Essential New Music: Rafael Toral & João Pais Filipe’s “Jupiter And Beyond”

No living musician relates more to space than Rafael Toral. He’s employed recordings captured by NASA and played music that feels so immense that its dimensions cannot be traversed by human means. Conversely, he’s made music with so much emptiness that you can no more breathe its atmosphere than you could breathe what’s outside of an Apollo capsule’s window. And when you listen to his electronically generated sounds, you can tell he’s spent some quality time with sci-fi soundtracks.

In fact, the title of Jupiter And Beyond, which comprises two side-long enhanced improvisations with percussionist João Pais Filipe, derives from Toral realizing during the production process that the two men had generated sounds as dense as György Ligeti’s contributions to the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But while it’s tempting to space out and drift in your personal dream of the stars while listening to this LP, even its most expansive passages manifest another, more personal space: the shared imagination of two like-minded players. Toral and Filipe relate to each other on a fundamental level, because both make some of their own instruments. The former got his start playing electric guitar, and he realized some of the best ambient recordings ever made with the instrument.

But, in the early 2000s, Toral decided he had taken that approach as far as he could go, and he retired from both the instrument and the kind of music he had made with it. Toral undertook a new approach to jazz-derived improvisation that involved inventing or rewiring his instruments as well as spontaneously playing them. The name for that approach was the Space Program. Near the end of phase, Toral began playing with Filipe, a drummer and percussionist who casts his own gongs and bells. 

Jupiter And Beyond came out of a soundcheck jam that went so well that the two men agreed to try and make a record by improvising together. The album’s raw material was recorded in Filipe’s workshop, where the vibrations from each patiently struck piece of metal could ring out like waves of energy rippling outward from some titanic explosion. Toral’s instrument during this encounter was a rewired, hand-held Marshal MS-2 amp, which he used to sculpt flickering traces and glimmering arcs of sound out of discreet chirps and chatters.

But because Toral is not the kind of guy to let anything less than the best make it onto a record, he took these improvisations back to his studio, where he filled in the space between the MS-2 and the bells with filaments of feedback and, for the first time since 2003, the roar of his electric guitar. The resulting music is simultaneously celestial in its expansiveness and undeniably physical as those sound waves break over you. Give yourself over to Filipe and Toral’s currents, and there’s no telling what galaxy you’ll wake up in.

—Bill Meyer