In this first edition of our Rescued From The Fire series, we aim to explore the music of a particular record so incredibly important to the author that he/she would risk life and limb to save it from the ravaging effects of falling asleep with a cigarette. In this installment, we hear from James Pants of Stones Throw Records as he talks us through one of the world's most peculiar gardeners...
MORT GARSON 'PLANTASIA'
“It has been proven beyond any doubt that harmonic waves affect the growth, flowering and seed yield of plants.” – Dr. T.C. Singh, Department of Botany, Annamalai University (India)
In 1973, a Colorado-based scientist named Dorothy Retallack published a book called The Sound Of Music And Plants. The book argued that plants bloom more readily when listening to classical music and, conversely, wither rapidly when listening to "rock". There may be quite a bit of truth to this. I can imagine Black Sabbath at high-volume potentially being detrimental to the health of orchids, though one can’t really say. The more conspiratorial answer would be that Retallack’s theory was yet another example of the perennial war on rock waged by the good, quiet Protestants of the world.
Either way, the book must have piqued the interest of the late, prolifically peculiar electronic composer, Mort Garson, who was living in Beverly Hills at the time. By day, Garson was making good money doing work for films and commercials with his use of the then-adolescent Moog Synthesizer (films like Beware! The Blob would not be quite the same without his electronic meanderings). On the side, however, Mort was having a laugh putting out his own bizarre records simply for the fun of it. One could argue that Garson took an especially sardonic pleasure in releasing records with skewed back stories under a variety of pseudonyms. His many great works included Black Mass by Lucifer (a synthesized ode to all things occult), Music For Sensuous Lovers by Z (a moaning and groaning electronic parody of the Joan Garrity bestseller, The Sensuous Woman), and his psychedelic meditation record, The Unexplained by Ataraxia among others. He even did a disco-rap 7", but that’s another story.
His take on the Retallack book, Mother Earth’s Plantasia, was a 10-song LP intended to aid our vegetative friends in their growth – though listening to the music, it is hard to imagine it doing so. The overall feel of the album is playful, with psychedelic Moog melodies sprinkled over swinging drum machines and basslines. Basically, the exact kind of stuff you want at your next sci-fi cocktail party, not at your weekly home gardeners meeting. Songs like "Swingin' Spathiphyllums", "Symphony For A Spider Plant", "Music To Soothe The Savage Snake Plant", and "You Don’t Have To Walk A Begonia" at least indicate an attempt by Garson at shrubbery relaxation, though it would take a really hip plant to sprout up to this stuff. Several theories abound in academic circles linking the film Little Shop of Horrors directly to this recording.
The album was given out free with the purchase of a Simmon’s mattress at Sears in 1976, and as a bonus, came with extensive instructions on plant care. I myself became disillusioned with home gardening some time ago, and threw away the detailed plant manual, though I can assure you the same fate will never befall the actual record.
- James Pants, 2011