After over 15 years spent sewing together guitar-based electroacoustic sound collages, Space finds Portuguese musician Rafael Toral restructuring his approach to musical creativity. To this end, he casts aside the guitar that served him so well, and wholeheartedly embraces a series of modified and custom-built electronic devices. Abrupt as this shift may seem, there is a certain continuity with past experiences. Before long, the atmospheres of alien whistles and sublimely slow oscillations, queasy yet immersive, resemble certain streams of jazz. In fact, Toral plays his electronic contraptions much like a traditional acoustic instrument. At 12 minutes, the album’s first selection subtly, lethargically, spaciously unites the dazzling rhythmical sequences of acoustic instruments with the ineffable atmospheres of the electronic realm. Although lustrous drones and chirrups do inhabit these tracks, a level of harmonic and rhythmic complexity is at work, not to mention a general level of ambiguity and caution. Much of this may be taken from Toral’s fractured approach to playing; pinprick feedback spikes, sparkling accents, and quivering particles of sound-dust float weightlessly through an extended wash of beatific hum, but shift in tone and pattern, gradually evaporating like foam on the sea. All of this leaves many empty pockets between the drifting, kinetic sound cascades. These gaps work to feed a sense of anticipation and, given the compositions’ eerily snaking nature, further a feeling of apprehension before the strange, seemingly confident presence of these works. While the third composition sees Toral stringing some strangled flurries of [trumpet] into the mix, denoting the album’s clearest link to his past, at the same time, the earnest electronics go the opposite route, tearing off some of the constraints of the figural and entering upon more of a pure play of form. This gives the track an equilibrium and a secret conflict, a purity too measured to be real and too all-encompassing to look beyond.

Max Schaefer