Daniel Corral: Refractions
Populist Records

Scan the back cover of Daniel Corral's Refractions and a number of different possibilities suggest themselves. With the LA-based composer credited with music box and laptop and joined by electric guitarist Jeremy Kerner and the Isaura String Quartet, the forty-five-minute, single-movement work could be anything from a merciless noise assault of the Merzbow persuasion to the gentlest of reveries. It's impossible to know from the sleeve alone, especially when the release comes to us by way of the always adventurous and unpredictable Populist Records. Corral's own backstory suggests any number of possibilities, too: born and raised in Eagle River, Alaska, he's had his hands in everything from accordion orchestras and puppet operas to microtonal electronics and chamber music. A graduate of CalArts who studied with James Tenney and Anne LeBaron, the composer released his debut solo album Diamond Pulses on Orenda Records in 2015.

Press ‘play' and the mystery's quickly solved. With strings quietly bowing and Corral's electronically processed music box tinkling sweetly, the music blossoms in the most peaceful of manners. Without betraying the contemplative tone established at the outset, the piece thereafter presents an ever-mutating weave of softly glimmering electronics and fluttering acoustic timbres, and as it advances the impression forms of a spacious, ambient-styled composition that's rooted in both pre-formed structures and improvisation. Kerner's identified in the press release as a prog rock/metal guitarist, but his understated textural contributions to Refractions are as far removed from those genres as could be imagined.

As subdued as Refractions is, it's not without moments of intensity, relatively speaking; jump to the half-way mark, for example, and Corral's laptop can be heard rumbling ominously and the attack of the other instruments seems to grow aggressively in tandem. Still, as the work inches towards its final minutes, its symmetrical arc comes into focus, especially when the music perceptibly slows and the arrangement reduces itself to music box only. In its free-flowing design, Refractions is also similar in design and spirit to a generative work that one might hear play for hours on end as part of a gallery installation.

June 2017