Rafael Toral
Early Works





Whenever an artist releases a retrospective it means that something has changed in his musical life at one point, about which he is still proud in some way, as he wouldn't want the public to remember or rediscover these archived gems if they were embarrassments or able to destroy his reputation otherwise. Whatever the retrospective consists of, it is going to be hard to digest for followers, because even diehard fans don't usually like each phase of the artist's work equally, but have their respective preferences and devotions. Early Works consists solely of never before released tracks by Rafael Toral, a Portuguese Avantgarde guitarist best known for his Space album series that is quite difficult to access, for Toral came a long way and moved away from his formerly snugly, rustic-style Ambient scapes to unique, beautifully alienating fabrications full of electronic driblets, disfigured guitars beyond recognition and real percussion instruments. Toral himselfs divides his works into two phases called the Pre-Space Program and the Space Program. Whereas his former work is considered as voluminous and warm, his later achievements consist of the alluring interplay between spaces and sounds. I doubt that Early Works is the definite origin of Toral's work that officially started in 1986 with a first a song on the compilation Divergências. It is more likely that Toral chose the most convenient starting point of his career that inherits the artistic quality he is known for, but at the same time pleases fans with more of the same they came to love. And indeed, Toral notes on his website that he found the 6 tracks presented on Early Works – which range from 1987 till 1990 – "of little value then, but under the light of all my following works, […] they stand out as having paved the way for all this music." Additionally, the reduced but beautiful cover artwork consists of an early painting by Toral.


The first track is called A and consists of incredibly warm and soothing synths or possibly a warped guitar that foreshadows Toral's later perfection in tweaking several kinds of string instruments until they lose any resemblence of their natural timbre. Several staccatoed rotor-like guitar plucks accompany the soundcarpet among repetitive high notes that fade in every 10 seconds. The mood of the track always reminds me of Markus Guentner's Chrom which is featured on Kompakt's Pop Ambient 2003 compilation. It is unbelievable that Toral's song predates Chrom by 15 years, and all the more surprising that Toral didn't see the value in this stunning piece of blissful radiance. B2 is a haunting piece of several screeching and warm guitar layers. A few of them seem to be played backwards, but they all have their wave-like appearance in common. This is definitely the most experimental track on there. The next track, C, is full of melancholic, fragile and muffled swirls and embodies the most peaceful mood on the release, until the last minute, when the guitars are getting warped, resembling the sounds of lasers. Yet again I get the feeling that I've heard the same setup in a song by Wolfgang Voigt's project called All called Logopedie 99, once more featured on Kompakt's Ambient series, this time on Pop Ambient 2004. These comparisons don't hint at anything particular, it's just that Toral's Early Works would have been great inclusions on these compilations, as they perfectly fit into Kompakt's Ambient frame, but were, as I've stressed before, already produced about 13 years before the first Pop Ambient release – astonishing, to my mind!


B1, the voluminous fourth track, is an eerie piece with layers of howling guitars which cause a certain coldness and desolation, a few of them almost sound like wails of sirens. This is another favorite of mine, as it connects to the haunting spirits of B2, but amplifies the forlorn atmosphere into one of eschatological dimensions. Probably the standout track on Early Works. The penultimate A VIII connects the dots in a similar way as B1 and B2 did, and goes back thematically to the first track, A, by featuring the same warmth. However, the track is bustling with trembling guitar cavalcades and is therefore the more exciting and lively track in comparison to A. The centerpiece and final track is called Sand Precision, and it is an almost 17-minute long experiment that finally pleases the fans of Toral's Space albums but may startle everyone who loves the mellow streams of guitar washes. Instead, they get the fascinating mixture of spaces or pauses and plinks of acoustic, bass and electric guitars, but which grows dull too soon on here. What is missing compared to Toral's Space albums is, naturally, the energy and overarching theme. I can understand why Toral included this track in Early Works, as it is the best proof of the things that were to come in the new millennium, even though Toral's Space program didn't exist until 2006. I'll be honest and tell you that I cannot listen to Sand Precision easily, as it gives me a hard time due to its rough elusiveness. I do, however, like Toral's Space albums, and as such I recognize the piece's historicity. It's just not for me.


Rafael Toral's Early Works mark the beginning and at the same time the final stage of a period. The beginning, of course, refers to the starting point of his career, even though he didn't know at that time what would become of his guitar and tweaking skills. It also marks the clear cut end point for fans of his polyphonous Ambient works, as he never resumed the styles presented on here. Clearly, Toral is now in space and in an Avantgarde genre that no one can enter easily. Releasing euphonious music would imply that he has to throw everything over board that he has encountered, learned and accomplished in these decades. If Toral doesn't release an Early Works II some time in the future, this is the last consolation for fans of his early releases with an added treat called Sand Precision for his current followers.



Further reading:

Rafael Toral is tweeting under the name @rtoral.




Ambient Review 018: Rafael Toral – Early Works (2002). Originally published on Dec. 28, 2011 at AmbientExotica.com.