Earlier this year, offbeat music freaks were delighted with the re-release of Mother Earth’s Plantasia, an utterly weird yet endearing electronic music album for plants, originally issued as a free vinyl giveaway for mattress shoppers and green thumbs alike. Now, on September 7, the Getty Center in Los Angeles is hosting an entire day inspired by the album, including talks on vegetarianism and 1970s horror films, as well as macramé workshops and plant aura photography. Exactly what kind of album could possibly inspire such a verdant spectacle?
Owner of the Brooklyn-based Sacred Bones Records, Caleb Braaten came upon Mort Garson’s Plantasia in the early aughts while working at Twist and Shout records in Denver, Colorado. At the time, Braaten was really into early electronic records, so when he encountered Plantasia, he “instantly fell in love with it.” From there, he set out to tracking down the rest of Garson’s oeuvre. “My love of the Mort Garson catalog got me searching for the rights holder. This is when I found his daughter, Day Darmet, and we started work on reissuing his records. Starting with, of course, Plantasia.”
Born in Canada in 1924, Mort Garson studied at Juilliard School of Music. After serving in the army during World War II, he worked as a session musician while writing a few hit songs, including the 1962 chart-topper, “Our Day Will Come.” It was during the 1960s that Garson discovered the Moog synthesizer and composed a concept album called The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds, which featured a different track for each of the 12 astrological signs. (Eventually, he’d compose an entire album for each sign of the Zodiac.)
Garson’s Electronic Hair Pieces featured cover songs from the popular musical Hair, with liner notes by one of the Smothers Brothers, while The Wozard of Iz offered a trippy satire of The Wizard of Oz.” Garson also composed a black mass album under the name Lucifer, and scored the background music for Richard Burton’s narration of The Little Prince, which won a Grammy for Best Children’s Recording. Other highlights of Garson’s prolific and unusual career include composing the incidental music for the live broadcast of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, as well as coming up with a number of game-show theme songs.
Now, thanks to Sacred Bones Records, we have the reissue of Plantasia — a relic of the mid-’70s plant craze attributed to the book, The Secret Life of Plants, written by an occultist and a former agent working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Peter Tompkins, along with “former CIA agent/dowsing enthusiast” Christopher Bird. The book contends that plants are live beings that, like humans, respond to their surroundings, reacting to words, emotions, and yes, even music. Operating under that assumption, Garson put together a series of melodies specifically for plants. Originally, Plantasia was given away to anyone who bought a Simmons mattress from Sears as well as customers of the LA plant shop, Mother Earth.
The album spans a range of musical styles, from classical and big band to blues and folk. It starts off with the title track, “Plantasia,” which at first could be mistaken for a ring tone — alternating between otherworldly and downright spooky. “Symphony For A Spider Plant” follows, with staccato beats trickling over a web-like matrix of melodies for a quirky composition that manages to be nostalgic yet futuristic. With a lilting folk-like refrain, “Baby’s Tears Blues” sounds like one of the pre-programmed riffs that used to come with store-bought synths—or the soundtrack to an old-timey burlesque striptease.
Next comes the exotic and freaky “Ode To An African Violet,” which is not unlike a dental-office dirge, as if the ferry Charon was riding in across the River Styx had a live band playing. “Concerto For Philodendron And Pothos,” somewhat by contrast, takes the form of a classical piece performed by a full orchestra—if the entire philharmonic happened to be on acid.
While “Rhapsody In Green” may not be quite as iconic as a Gershwin melody, it’s sufficiently charming and does sound very… leafy. “Swingin Spathiphyllums” has a bossa nova-like feel to it, and “You Don’t Have To Walk A Begonia” sounds like the score of a sequence in a 1960s French comedy. The penultimate, medieval-sounding “A Mellow Mood For Maidenhair” is followed by “Music To Soothe The Savage Snake Plant,” which is like a fusion of all the other compositions into one impressive finale.
“My dad would be totally pleased to know that people are really interested in this music that had no popularity at the time,” Darmet told Sacred Bones. “He would be fascinated by the fact that people are finally understanding and appreciating this part of his musical career that he got no admiration for back then.”
“Ever Present: Mother Earth’s Plantasia” takes place at the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles on September 7, 2019 from 3–9pm. Admission is free.