century free jazz.
Stewart Smith
Tiny Mixtapes
Space, for left-field musician Rafael Toral, is neither a final destination nor a beginning — at least space as it’s normally understood. Whether suspended in the gossamer haze of his early ambient work, honed to precarious improvisations in his Space Program series (which recently concluded after a 13-year voyage), or, freed from paternal stricture in his present projects, gone renegade past the pearly gates of free-jazz, Toral’s work has little to do with stargazing and everything to do with positioning.

Advancing a jazz-infused language that Toral first developed during the Space Program, Space Quartet aerate compositions with brisk improvisations. Quite fittingly, the cover art for the group’s self-titled debut pays homage to the aesthetic cool of 1960s-era jazz label Blue Note — it echoes the shuttered cover of Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones, specifically — while sharing an easel with De Stijl painters, recalling Piet Mondrian’s kinetic rectangles, formed using only black, white, and primary colors.

But Space Quartet don’t make hard bop nor do they play standards. Electronic instruments serve a role normally reserved for culprits like guitar, piano, or saxophone, with Toral’s melodic feedbacks and hacked amplifiers pouncing and twining with Ricardo Webbens’s modular synthesizer and custom electronics. The dueling voices conjure exotic bird calls transmitted through radio static, shrieking in beautiful discord. No less vivacious, the rhythm section — featuring Hugo Antunes on double bass, and João Pais Filipe on drums and handmade gongs and bells — teems with power and precision, rumbling with rib-rattling thunderclaps.

Evoking fertile landscapes, Space Quartet’s four tracks reference places in Portugal where the album was recorded: “Lisboa,” Europe’s second oldest capital, predating London, Paris, and Rome; “Porto,” a northern port resting near the mouth of the River Douro; “Coimbra,” a city in central Portugal housing the country’s oldest academic institution; and “Lisbon II,” Lisbon being the Western term for Lisboa, also the site of Toral’s birthplace. Forget about passports: one can nearly taste grapes plucked along the Douro, hear fields of wheat toss in the gentlest breeze, see Roman ruins sunning on bare hillsides.
Todd B. Gruel


VITAL Weekly
Space Quartet is a initiative of Portuguese artist Rafael Toral (modular feedback circuit, modified MS2 Feedback and MT10) who invited Hugo Antunes (double bass), João Pais Filipe (drums, percussion) and Ricardo Webbens (modular & network synthesizer) for his newest project. A bit on the participators. Joăo Pais Filipe from Porto is a self-educated drummer and percussionist. In the past he worked with Fritz Hauser, Evan Parker, Burkhard Stangl and many others. Ricardo Webbens from Lisbon is a multidisciplinary artist who started from visual arts and moved towards music as well. Also from Portugal, Hugo Antunes mainly works in Brussels where he lives nowadays. He worked with Scott Fields, Paul Lovens, Tobias Delius, a.o. Although this is new project by Toral, it is also in continuity with his past work. Toral is deeply influenced by music and ideas of John Cage. He shared this fascination with trumpeter Sei Miguel who became a long time partner. This inspired Toral in his search for combining electronics and jazz that is reflected in his ‘Space Program’. The last 13 years Toral worked on this Space Program series. For Space Quartet Toral integrated the leading principles of this research. He works with a normal rhythm section of drum and bass. So far this sounds traditional, but with two more musicians playing electronic instruments, we have a very unusual configuration. Both Toral and Webbens play a leading role in the improvisations. Their electronic patterns play with melodic elements, sometimes evoking birdcalls and many other sounds and textures. Their instruments and their playing are very flexible and go well with the patterns that come from the acoustic drums and bass. It is all impressive how Toral consequently continues on his path (Dolf Mulder).

Dusted Magazine
In 2017, Rafael Toral concluded the Space Program, a decade-long endeavor to establish a performative, improvisational approach to electronic music. If you judge the project according to what he builds upon it, Space Program is a blazing success.Space Quartet,whose four tracks were recorded in three different Portuguese cities late in 2017, combines the rhythmic and propulsive properties of free jazz with lightning flash of intuitively wielded synthetic sound to create music that is lucid, combustible and thrilling.

