Photosynthesizers: On Mort Garson’s ‘Plantasia’ and the floral condition
Mike Donovan | Wednesday, March 27, 2019
You may have heard, a plant is an acoustic guitar, a raspy voice, a well-worn pair of Chacos sitting under a tree or around a campfire or in a log cabin next to Walden Pond. You may have heard, a plant sings Woody Guthrie while traipsing through the woods like an adopted child of Oberon (King of the Fairies), grazing Brother Fern before ensnaring itself in Mother Earth’s warm embrace. You may have heard, a plant has nothing to do with ones and zeros, inputs and outputs, definitions and returns — a plant merely grows toward the sun and soaks in the rain. You may have heard, a plant fears the electromagnetic manipulations that modulate and modify the sounds of the wind, water and wasps whispering overhead because these synthetic sounds indicate the inevitable advance of the anthropomorphic automatons that harvest unhappy plants. You may have heard, to love a plant is to hate the humanized harvesting machines that harangue the sun and the soil. They may have told you that transistor units, oscillating pings and vacuum tubes offer no warmth to plants and the people who love them.
You may have heard these things (the ramblings of a jaded, plant-loving luddite) and agreed. If this happens to be the case, I must ask you to reconsider. I ask you to spend some time with Mort Garson’s 1976 masterstroke — “Mother Earth’s Plantasia: Warm Earth Music for Plants and the People Who Love Them.” If you oblige, I will watch (eyes glowing green with autotrophic joy) as the record (thirty minutes of Moog-modulated chlorophyll) rewires your acoustic guitar playing, Chaco wearing, Walden Pond reading, humanoid brain to think photosynthetically.
At once futurist (woven from the sonic strands of Robert Moog’s earliest synthesizers) and primitive (in its structural simplicity), “Plantasia” amalgamates lucid tones into an imaginary ecosphere wherein the photosynthetically inclined can grow tall and strong, free from the industrial world’s mechanized worries. Within “Plantasia’s” hallucinatory borders, synthesized sounds (oscillating pings, vacuum tubes) stand in for the sun and the soil as the central source of food and warmth. These synthetic substitutes follow circadian rhythms — mimicking the day’s flow from the break of dawn ( “Plantsia” / “Swingin’ Spathyphyllums) to the mid-morning bustle (“Symphony for a Spider Plant” / “You Don’t Have to Walk a Begonia”) to the laziness of the late afternoon (“Baby Blue’s Tears”) to the dimming dusk (“Ode to an African Violet” / “A Mellow Mood for Maidenhair”) to the depth of the night (“Music to Soothe the Savage Snake Plant”). The cycles stir a sonic slurry — a melodious mixture of water, earth and air — which serves to celebrate a plant’s journey from seedling to stalk (and situate humans within the botanical ballet.)
Art goes to great lengths to elucidate the human condition — to find out, once and for all, what it means to be human. “Plantasia,” on the contrary, doesn’t give a flying f— about humanity. And why should it? Humans are complicated and whiney. They’re needy and they talk too much. Worst of all, humans treat plants like s—. They wipe out acre after acre of exquisite flora from the face of the earth in order to satisfy their many needs. It’s disgusting. It’s murder. We’ve spilled enough ink trying to figure out the human condition. It’s time to leave the Anthropocene and give ourselves over to Garson’s photosynthesizers. Only in “Plantasia” can we discover what it means to be a plant … what it means to love a plant. The human condition can f— right off. The floral condition has returned.