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Rafael Toral

Like twin phoenixes from the ashes, Jim O’Rourke’s Moikai imprint returns after more than two decades of silence with “Spectral Evolution”, a brand-new album from Rafael Toral. Truly visionary, distilling more than thirty years of sound research on the part of its creator, the album, created over an intensive three year period of experimentation and recording, encounters Toral entering a new phase in his work, returning to the guitar after an extended hiatus, and sculpting an entirely singular hybrid that joins the groundbreaking forms of ambient minimalism that defined his work in the '90s, with the dense abstractions that he pursued via homemade electronics over the years since. Absolutely mind-blowing and possibly the most accomplished and best record we’ve encountered from Toral to date.

Running for a brief, four-year period between 1998 and 2002, more than two decades since it went into hiatus, Moikai continues to retain a legendary status among journeymen fans of experimental music. Initially founded by Jim O’Rourke to reissue Nuno Canavarro’s now legendary LP, “Plux Quba” - having been tipped to its wonders by Christoph Heemann (who had discovered it via AnAnAnA's Fred Somsen) - Moikai would go on to primarily serve as a platform for a rising wave of visionary electronic and electroacoustic artists during that period, including Fennesz, Pita, Kevin Drumm, Aki Tsuyuko, Phill Niblock, Rob Mazurek under the guise of Orton Socket, and Rafael Toral. After twenty-two years of silence, O’Rourke has now relaunched Moikai to release “Spectral Evolution”, an astounding new LP by none other than Rafael Toral. Encountering the Portuguese pioneer of electroacoustic drone minimalism returning to his roots in guitar and electronics, while informed by the thirteen year departure into his ‘Space Program’ that defined much of his output during the 2000s and 2010s, it’s a creatively enthralling immersion into the singular world of one of the most important electroacoustic artists working today that might just be Toral’s best record to date.

Born in Lisbon in 1967, Rafael Toral belongs to a generation of artists - Kevin Drumm, Jim O’Rourke, Christian Fennesz, Peter Rehberg, Mika Vainio, Christoph Heemann, Otomo Yoshihide, Oren Ambarchi, etc. - who emerged onto the global experimental music scene during the 1990s, pioneering a new form of electronic music that often drew in equal parts from rock, jazz, ambient music, and minimalism. It was these artists, alongside the broader generation to which they belong, that deserve a great deal of the credit for reinvigorating, both through their own work and championing of the generations prior to them, the field of experimental music following a comparative lull and loss of audience during the '80s. Of this new, rising generation, Toral was unquestionably among the most influential, via incredibly visionary albums like “Sound Mind Sound Body” (released by AnAnAnA in 1994 and reissued by Moikai in 1998) and 1995's “Wave Field” that combined guitar and electronics to produce sheets of ambience and long tones which represented a new phase in minimal music that would be chased by a near countless number of artists following in his wake of the coming years.

By the early 2000’s, just as the sonic landscape was catching up with him, Toral reached a sense of creative accomplishment and embarked upon a radical new trajectory of work, his “Space Program”, an ambitious long-term project that approached electronic music through the lens of silence, producing a music that is “melodic without notes, rhythmic with no beat, familiar but strange, meticulous but radically free - riddled with paradox but full of clarity and space”, often described as “a brand of electronic music far more visceral and emotive than that of his cerebral peers”.

Over the last seven years, Toral’s work has entered a new phase; a hybrid the utilizes the self-built instruments developed in the “Space Program”, as well as employing the long tones, ambience, and near static textures that defined early works like “Sound Mind Sound Body” and “Wave Field”, and encounters him returning to the guitar after more than a decade. Slowly refined over this period, the majority of Toral’s releases since 2017 have been earlier works - “Moon Field” and “Constellation In Still Time” or collaborations, making his latest, “Spectral Evolution”, among the first to capture this remarkable transition into new ground. It is absolutely stunning and among his most sophisticated releases to date, bringing together seemingly incompatible threads from his entire career into a powerful new synthesis that is wildly experimental and emotionally affecting.

Comprising twelve distinct episodes, “Spectral Evolution” unspools a universe of profound abstraction, alternating between moments of airy instrumental interplay and ambience - Toral using the guitar to travers a remarkable sense of dynamic and textural range, from pulsing chords to sprawling harmonic drones - and dense sonic masses of electronics. Viewed in its totality, “Spectral Evolution” is a work that almost entirely stands beyond categorization, infusing the expansive sonorous spaces that defined his '90s output with mutant structures of electronics, rendered by his self-built instruments, that nod as much to radical confrontation of post-war electronic and electroacoustic music as they do to jazz and rock, shattered and blended in shifts that move between remarkable tension and release.

The product of three years of experimentation and recording, and arguably amounting to the total distillation of more than thirty years of musical research, “Spectral Evolution” is quite possibly the most striking and accomplished album we’ve encountered by Rafael Toral to date. It’s an absolute marvel that not only reminds us of the composer’s astounding impact on the sonic landscape over the decades, but also of the rich sense of possibility that lays ahead of us all. We couldn’t think of a better way to laugh into the early months of a new year. "Spectral Evolution" is issued on vinyl and CD by Jim O’Rourke’s newly relaunched Moikai, and is not to be missed.