The 73-minute piece that makes up Rafael Toral’s new Constellation in Still Time was originally composed in 1992. A guitar performance of it appears on his debut Sound Mind Sound Body. At the time, “AER 7” was a continuation of a series he wrote between 1987 and 1990.
He says in the album notes that he had it in his mind to produce this additional version – entitled “AER 7G” here – but failed to find the right partners. “A new generation of generous, open-minded, highly skilled musicians made it suddenly possible to develop the project,” he writes.
The recording is Enoesque, both in its scope and design. Toral says that he thought of the work as “a melodic generator,” even before he’d heard the term “generative,” popularized by Brian Eno. “It’s written in a way that prevents repetition and generates unpredictable results, apart from the pace and the set of notes. Curiously, ‘Constellation in Still Time’ is by far the most quintessentially ambient record I have ever done.”
The work is organized in six almost-seamless parts. The first features Angélica V. Salvi on harp, Luís Bittencourt on vibraphone, Toral on computer sinewaves and Riccardo Dillon Wanke on Rhodes piano. It is an exquisitely slow-moving introduction.
Joana Bagulho’s clavinet replaces Salvi’s harp on part two. Joana Gama joins on piano for part three, as Bittencourt’s vibraphone drops off. And so on: Salvi in place of Toral in part four; Bittencourt in place of Wanke in part five and Toral in place of Begulho in part six.
There’s a parallel between the phased structure of this recording and Toral’s description of his own career to date. “Everything we do sends a message, and that message is embedded in a story,” he writes. He told one story with early works for guitar and electronics recorded between 1987 and 2003.
A year later, he turned to less conventional electronics with his “alien-sounding” (his words) Space Program. “It was an ambitious long-term project exploring an approach to electronic music based on silence, through decision making and physical gesture, in a way inspired by post-free jazz.”
This new recording, despite its reference back to an earlier composition, is the start of a new phase and “a general need to slow down.” That’s abundantly clear throughout “Constellation in Still Time.” The work is not entirely accessible; nothing that moves this slowly over more than an hour can fairly be described as an easy listen. But there is a gentleness to this piece that radiates warmth and caring – for both the material and its listener.