Rafael Toral Space Solo 1

[Quecksilber; 2007]

Styles: electronic experimentation
Others: Morton Feldman, Edgard Varese, John Cage, Raymond Scott

A prominent division of modern music is defined by chucking harmony out the window, which, if you think about it, paints a very interesting picture not only for the future of the avant-garde, but for the future of pop as well. History has shown a steady assimilation of experimentalism into the public consciousness, and if history repeats, our modern underground might just inform the future's equivalent of an MTV audience. For more than 50 years now, a strand of music dealing with spatial, natural, and cultural forces has been building, forming a loose agenda to move beyond classical ideas of composition and song. From Leon Theremin to John Cage, we have seen the notion that sound is artful and beautiful in all contexts slowly gaining credence, if only in critical and literary circles. In the here and now, it's artists like Rafael Toral who are continuing such a contextual strand of music with the kind of focus that would have certainly made Theremin proud.

Toral's newest album is Space Solo 1, part of a series of ongoing projects meant to highlight the essential and ever ubiquitous 'space' -- as in, the space you're sitting in right now. A more specific modus operandi might be the fusion of spontaneous performances with said spatial ideas, and their relation to sound and the body. Toral's instruments of choice to relay the ideas on Space Solo 1 are homemade electronic devices, which are tackled one at a time through the album's five tracks. A modified pocket amplifier with light-controlled filters and an amplified coil spring, anyone? That's a mouthful, but while the means of altering each sound wave appears complicated in writing, the results are strangely natural to the ears. Essentially, we have heard Space Solo 1 before in different forms. Early forays into experimental electronics come to mind, represented throughout the record by distorted bleeps and bubbling oscillators. Anyone interested in vintage synthesizers will recognized more than a few of Toral's sinewave manipulations; though not identical, more streamlined synths have achieved similar ends.

Of course, the point of Space Solo 1 isn't to achieve 'new' sounds. Dynamism comes only through changes in frequency, volume, and rapidness of pulse. Toral gives us no real structure or harmony, only a sense of movement and, yes, space, which is an effective auditory tactic. Amid the lack of traditional mechanics, emphasis is placed on various aspects of performance, and after a minute of random bursts of sound, the listener becomes acutely aware of the blank areas embedding the sound. With each successive beep, a sense of movement is also conjured, and the presumed goal is achieved. The willing listener is able to remove what they are hearing from the context of classic structure and let it exist in a field of space. It's a 'white around the text' effect, and the greatest compliment I can give Space Solo 1 is that some of its moments worked for me. While listening, the feeling of a body moving to create sound became clear in a simple way, comparable to how we equate a mid-tempo drum beat with the rhythm of our natural step.

It might not work that way for you, and if it doesn't -- if you're listening to Toral's sounds purely for what they are -- Space Solo 1 will probably come off as thin and boring. That's the catch with most staunch experiments in sound. There is no right or wrong way to listen, only preferences, and one contextualization or another could be applied to almost any piece of music, to varying degrees. If you listen to Jay-Z long enough while thinking about 'space,' you'll eventually feel the blankness that the sounds you're hearing reside in. The difference is in intent, and the lynch pin of avant-garde's acceptance is a wide audience's willingness to recognize and participate in an artistic vision. For now, work like Toral's remains uniquely subjective and uniquely tied to its context.

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