Rafael Toral’s album Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance has been through a long tunnel. Between 1993 and 2000, Toral collected whatever noises he could manipulate from his electric guitar and set them aside. Just like a sculptor who picks up litter from the ground to use in their latest project, he probably didn’t have a clear idea how the finished work would sound during this time. In 2001, this album finally saw a release on the oddball label Touch. It raked in considerable acclaim, including a writer from Chicago Reader who anointed Toral “one of the most gifted and innovative guitarists of the decade.” When a writer types that sentence in the year 2001, to which decade are they referring, anyway?
Well, that talk has officially been saved for another decade. Brussels label Sub Rosa has given Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance a reawakening, though it’s more of a gentle nudge than a boldly-touted “comeback”. There’s no bonus/supplemental material, but the “music” remains there in all its cloudy and nebulous magnificence. The harmony is still compelling in its simplicity, and its overall form is always out of reach of anything definable. Considering some of these six-string utterances go back 18 years, it has aged perfectly. Some would never have guessed that an album constructed from 99% electric guitars would make late ‘70s Brian Eno sound like classic rock.
Truth be told, it’s difficult to talk about Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance at length because it is so artfully minimal. One example of this is just how damn quiet the album is. In the thick of the “Loudness Wars”, certain intros to songs on Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance aren’t just afraid to wake the baby—they’re afraid of being heard by anybody. This is a powerful understatement in this modern era surrounded by compressed and digitized crap: the notion that holding your cards close to your chest can actually be somewhat startling. Violence of discovery indeed.
Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance isn’t homogenous, though. Sometimes the building blocks can come with a jagged edge, guaranteed to inflict a subliminal splinter on the next set of ears that come across them. In another musical dimension, the feedback loop that exists as a bed for “Maersk Line” could be the byproduct of a smashed Townshend guitar, sending ripples of noise over the heads of Who fans. While most tracks live inside an ambient glow, something like “Energy Nourish” is some V’Ger menace. Spooky gurgles gliding over a metallic foundation is enough to disrupt the flow of any other album, but on Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance, the aesthetic is matched even if the technicalities of mood are not. The 1% of the album that does not come from a guitar is on the final track, “Mixed States Uncoded”. Toral lifts a sample of dead air from a webcast of a space shuttle’s mission and mixes it into the background. God, you can’t get much more cosmic than that.
Song titles run a little on the arbitrary side for this music, though they seem appropriate enough: “Quiet Mind”, “Optical Flow”, “Resonance of Space/We Are Getting Closer”. It really doesn’t matter what they are called, though; Rafael Toral could’ve named them “Untitled 1”, “Untitled 2”, and so on – what remains important is that the guitarist stood back and let his instruments ring. There are rock formations shaped by wind and water erosion that have the appearance of something purer than anything manmade. Acceptance doesn’t have to be just calm. It can be invigorating too.
// Notes from the Road
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