Good Music We Can Know

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Desire and Plantasy: Mort Garson- Plantasia (1976), Roger Roger- Musique & des Secrets pour enchanter vos Plantes (1978), Joël Fajerman- La Aventura de las Plantas (1982)

Hi.  Sorry I've been gone so long.  I've been... busy.  So busy.  You understand, I trust.

Let me just jump back into the game by highlighting three records which explore a similar theme.  These are sort of old news in terms of the blogosphere, but if you need fresh-breaking scoops then you must know you are in the wrong location.  I'm just trying to talk about what's snatched my fancy at the particular moment.

The theme is plants.  You already knew this.  I started thinking about this last night while playing plant and undersea-oriented synth and library records back-to-back in an attempt to help my perpetually tense and furrowed-browed body-house embrace the life and hope and warmth of this spring as it slowly turns towards the not-so-dreadful.  We must all accept this: winter cannot hurt us now, and some terrible ordeals do eventually end.  The theme is plants, tranquility, life, the sublime mindlessness and exotic beauty of existence as a plant.  Oh, to be a plant: a life without a mind.

There is quite emphatically no better place to start in on this theme than Mort Garson's utter masterpiece, Mother Earth's Plantasia: Warm Earth Music For Plants... And The People Who Love Them.  This is the record of plant music; it's also one of the better Moog albums of all time, soothing, exotic, and melodically exquisite.

"Full, warm, beautiful mood music especially composed to aid in the growing of your plants."
-Back cover notes, Plantasia.

"It has been proven beyond any doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flowering and seed yield of your plants." - Dr. T.C. Singh, Department of Botany, Annamalai University (India)

Plantasia has a winningly silly conceit -- music composed for both the pleasure of the human listener, and the "actual" botanical effects of playing synth music to your plants, like some gardener from Zardoz.  This pseudo-scientific new-age alchemical supposition only enhances the innocence and otherworldly magic of a record which is already unbelievably strong.  These sort of conceptual tone-poem LPs often delve into cartoonish wackiness and broad attempts to convey the "essential" nature of its various subjects via garish caricature, but Garson wisely chooses to evoke the inner life of plants with dignified mystery and subdued passages of aching beauty, bubbling with texture and pierced with light.  These sun dappled, glowing-green sonic miniatures don't need the titles, or the accompanying booklet, to insist their plant-ness; the sound is unmistakably pulsing with chlorophyll, stretching out in slow motion to soak up the sun as tiny life bustles throughout a hidden world.  Garson pulls off an always-welcome trick: he makes our natural world seem like science fiction, imbues it with a simple alien beauty.  The new age-y goal is achieved, and I have fallen once again in love with the earth.

The compositions are just dynamite, too.  Just check the lightly-pulsating undergrowth safari of "Ode to an African Violet," or the overwhelming sensuality of "Mellow Mood for a Maidenhair" and "Music to Soothe the Savage Snake Plant".  The thing is, it's all so unbearably pleasant, euphoric.  It's like overdosing on Vitamin D.


Next up is a Roger Roger LP.  Roger Roger gets a lot of love in the world of library and synth music, but rarely do I see this, De la Musique & des Secrets pour enchanter vos Plantes (Music & Secrets to delight your plants), receive its due.  It's a minor masterpiece in a career bursting with excellence.  I don't know the full story behind this one, but it seems clear to me that it was inspired by Garson's Plantasia, which came out two years earlier.  Both suggest playing the record to your plants, which is a pretty niche market even in the late seventies (a little more info can be found here, and while I am not upping DJ No Breakfast's rip -- I have another one that I like a bit more -- I did include his booklet scans in the zip, which will likely amuse the French-speaking of you out there). 

This record's only flaw -- and this is true of Plantasia as well -- is that it is agonizingly brief.  It's comprised of two side-long tracks, which seem to flow in and out of compositions -- movements, I guess -- seamlessly.  The first side, "Effluves", is all synth, very much in the vein of Garson's work.  I don't know exactly what equipment is being used here, but it's definitely dominated by that fat Moogy sound and bubbling textural accenting.  In a subtle difference of approach from Garson's (which is more like an Exotica or easy-listening record in many respects) Roger Roger's suite has a more magisterial air, with a hint of baroque pomp and a great deal of Debussy's sense of the moonlit sublime.  This whole side is just an agony of ecstasy, it's so fucking beautiful you'll just have to burn your house down and transform into a giant orchid on your front lawn.

Side two is "Luxuriance", a much more symphonic piece with less in the way of synths.  At first, it's significantly less appealing -- gnashing orchestral strings giving way to a Vivaldi-esque gaudy garden gadabout -- but this shit has its own appeal if you're generous with it and it soon turns to more sensual fare, in keeping with the title Luxuriance.  Synths start popping up, trading notes with a baroque harpsichord.  Following that movement is a section with long lines of menacing synths and darkly exotic ethnic coloring in the form of atonal twanging and hand drums.  It's pretty outstanding.  Then the whole thing goes out on a kind of overblown movie-music section that's not too bad, ending in more gnashing strings.  Perhaps not as good as side one but just fascinating, and occasionally better than almost anything else.


The last is Joël Fajerman's La Aventura de las Plantas, a soundtrack to a French documentary series of the same name.  Of the three, this is of the least enduring interest to me -- it's a bit more predictable Jarre-esque e-music -- but it's quite solid, and has some wonderful moments.  I'm particularly fond of "Ma Forêt," and "Flowers of Love" (something of a hit in its day) is pretty swell. 

In my opinion, the whole thing is a little cold, a little harsh in the wrong ways. I've always respected but never really loved Fajerman's work; I often feel as though I really ought to enjoy what he's doing but something just seems to be missing, there's an emptiness at the core.  Still, e-music is sort of supposed to be cold and synthetic, and Fajerman's no slouch -- what may not be my cup of tea precisely could thoroughly float your boat.