Minimalist electronics enveloped by chilly voids
Experimental composer Rafael Toral has been working almost exclusively with synthesized sound since the mid-1990s—and has collaborated with many of the leading avant-garde artists, including Rhys Chatham, Phill Niblock, Christian Fennesz, John Zorn and (Sonic Youth two-fer) Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. One of his main concerns is ambient sound: how the abstract and minimalist textures of his work coincide and interact with the ordinary noises of life. As a result, silence plays a large role in his compositions; huge blocks of it lie between the squiggles and hisses and note-like tones that mark out these three tracks. Even if the disc were not titled Space, listeners might plausibly intuit deep, cold vacuums, mechanical devices pulsing away abandoned in trackless wastes of emptiness. All the cuts are austere and demanding, though the final one (called “III”) has hints of warmth and melody embedded into it. Along with the oscillating trills and metallic pings, a series of bell-toned notes emerges, a kazoo-like sound, a density of percussive sensation. The second piece also has a brief chime-like interval that, momentarily, transforms the piece from intellectual abstraction into something like music. It is, perhaps, wrong to like the bits of Toral’s work that are most conventional and farthest away from what he is doing, a sign of mental timidity or some such. Still, the passages that engage best are the ones that sound most like notes and rhythms. Silence may be golden, but it’s not terribly interesting.