Margarida Azevedo

Spectral Evolution | Rafael Toral

To discover Rafael Toral’s career is to delve into 35 years of music, composition and interpretation in rock, free jazz, electronica and ambient. It’s silence and contemplation, noise, and discomfort. It’s getting to know in depth the paths and routes that sound can take us on.

I came across Rafael’s work in what he calls his Third Phase (from 2017). The album Jupiter and Beyond (with João Pais Filipe) is one of the records I like best from this phase of Toral. As he says on his website, at this stage of his career, this record is rawer and more emotional. And it became clear to me that it was these more emotional records that led me to explore Rafael’s career. I later wrote about two digital releases by Noise Precision Library: Live in Lisbon (with Hilmar Jensson) and Live in Lisbon (with Tatsuya Nakatani and John Edwards). And, in 2023, I wrote about his Space Quartet and the album Last Set.

In Spectral Evolution, we find the destination of this 35-year journey. A return to the electric guitar, a record that leaves open the way for various journeys. Rafael presents his discography, allowing us to listen to his work and understand his path, his rationale of creation, the way Spectral Evolution synthesizes his journey. This latest album is overwhelming.

It’s profound, it crosses the ground with the spiritual and for the first time it didn’t take me to other worlds (mind you, I really enjoy traveling in Toral’s other worlds). It took me on an inner journey, a journey of mine (and indeed his). There must be a rational explanation for Rafael Toral’s acute sensitivity.  With heightened senses, we listen to our inner selves. We relive sorrows, reflect on choices, actions, and decisions. We hear in the distance – from our minds – songs that lulled us in childhood and the fears of those who secretly waited for the night under the bed. We enter the church by our grandmother’s hand and turn our backs on the altar in a thoughtful act of denial. This record is a lesson in psychoanalysis, in deep communion with our place in the world – at least, that’s how it was for me.

It’s a beautiful, pure record. I got on the train not knowing that the forty-seven minute journey would be so intense, with landscapes so green but also so dark. It’s a journey with no return. Once you’ve delved so deeply into Rafael’s work, you’ll never go back to where you started. We recognize his 35-year career in this album. The interconnection between the guitar and the spacey-sounding electronics takes me back to when, a few years ago, I tried to get to know his work more deeply. In fact, what could be considered improbable becomes harmoniously perfect on this record. The journey through his more spacey side, made up of the electronic instruments he has been building, and the classical instruments that are part of our general knowledge.

What Toral proposes to us – or what I understand he proposes to us – is that, at a time when the world is so chaotic and lost, we find our place. Energy channeled into sounds that himself has been discovering and working on for decades. More than a musician, composer or producer, Rafael is an investigator of silence, sound, and its potential.

I’ve already said that this record is beautiful. I don’t think I’ve yet said that it’s hard.

Death is part of the journey. The death of a part of us also happens in this work so that we can then ascend to another dimension.

It took me a long time to write about this record because what it has brought me has moved me deeply. Initially, rather than a review of the album, it was an introspection about my journey with this record. I had to sit down again, find the right path and rewrite. I had never written something so personal that the focus was completely lost on what was intended: the record. And even that was a new and enriching experience. A new listen, a new journey, rewriting without losing any of the experience that these forty-seven minutes are.

Rafael Toral’s musical career is vast, rich, and consistent. I always feel small when I write about him.

I’ve entered parts of myself that I didn’t know, I’ve descended to the depths, rising again between his guitar and his ethereal sounds. This journey is unrepeatable and, without a doubt, it’s an album that covers Toral’s 35 years of creation in an excellent way.

You can read the interview in this link.