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Mort Garson
Mother Earth's Plantasia Brian Coney , June 26th, 2019 10:48

When Mort Garson originally released Mother Earth's Plantasia in 1976, its Moog melodies were intended to help your plants grow. Today, as plant extinction rates ramp up, it feels like a warning, finds Brian Coney

With a recent study signalling that the global rate of plant extinction is now twice the number of extinct birds, mammals and amphibians combined (and, staggeringly, 500 times greater than before the industrial revolution) the first-ever vinyl reissue of Mort Garson’s Mother Earth's Plantasia feels like a timely red flag being flown from the recent past.

As much inspired by his wife’s keen interest in gardening as it was The Secret Life Of Plants, a best-selling 1973 book that made a valiant case for plant sentience, Plantasia found Canadian electronic music pioneer Garson well and truly putting the synth in photosynthesis. Subtitled “warm earth music for plants… and the people that love them,” it has transcended the honour of being one of the earliest records produced with the Moog synthesizer to become something much more: a densely imaginative - and surprisingly influential - feature-length ode to harmony.

Originally given away with a nifty guide to “Indoor Plant Care” wedged within its sleeve, Plantasia sprouted up at a generational impasse when “consciousness-raising” and base New Age dernier cri was seeping straight into the mainstream. On the surface, Garson’s album (not least the directive that it was to be played to help plants grow) seemed typical of that drift. Beneath the heavy topsoil of kneejerk A&R, however, a deceptively nuanced and downright irresistible feat of pure electronic minimalism lay in wait.

Nowadays, Garson’s meisterstück still confines within its thirty minutes a singular muted ecstacy. Every bit aqueous and sleepyheaded as they are downright adorable, these ten pocket symphonies seem to bound from a netherworld where pixels – not psychic readings nor herbal therapy nor co-ops – feel akin to spiritual currency. From the woozy first notes of its title track and the tumbling arpeggios of ‘Rhapsody In Green’ to ‘Concerto For A Philodendron & Pothos’ (a peak which proved a blueprint for ‘Zelda’s Lullaby’, a recurring theme in the hugely popular The Legend of Zelda video game series) Garson musters something special. By loosely leveraging the idea that plants might hear, his themes double up as cosy little strands of confab between man, nature and modernity. Equilibrium must be struck.

From the synth strut of 'Baby Tears Blues' to 'You Don't Have to Walk a Begonia’, Mother Earth’s Plantasia continues to hold special dominion within a nebulous sonic sphere that has trickled into 1980s Library Music, 16bit RPG-soundtracks and far beyond. Now, thanks to the efforts of Sacred Bones, we have a chance to view it as something more than Garson probably ever wished for it to be. Not least from the vantage point of an era where mass plant extinction, from the Chile sandalwood to Saint Helena olive, is no longer some idle cosmic threat but a we-could-actually-be-fucked reality, let’s honour Garson by not simply viewing his 1976 album as something lovely, or even groundbreaking, but as a cue to heed the red flag for what it is.