Cyclic Defrost

Portuguese guitarist and sound artist Rafael Toral once dabbled in a kind of Oren-Ambarchi-like abstract ambiance on albums like Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance, but he’s since gone on to become an electro-acoustic improviser of considerable intrigue and stature. He’s now devoted to the Space Program, a series of releases based on improvisatory systems, for ensembles of varying sizes, an approach which allies him closer to Anthony Braxton or John Zorn. Space Elements II is the fourth volume in the Program, and the second Elements release, involving music for large ensemble, featuring new collaborators saxophonist Evan Parker, vibraphonist Stefano Tedesco and digital synth player Ruben Costa, along with new players on guitar, drums and Rhodes, added to past partners César Burago (percussion), Fala Mariam (trombone), Sei Miguel (trumpet) and Rute Praça (cello).


Like previous volumes, Space Elements II explores a complex dialectic between electronic and acoustic timbres, group interplay versus solo improvisation, sound versus silence, and the nature of implanting gestures into empty… space. Toral has repeatedly stated of the importance of producing only necessary sounds, and this consideration is audible throughout II. Toral has also clearly studied developments in lowercase improv – European reductionism and Japanese onkyo – but these pieces represent a move away from those constraints, partly through an equal interest in avant-garde and experimental electronics.


Consequently, the music is difficult to characterise, and it’s development difficult to predict. Both ‘II.I’ and ‘II.II” dabble in a kind of dosordered pointillist chatter, while ‘II.III’ incorporates winding feedback-like swathes, but such descriptions are mere snapshots of what takes place. The album’s strongest pieces are those where electronics dominate, and overwhelm: the Subotnik-like blips, squeeks and reverb-blizzards of ‘II.VII’ slathering players in bizarre strings of digital gloop. This is weird, intelligent, and convincing music.

Joshua MEggitt