Rafael Toral has always been one of my favorite guitarists/composers. The man is a much needed link between the academic world of experimental music and forward-looking shoegaze/rock. He’s one of the few people who can release an album of Alvin Lucier-esque process-based compositions with a My Bloody Valentine-referencing cover and somehow have the resulting sonics evoke both artists. I believe that it’s increasingly more important to have people like Toral in the world, because there are important similarities between the rock world and the world of experimental music.
One of the major similarities between these realms is the role that contingency/indeterminacy plays in both cases. Rock music is often implicitly guided by this. Songs are not scored but rather structured, and often what happens within those structures may change on a regular basis. For instance, a guitarist might do something within a particular section that changes the song’s character, even though the chords and structure are the same. Essentially, the same principles guide experimental composition, where a set of structural rules is given and/or a process is set in motion. An experimental piece has the potential to radically vary with each performance, but even the most radical interpretations will usually retain some similarities due to the structural material presented. Perhaps it’s due to this common indeterminacy that something like Sonic Youth’s Goodbye 20th Century works so well as opposed to strict classical musicians tackling the same material.
With Love, Toral presents a very complete statement that ties the genres close together in a manner similar to the aforementioned Sonic Youth record. Love is a collection of Toral’s interpretations of John Cage pieces that were initially recorded in the early 90s. Toral admits to stretching some of Cage’s parameters perhaps a little too far by overdubbing and layering himself, but the aural results of Toral’s methods/alterations seem to fit within the aesthetic of Cage as opposed to the flamboyant performances of the composer’s work by Charlotte Moorman (which are fantastic performances in a very different way, but were notoriously despised by Cage). These recordings are from the heyday of Toral’s virtuosic guitar deconstructions, and the results are gorgeously spare realizations that perfectly impose and align Toral’s aesthetics with Cage’s. The final piece, a live version of the delicate “AER 7E” from Toral’s own Sound Mind Sound Body performed in a noisy crowded space, only further illustrates the effect that Cage’s thoughts on silence and contingency had on Toral. The record is a real treat.
You can stream excerpts of Love and download the record for free from Toral’s website here.
• Rafael Toral: http://www.rafaeltoral.net