It’s easy to conceptualize this quartet as a jazz band. Toral, who plays hacked miniature amplifiers and other hand-held devices to generate and manage feedback, shares the front line with synthesizer player Ricardo Webbens. The rhythm section of double bassist Hugo Antunes and drummer João Pais Felipe is equipped according to classic jazz standards. But since this music was made in 2017, not 1957, the exchange of authoritative influence between players is more fluid, less front line / back line than four vectors engaged in constant, cognizant negotiation about where the music needs to go. There’s a moment on “Coimbra” where bass and drums erect a swirling whirlwind of quick-shifting timbres while the electronic musicians cast illuminating flashes into the maelstrom. Then suddenly the funnel cloud evaporates and the two streams of voltage-radiating sound leap nimbly across discrete footholds of woody bass and chiming metal. And “Lisboa II” opens with a four-way exchange of urgent, stuttering buzzes and coarse slashes, like a conference of plugged-in birds in a carpentry shop.

Jazz was written into the Space Program’s software from the get go, and the ensemble made in its name involved some heavy jazz cats. But the imperative to define a language often took precedence over documenting the real-time interaction between players. Not now; onSpace Quartetthe way the musicians initiate ideas and respond to each other is the prime source of excitement, followed closely by the fiery intensity that each player delivers. The fire may be fueled by electrical currents, but this is fire music nonetheless.
Bill Meyer


Αναστάσιος Μπαμπατζιάς
Είναι πραγματικά ένας από τους πιο ενδιαφέροντες δίσκους που άκουσα τους τελευταίους μήνες. Όχι μόνο επειδή γίνεται αυτή η περίεργη τήξη ηλεκτρονικών με τζαζ σε ίσες δόσεις (μου θυμίζει τον “Επίκυκλο” του Γιάννη Χρήστου), αλλά και γιατί ακούμε μια πραγματικά σπουδαία τζαζ μπάντα που στη θέση των μπροστάρηδων (σαξόφωνα, τρομπέτες κλπ) μπαίνουν με απόλυτη επιτυχία τα διάφορα σύνθια και άλλα μηχανάκια που θυμίζουν τις κοσμικές αναζητήσεις των παλιών ηλεκτρονικάδων από τα 50s και 60s, επάνω σε μια καταιγιστική rhythm section, έτσι ώστε να νομίζεις ότι ακούς ένα τζαζ κουαρτέτο κάπου στο σύστημα του Σείριου το …3018.
Anastasios Babatzias


Obiecuję, że to już przedostatnia płyta przywieziona z wakacji. I nie, nie byłem w kosmosie, chociaż tytuł Space Quartet sugerowałby coś takiego. Poza oczywiście sugestią lekkiej bufonady, coś jak pisanie, że zespół piłkarski jest galaktyczny. Tyle że tu hasło Kwartet kosmiczny ma dość mocne uzasadnienie. Nie tylko w klasie nagrania i jego oryginalności. Ma też wymiar galaktycznie praktyczny: skutecznie pozwala uniknąć powtarzania za każdym razem zestawu portugalskich nazwisk: Rafael Toral, Hugo Antunes, João Pais Filipe i Ricardo Webbens.

Najlepiej znani są zapewne dwaj pierwsi. Kontrabasista Antunes – choćby z albumów z Nate’em Wooleyem – no a Toral z bycia jednym z filarów współczesnego nurtu improwizacji na instrumentach elektronicznych, a przy okazji łączenia elektroniki z brzmieniami gitary. Poza tym, że bodaj najważniejszym spośród portugalskich „elektroników”. Jeśli ktoś śledził kluczowe płyty Torala z serii Space SoloSpace Elements, ten wie, że artysta ma swój własny muzyczny program kosmiczny i prawie całe zdziwienie kwartetem z kosmosu pryska. Zostaje natomiast zdziwienie tym, że ten kosmos Torala jest jakiś inny.

Napisałem prawie całe, żeby zostawić coś, co mogłoby prysnąć po zderzeniu z brzmieniem albumu Space Quartet, zestawu czterech improwizowanych na bazie wcześniejszych ustaleń nagrań, w których sekcja rytmiczna (uzupełnia ją João Pais Filipe) konfrontowana jest z rozbudowaną sekcją instrumentów elektronicznych, bo Webbens gra na syntezatorach – on i Toral pojawiają się w dwóch różnych kanałach, potęgując klimat dziwności oparty przede wszystkim na barwach. Zdziwienie pryska, bo te ostatnie są naprawdę nie z tej ziemi. Szczególnie proste, ale wyraziste tony wydobywane przez Rafaela Torala, który swoimi zmodyfikowanymi efektami i wzmacniaczami operuje tak, by na całej płycie robiło to spójne wrażenie jednego konkretnego instrumentu o niecodziennej charakterystyce – przechodzącego od brzmienia fletu do niemal gitarowego jazgotu, w zależności od siły sprzężenia zwrotnego.

