Last week, Francisco Dominguez released his latest Forest Robots opus, Amongst a Landscape of Spiritual Reckoning, through UK label Wormhole World. For his guest mix, Fran takes us back to the 1970s, paying tribute to Conny Plank and the early greats of ambient and kosmische that he worked with, such as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Roedelius, Cluster, Neu!, and Harmonia. Plus, he gives us insights about the new album, hiking, geology, and life philosophy.
Hometown: Hermosillo, Mexico.
Current city: Los Angeles, California.
Home away from home: Sierra Nevada and adjacent mountain ranges throughout California.
Last great thing you read:
David George Haskell’s The Songs Of Trees. It’s a kind of personal nature travelling journal where the author brings to light the subtle intricacies of the interdependence between humans and all other biological networks that surround us, by pointing out the obvious ways that it can be witnessed through climate change and the other not so obvious ways that manifest through our spiritual well-being . It is a lyrically beautiful, scientifically engrossing and historically eye opening literary accomplishment. I feel great synchronicity with this book as I discovered it halfway through the recording of Amongst a Landscape of Spiritual Reckoning and validated my desire to exercise and express many of the themes I explore on the album. There is a belief that you attract the energy you emanate, and I think that’s sort of how this book came into my life at such an opportune time during the recordings.
What instruments and / or hardware do you use most?
Piano and synthesizers. However, as evidenced on the album, there are far more instruments involved in every composition. The reason is that over the years I’ve come to view the studio itself as an instrument by which midi is the gateway to experimentation beyond key-based music. Call it imposter syndrome, but I consider myself more of a non-musician. I feel much more proud of my ability to open up dialogue and communicate ideas within the structure of an album than my ability to perform music. In fact, it is this ability that I find the most gratifying during my compositional process. However, in answer to your question, aside from the more obvious piano, guitar and bass sounds, I used a couple of Elektron boxes for sculpting ambiances, TE’s OP-1 for arrangements and percussion, a few Korg synths like Micro, Minilogue, and Volca and pedals such a Strymon’s Big Sky and Timeline as well as Hologram’s Microcosm.
How does the new record, Amongst a Landscape of Spiritual Reckoning, expand on the Forest Robots sounds and writing processes of previous releases?
Each record is a conversation between my daughter and myself. As she progresses in age, so do the themes we explore in our conversations. It’s really as straightforward as that. As to the sound itself, I feel like the themes on the album gave me an opportunity to explore my love for folk, jazz and chamber through the prism of ambient and classical music.
Where are some of your favorite spots for getting out into nature?
I’m blessed to live in a place like California, where the Sierra Nevada-a part of the American Cordillera, an almost continuous chain of mountain ranges that forms the western “backbone” of the Americas-spreads across most of the state. In addition, it is a fascinatingly geologically diverse place, where all manner of geological activity, from the San Andreas fault, to many dormant Calderas, are scattered throughout. I have spent the better part of the last 15 years exploring much of what the state has to offer in that regard, including summiting all the peaks that rise above 14,000 feet (4200 plus meters), along with over 600 other summits. Every trip usually includes a fair amount of cross country, bushwhacking, rock climbing and the occasional run in with wild animals. Not exactly Netflix and chill material but it can be exhilarating (as well as exhausting!) and quite life-affirming as well.
Besides the natural world, what else inspired the album?
As previously mentioned, every album is part of an ongoing conversation with my daughter, but each one has been precipitated by particular events that open up the door for discussion within the framework of an album. In the case of Amongst a Landscape of Spiritual Reckoning, the pandemic is partially responsible. So much of what has happened during the pandemic has exposed my daughter to behavior that’s out of the ordinary and as is oftentimes the case, when the extraordinary takes place, you witness the true nature of people around you and that has certainly been the case during this pandemic. So there has been a lot of explaining that I’ve had to do to her. In addition, everything we are currently living through is changing, in very profound ways, how we process our emotions and how we are shaped and respond spiritually in relation to the world around us. Addressing those issues and figuring out how to cope with our emotions and continue to nurture our spirituality in a positive way is at the main core of the album’s themes.
Could you tell us a little about the mix, and what inspired the theme of kosmische / early electronic music?
I recently found out about the 2017 documentary Conny Plank: The Potential Of Noise. It is a moving and bittersweet film on Plank’s influence not just on Electronic and Experimental music, but on many of the individuals that worked with him as well, and it’s all through the eyes of his son, Stephan Plank. A lot of the music that Plank was involved with, especially in the mid-to-late seventies, is featured in the documentary. It was such a joy and reminder of the amount of great music he was involved in sculpting. So much so that it inspired me to make my own version of the movie’s soundtrack.
I hope that after listening to this mix, folks feel compelled to explore many of the projects he was involved with during his life. It’s a treasure trove of musical riches.
Robert Fripp & Brian Eno – “Wind on Wind” – Evening Star (Island, 1975)
Popol Vuh – “Das Schloss Des Irrtums” – Brüder Des Schattens – Söhne Des Lichts (Brain, 1978)
Cluster – “In Ewigkeit” – Sowiesoso (Sky, 1976)
La Dusseldorf – “Rheinita” – Viva (Strand, 1978)
Neu! – “Neuschnee” – Neu! 2 (Brain, 1973)
Roedelius – “Fabelwein” – Selbstportrait (Teil 1 Sanfte Musik) (Sky, 1979)
David Bowie – “Art Decade” – Low (RCA Victor, 1977)
Harmonia – “Dino” – Musik Von Harmonia (Brain, 1974)
Michael Rother – “Karussell” – Flammende Herzen (Sky, 1977)
Moebius & Plank – Conditionierer” – Material (Sky, 1981)
Eno, Moebius & Roedelius – “The Shade” – After the Heat (Sky, 1978)
Dieter Moebius- “Hasenheide” – Tonspuren (Sky, 1983)
Brian Eno – “The Big Ship” – Another Green World (Island, 1975)
Klaus Dinger & Japandorf – “Osenbe” – Klaus Dinger & Japandorf (Grönland, 2013)