Ambient music serves all kinds of purposes, as much as any art can be considered to have a ‘purpose’ beyond being art. Some listeners seek relaxation and escape in the music, others crave an experimentation still available in electronic music that is perhaps almost exhausted in other genres. Like any kind of art, ambient music can also challenge the listener and ask questions of you.
Horst & Graben is that type of music. As the clouds of mournful electronic sound build and eddy, the listener is challenged to contemplate the state of the world and concepts of spirituality and existentialism in a time of global upheaval and never-ending news cycles. That is one reading of this album at least, if the music is taken as a reflection on David George Haskell’s book ‘The Songs of Trees, which is how Fran Dominquez aka Forest Robots created it. Having never read that book I can’t write here about its contents but I can say with firm conviction that the music on Horst & Graben is perfectly suited to the kind of deep contemplation that the big spiritual questions of our day deserve.
The brooding atmospheres, lush soundscapes and delicately beautiful strings that make up this record offer a rewarding experience whether you want to think deeply or not. The album is full of complexities and layers and yet feels fairly minimal in places – a trick the likes of Clint Mansell or Ulrich Schnauss have been so successful at pulling off. But really trick is the wrong word here. There is no attempt to deceive the listener; the power of the music simply lures you in to another time and space seemingly without much effort at all. That idea of effortlessness when describing such a powerful piece of work is powerful in itself. Great art can carry off that casual feel of being something easy or effortless when quite the opposite is true. That is the case whether discussing something as poignant and majestically beautiful as Horst & Graben or something as harsh and pulsating as Suicide’s debut album.
This isn’t a lockdown album but it is an album that is of its moment, beyond lockdown and the virus and into a bigger, more holistic cosmos. It is immersive throughout, staggeringly beautiful at times and pensively dark at others. It creates a sense of space, mentally but also physically. If you close your eyes whilst listening to a track like A Latitude Often Changes Character But Not Position there is the feeling of motion, calm and steady motion, as if you were floating through the air or even drifting beyond time itself, beyond energy as we understand it.
I could write about each track and try to break the music down but it doesn’t feel quite right to do so. Horst & Graben doesn’t require that kind of analysis and in some respects it is almost beyond it (for me at least). It is music to live with and to think with and to explore yourself, your consciousness and perhaps what you know and don’t know about the world around you. And when you come up for air and emerge from the ambient bubble that this unassuming yet quietly stunning music has created for you, you will be left with a humble sense of awe.
The album has been mastered by acclaimed ambient musician Taylor Deupree and it will be released on cassette and digital by UK based ambient label Elm Records on September 1st, 2021. If you want a soundtrack for your deepest, most spiritual musings, then I thoroughly recommend you check it out.