Sekcja rytmiczna gra tu z niezwykłym refleksem i nerwem, podkreślając tempo i nie pozwalając, żeby całość osunęła się do końca w kręcenie gałkami. Geometryczna abstrakcja na okładce wydaje się podkreślać przynależność do świata jazzu. Ten kwartet jest w zdecydowanie większym stopniu zespołem, kolektywem niż choćby znane nam z występów Torala w Polsce i wydawanych u nas nagrań M.I.M.E.O. Wydaje się też formacją bardziej przystępną dla jazzowej publiczności. Choć jej sposób działania nie ułatwia zadania słuchaczowi – trzeba ciągle podążać za formacją, nie będzie łatwego powrotu do tematu, a utwory podlegają ciągłej mutacji. Pełną informację przynoszą zasadniczo obie części lizbońskie (pierwsza i czwarta), dwa pozostałe tytuły odnoszą się do innych portugalskich miast: Porto i Coimbry. Nie po to, by oddać ich klimat, tylko żeby poinformować, gdzie te dźwiękowe abstrakcje zostały zarejestrowane.

To muzyka pod każdym względem wyjątkowa – od koncepcji brzmieniowej, po wykonanie, które w żadnym momencie nie pozwala na pełne pójście na żywioł, kończące się często w takich przypadkach ścianą dźwięku. Ważna jest czystość i precyzja grania. Swoista matematyczna elegancja, powodująca, że hasło post-free jazz, którym jest otagowana przez twórców, nie jest wcale tak absurdalne jak się wydaje. Choć żeby kogoś zmobilizować do przesłuchania, lepiej będzie pewnie napisać, że to kosmos.
Bartek Chaciński
Foi Pedro Costa, o director executivo da Clean Feed, quem me deu as pistas para ouvir este disco como deve ser. Disse ele: «Ouve os solos como se fossem dois saxofones a tocar.» E, de facto, é esta a melhor abordagem à audição do Space Quartet, que apresenta uma formação muito original: uma secção rítmica jazzística, acústica e ultra sólida, com João Pais Filipe na bateria e Hugo Antunes no contrabaixo, e duas “coisas” por cima a solar, manipuladas por Rafael Toral e Ricardo Webbens. As ditas coisas são circuitos alterados (“circuit bending”) e sintetizadores, instrumentos nos quais Toral se vem especializando há vários anos. Os dois sons espaciais podem começar por ser ouvidos como saxofones, mas rapidamente se autonomizam e adquirem vida própria. Os dois solistas tocam com interesse e energia, ora soando a computadores dos anos 1980 muito zangados, ao ZX Spectrum em “loading” de “software” ou a elementos sonoros de sondas perdidas nos confins dos quadrantes espaciais.

Para que a fórmula funcione e o disco se ouça com prazer é fundamental reconhecer o papel importantíssimo da bateria, brilhantemente tocada por João Pais Filipe. O percussionista tem se especializado na invenção e no fabrico de gongos e a matéria metálica está muito presente no modo como toca, mas também usa a bateria convencional com muita originalidade, soando a um clássico. É notável todo o seu trabalho, pois é ele que sustenta o disco e lhe dá coerência. Neste capítulo do sustento, é basilar também referir o contrabaixo de Hugo Antunes. Portugal tem a sorte de ter vários contrabaixistas excelentes e Antunes destaca-se por ter uma sólida formação técnica, que lhe permite navegar à vontade em esquemas rítmicos mais convencionais, sendo também interessante quanto toca livremente e improvisa. Sublime, o “walking bass” no final do segundo tema e o modo como ele se integra na batida techno com que Filipe o interrompe. Um grande disco que abre um caminho imprevisto para o jazz, no trilho aberto por Sun Ra.
Gonçalo Falcão


Hugo Antunes: double bass.
João Pais Filipe: drums and percussion.
Ricardo Webbens: modular and network synthesizers (R).
Rafael Toral: modular feedback circuit, modified MS­2 (feedback) and MT­10 (bending) amplifiers (L), direction.

Recorded by Noise Precision Mobile, at Estúdio 15A, Lisboa (1, 4), Sonoscopia, Porto (2), and Salão Brazil, Coimbra (3), November 2017.
Mixed and mastered at Noise Precision Regada.
Art and design by João Paulo Feliciano.

Thanks to: Sonoscopia, Salão Brazil, ZDB, João Paulo Feliciano.