Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.
This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here).
This year sees the release of After Geography, his fourth. The album’s title has an interesting back story and genesis. After Geography was a suggested title for The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece Revolver, a witty idea from Ringo Starr as a reaction to The Rolling Stones album of that year, Aftermath. Something clicked when Fran read that story, as he realised this would make an apposite title.
In his own words: “Before any excursion, every experienced mountaineer will put in the time to research traveling routes, gear to bring, food to pack, weather patterns to watch out for and best times to travel. However, there comes a point during a climb when all of this preparation is inconsequential if your focus isn’t there.“
The album consists of ten tracks which ebb and flow into each other seamlessly and is a return to the more minimalist style of his earlier work. As with his other full length albums, it is best listened to as a continuous musical journey, combining classical, ambient, drone and musique concrete into a symbiotic whole.
A Detailed Cartography opens the album and immediately sets a tranquil, transcendent mood with its spacious soundscape, seemingly outside of space and time. Atmospheric synths drift in and out whilst a sparse harp-like melody of understated beauty drifts across your consciousness. It’s gentle majesty is best enjoyed via the evocative accompanying video.
This morphs seamlessly into the second track, Of Birds Migrating In The Distance. Built around another simply but haunting melody, this is augmented by a delicate high end piano motif that brought to mind the composer Erik Satie, one of his noted influences. Gradually, a third motif emerges and its recurrent pattern made me think of another, more modern, composer – namely, Philip Glass. The interplay of the three melodic strains is skilfully done and is another fine example of painting in sound that perfectly evokes the piece’s title.
Karst Wildlife Surveying takes subtlety to even greater heights, with tremulous murmurs of melody layered together to create an otherworldly tapestry of sound. Here he is painting in the most delicate watercolours and you get a visual image from the music that again resonates with the title (karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks).
It shifts almost imperceptibly into the fourth track, Awash in Granite Geometry which again suggests surveying rocky landscapes. This has another Erik Satie-esque piano melody, which floats serenely over a bedrock of ambience.
Over The Drainage Divide has a similar feel of epic expanse, conjuring numerous images of nature in the mind’s eye and capturing the sense of grandeur one feels when confronted with scenes of great natural beauty. Subtly Widening Bergschrunds is also expansive in scope and has an almost glacial quality, which again captures the essence of the piece (a bergschrund is a crevasse at the junction of a glacier or snowfield). To be able to paint in sound in this way is quite an art.
The wonderfully titled Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor has a similarly opaque quality, but with an intricate, tumbling melody that brought to mind another French composer, Saint Saens. It’s probably the least minimal piece on the album, providing contrast whilst maintaining the perfect musical continuity.
Imagining August 1976, Here is another captivating piece, evoking a late summer haze and with a distinct air of melancholic nostalgia imbued in its gossamer-like drifting melodies. It imparts the same feeling one can get from looking at an old faded photograph and reminiscing on a happier time, a bittersweet emotion.
Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn is similar in mood but with that glacial quality found in earlier tracks. A tarn is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier and so it’s another masterly evocation of nature’s majesty, and captures the magic of the night sky in tone.
The musical journey concludes with All Across The High Plain After The Storm, which starts out in a minimalist way then gradually develops into the epic expansiveness that characterizes some of the album’s most sublime and transcendent moments. Almost imperceptibly, like a musical mirage, you can picture a camera swooping over vast vistas of land then pulling away to infinity, closing the circle.
Overall, this is another scintillating collection of nature-inspired instrumentals that capture composer Fran Dominguez’ art at its most nuanced and subtle. With a unique talent for portraying panoramic landscapes in tonal form, he takes the listener on another sonic adventure that captures the thrill of travelling and surveying the many natural wonders of the world. Fans of Harold Budd, Brian Eno and Philip Glass will find much to enjoy here and hopefully this album will provide some artistic solace to many during this tumultuous time in history, as it was intended.