The real charm, or more properly, one of the many real charms to be found in Forest Robots’ music, is the fact that it says so much with so few sonic strokes. Perhaps “says” is not even the right word, suggests might be better, taking the form, as it does, of a sparse collection of soundscapes that evoke feelings and emotion, conjured by the wide-open spaces and barren wilds that creator Fran Dominguez has travelled through, explored and battled with. Forest Robots is truly the music of landscape and memory, and also a love letter to his daughter about the wonders of the natural world.
As well as exploring the general idea of the natural world, as does all of the Forest Robot musical canon, Horst & Graben is more specifically rooted (pardon the pun) in the stories from David George Haskell’s book ‘The Songs of Trees’ which is used as a springboard to muse upon the direction of travel of mankind’s sense of spirituality and existentialism in a pandemic ravaged world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore our status as global citizens amidst non-stop social unrest.
To this end, the music is both adventurous in the creative sense and meditative when taken as a whole, helping to create a state of calm which gives the head, not to mention the heart and soul, space to consider such deep and necessary ideas.
As always, the titles are both poignant and suggestive, instrumental music might communicate in very different ways to that which employs lyrics but phrases such as No Mountain Can Stand Without A Valley To Surround It and This World Is Held Together By The Beauty Of Humble Places not only give us at least an indication of the thought process behind the music but also feels suitable wise, spiritual and zen-like in their application.
There is always a sense of early Vangelis about Forest Robots, increasingly so as the albums have progressed, and the Blade Runner soundtrack is never far from my mind when even I listen to, explore and write about a new album. But whereas Vangelis seemed to be reaching out to a dark and dystopian future, Forest Robots seem more in touch with a more primal past, one perhaps untainted by the machinations and malfunctions of man. A Latitude Often Changes Character But Not Position and particularly In The Aftermath Of Rain No Grain Of Sand Remains Unstirred certainly conjures such thoughts but it is the sound of inner space, rather than outer, the sound of ice sheets cracking, of winds blowing across desolate mountain tops, of water raining down from evergreen branches and the feeling of the sheer majesty of the natural world as you, as an individual, stand dwarfed within it. Primordial…primitive…pure.
Horst & Graben is less an album about nature and more one forged from the sounds of nature or at least a man-made representation of them. There is also something powerful in its minimalist ways, something that rather than sounding small, conjures enormity, in the same way, that a skilled painter can, using only a few lines, a few washes of colour and an even more powerful command of space, perfectly capture a mountain or an endless sky. If less is more, this much less is so much more.
And as successive Forest Robots albums seem to become more and more precise and spacious, more perfectly poised and deft in the sonic lines and musical washes that they use, they too seem to gain ever more gravitas.
Horst & Graben is also the perfect album title for such music. Having looked the term up, I find that it refers to areas that exist around a fault line that are either higher or lower than the previous landscape. And the pieces of music found on this album seems to follow the same pattern. Some are understated and delicate, doing their work through spatial awareness and transparency, existing below the sonic horizon some are dramatic and heightened, reaching skyward and filling the senses with feeling and thought.
And that is the power of Foret Robots, the ability to make you think. About the natural landscape, about man’s place in the grander scheme of things, about the past we leave behind us and the future we are walking towards, about our responsibilities to the world around us and our own future generations. And music which makes you think is a rare commodity these days. Cherish it.