Plantasia has become a well-known record despite a limited initial 1976 release to anyone buying a houseplant from the Mother Earth store in Los Angeles. This was music for plant owners to create an environment of optimal growth - simple haunting melodies composed on a moog.
Mort Garson‚Äôs musical resume is somewhat bizarre. In the 1950s and '60s, he wrote several pop hits and became a trusted arranger and composer in the fields of easy listening, film and television, working on recordings by such artists as Julie London, Doris Day, Laurence Harvey, and even the string arrangements on Glen Campbell‚Äôs "By The Time I Get To Phoenix." Then Garson discovered the Moog synthesizer and took a leap into what may be termed electronic exotica, releasing such oddities as Zodiac - Cosmic Sounds, with tracks dedicated to each horoscope sign, Black Mass (under the pseudonym Lucifer), and The Unexplained - Electronic Musical Impressions of The Occult. His broad interests and experience meant that Garson was well placed to compose and record Plantasia, and also to remain a relatively obscure figure. Plantasia probably owes a good deal to the 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants by Christopher Bird (an author with previous on the topic of dowsing) and Peter Tompkins, who had served with the (OSS) Office of Strategic Services behind enemy lines during WWII, along with hundreds of first-generation Italian-Americans who voluntarily returned to Italy to help tie the enemy down with anti-Nazi resistance offensives. Bird and Tompkins‚Äôs theories about plant sentience were influenced by Cleve Backster, a CIA interrogation expert who, after attaching a lie detector to a Drachea cane, was convinced that plants felt pain, fear, affection, and were capable of ESP. Backster later experimented on yogurt bacteria, eggs, and human sperm, and was probably influenced by the writings by Jagadish Chandra Bose.
The music stands up remarkably. The next disc I had cued up was Oren Ambarchi‚Äôs Simian Angel and it took a few minutes into the opening piece "Palm Sugar Candy" before I realized Garson had finished. For all its apparent simplicity, Plantasia is a deceptively substantial and varied album. The sinewy synth mutations of "Concerto For Philodenron and Pothos" and "Rhapsody in Green" for example, flow through light and sinister moods like a wandering vine captured in time-lapse photography.
It is easy to imagine an award-winning short animation film wherein hip West Coast foliage grooves along to the swaying melody and plonking rhythms of "Baby‚Äôs Tears Blues" and the breezy "Swinging Spathiphyllums." Equally, the creeping, swirls of "Ode To An African Violet" belong in, and indeed may already be in, a video game. I detect from "You Don‚Äôt Have To Walk A Begonia" a potent whiff of seaside pier amusement arcade and cheesy bingo parlor pipe organ. The title track first made me think of refreshing raindrops watering weary leaves and tired minds, but it blooms into something of a vivid musical canopy of Moog trumpets. "A Mellow Mood For Maidenhair" and "Music To Soothe The Savage Snake Plant" hint at at the stylized world of Gnac‚Äôs fantastic "Sevens" disc, with its contradictory mundane glamour, jet set travel, drab hotels, and weary secret agents - an accidental or unconscious link to the real life worlds of Backster and Tompkins.
On some obscure Venn diagram, Plantasia sits just within the point where espionage and manipulation techniques meet innocence and nature. It would make a great addition to the soundtrack of Douglass Trumbull‚Äôs 1972 post-apocalyptic environmental sci-fi film Silent Running. The lilting, spaced out charm of these ten tracks transcends the backstories and slightly von D√§nikenesque musings about plant consciousness - which have long been overtaken by philosophical debate on artificial intelligence, sex toy robots, and digital life. Silent Running ends with a lone remaining Earth forest floating through space in a dome, tended by a single robot. We are not there yet, but it is arguably sad to consider the less than secret life of plants in modern agriculture, where they are speed grown in relentless artificial light and never allowed to sleep. Such a fate is the antithesis of Plantasia which was also briefly distributed to those buying a Simmons mattress from limited participating Sears stores. The 2019 reissue is, naturally, available on green vinyl and the cover artwork is still hopelessly harmless.