To say that Rafael Toral plays drones is a bit like saying that Neil Young plays rock music; the statement is indisputably true, but so broad that it’s meaningless. The Portuguese multi-instrumentalist has dug so deeply into the fertile ground of continuous sounds that it has become necessary to parse what he’s doing with them at different points in his career. The title of Harmonic Series 2 betrays its status as part of a discreet phase in Toral’s development. Given recent developments in his live performances, which discard drones in favor of a silent backdrop, it’s likely a transitional one. But it’s no less worthy for that; both this CD – which is based on his 2003 performances in Japan but was actually recorded after the tour in Lisbon – and its one-sided vinyl predecessor Harmonic Series 0 (Table of the Elements), are quite lovely. After Touch released his 2001 masterpiece Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance, Toral knew that he’d taken his ambient guitar work to a peak, and rather than rehash it he started looking for something else to do. The Harmonic Series introduced a new instrument – the computer – and the CD, unlike the LP, constitutes a step away from the guitar. Toral used some of its effects, but left the instrument itself in its case. The technology changed, but the methodology – using continuous tones to explore and manipulate harmonics – is very much in line with his earlier work. Computer-generated sine waves rise and fall against a backdrop that modulates between shimmering hums and low, throaty growls. Higher-pitched slivers of feedback and distant buzzes drift in and out of the piece, like high cirrus clouds and distant, isolated thunderheads. It’s easy to lose yourself in the gorgeous, multi-hued wash of sound, but don your headphones and the record changes as abruptly as a 3-D movie does when you put on those silly glasses. Each aural element moves in carefully calibrated relation to the others; the slow spiral and uplift of fluttering tones and the narrowing and widening of pitch intervals imparts a sense of wonder similar to the one I felt when I watched a dusk gathering of gasbags at Albuquerque’s Balloon Festival. It must be a heady thing to be capable of summoning such beauty. While I give Toral credit for taking the gutsy artistic path of putting his facility aside after he’s perfected it, I’m glad that he left this artifact of his explorations. Bill Meyer