Friday, January 12, 2018

Mort Garson - 1976 - Mother Earth's Plantasia

Mort Garson 
Mother Earth's Plantasia

01. Plantasia
02. Symphony For a Spider Plant
03. Babys' Tears Blues
04. Ode to an African Violet
05. Concerto For Philodendron & Pothos
06. Rhapsody in Green
07. Swinging Spathipyllums
08. You Don't Have to Walk a Begonia
09. A Mellow Mood for Maidenhair
10. Music to Soothe the Savage Snake Plant

Recorded in stereo at Patchcord Productions
Hollywood, California

- Mort Garson: Moog synthesizer

Mort Garson does a 180 from the eerie Ataraxia, since this time he does a Plant Moog album, an album for plants, music that's supposed to be soothing for plants, so don't expect Ataraxia or Lucifer. In fact the music, for the most part borders on proto-New Age, and for my tastes, it's not always to my liking. The album does best when steering away from the early New Age template, to be honest it still sounds like Mort Garson we all know and love. Unlike his major label albums, Mother Earth's Plantasia was only available at furniture outlets (in Southern California, apparently) when you purchase a Simmons Mattress. I can't imagine too many Simmons buyers playing it, I'm sure many of them had fairly mainstream music tastes who likely had a few Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Eagles and James Taylor records in their collection at the time, with electronic music a bit out of their league. Regardless, not my favorite from him, but still worth having if you enjoyed his other electronic stuff. This appears to be Mort Garson's last exploration into electronic music, by 1976 his style was becoming outdated (Jean Michel Jarre was just appearing with the release of Oxygene that December that changed the world of electronic music, one of more mainstream acceptance). I don't know if this album will calm plants, but I'm sure it may calm many listeners.

The title track opens with a set of very soft ambient synthesizer (or, should I say, photosynthesizer hehehehe) arpeggi with a very swift whistle-like sound generator. Eventually a bass synth and another lead enter, as well as a lone MIDI trumpet. It reminds me of the Vangelis work for Blade Runner. Calm and soothing track, which is what I assume will be found throughout the entirety of the album.

"Symphony for a spider plant" has these pretty glass-like arpeggiators with more sine-wave synths. This one has an even more outer space vibe because of the arpeggi. I like the little section switch that Garson uses at 1:40. The main theme makes a reoccurrence at the end.

"Baby's Tears Blues" continues this 90's ringtone series with a slightly more pro-active bass synth. I usually hate strings generated from keyboards but they sound pretty cool around 0:50. Just thought of one more thing it reminds me off. Back in school we used to watch these old soviet movies on biology and the soundtracks to those were incredibly similar. Especially the little arpeggi swirls in between the sections.

"Ode To An African Violet" has an element of electronic percussion noticeable and sounds like early Aphex-lite. It is very simple with chill background percussion and maximum 2-3 synths playing over. I bet flowers would love this shit. I mean what flowers would listen to if not this, right? Either way, the usage of the little swirl transitions is used here too. They sound like bells. Plus there is this one synth that sounds so high-pitched at the end .

"Concerto for Philodendron..." has very pretty synth sections at 0:45 sec. The synths on this album have a very intergalactic and warm flavor to it. If the plants were in space, they would be loving this even more. This particular track reminds me of Pet Shop Boys for some reason.

"Rhapsody In Green" is very relaxing, even more so compared to the previous tracks. It tried to keep the synths at a certain volume level. All is very quiet up to the little soloing synth at 1:25, where it becomes just fragile. The next section that followed at 1:50 has these "waaaooooowww" synths playing over more arpeggiators. It is still very very quiet.

"Swinging Spathyphiliums" has a more upbeat melody and a drum machine supporting the numerous synths. Once again the strings here don't have that superficial flavor that I dislike. I guess the amount of very artificial synths create a more organic vibe when united.

"You Don't Have To Walk A Begonia" is a playful little tune, very childish. Maybe it is the toy-like synth that plays out the main is all very relaxing as usual. I do like the main synth that sort of sets the rhythm in the back of the piece. Has a certain retro video game sound to it.

"Mellow Mood for Maidenhair" is pretty much more of the same. Very chill synth tunes that sound very well-written in term so the arrangements.
The closer "music to soothe the savage snake plant" is more ambient-ish at the start and sounds what I expected album to sound like prior to the listen. I feel like the additional Midi stuff thrown around the album like the horns or the strings aren't really a bad (on the contrary, they sounded very nice) but I would imagine plants to listen to more ambient stuff.

I enjoyed this very short album. My only complaint is that it sounds a tad bit dated but it is still a pleasant listen. 

Mort Garson - 1975 - The Unexplained: Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult by Ataraxia

Mort Garson
The Unexplained: Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult by Ataraxia 

01. Tarot (4:19)
02. Sorcerer (3:53)
03. Déjà Vu (3:19)
04. Astral Projection (5:12)
05. Séance (4:17)
06. I Ching (3:52)
07. Kabala (3:28)
08. The Unexplained (3:07)
09. Wind Dance (3:23)

- Mort Garson / Synthesizers

To me I think Mort Garson is one of the great synthesizer pioneers, although a lot of it got bogged down by cheesy narration and dated subject matter such as The Zodiac - Cosmic Sounds, The Wozard of Iz and the Signs of the Zodiac series (which actually, I don't have a problem with, though many do), so you often had to tune out the narration to hear the brilliant music within. Luckily he did a few all instrumental Moog albums, like Lucifer - Black Mass and it's natural followup The Unexplained, which is the album I'm reviewing here. As usual, his name is not emphasized on his albums, you usually never see his name on the front cover, and this time it's no exception, he was going by Ataraxia for this particular project. Unsurprisingly this also sounds like that natural followup to Black Mass. To me, this is an even better album, although still trippy, he wasn't doing trippy sounds effects for sound effects sake and often took a bit more of a melodic approach, although it's not like he's heading in Jean Michel Jarre territory here. He only released one more Moog album, Plantasia in 1976, and I don't believe he recorded anything more like this. Certainly The Unexplained is a great album of electronic music, and even if you were put off by some of his other releases (for reasons explained near the beginning of this review), this still comes highly recommended!

Mort Garson - 1971 - Music For Sensuous Lovers By Z

Mort Garson
Music For Sensuous Lovers By Z

01. Climax One (13:50)
02. Climax Two (12:07)

- Mort Garson: Moog synthesizer

Promotional copies contained warning sticker 'For Adults Only' on the top left of the front cover and a factory emboss 'Not For Sale Promotion Use Only' on the top right of front cover. Both the public and promotional label designs were identical in red with black text.

Now this is an odd album if there was one, and perhaps not the best idea out there. Both him and Ruth White came up with Occult Moog albums, and he also came up with Astrological Moog albums (the Signs of the Zodiac series from 1969). But this is one idea that should have been left in the bedroom and that's Sex Moog, which is exactly what you get with Music For Sensuous Lovers. He tends to release albums under pseudonyms or make sure his name is nowhere to be found on the front cover (you have to look in the songwriting/composing/performing credits to find his name on many of these albums), and on this one he was recording as "Z". If you've enjoyed The Wozard of Iz, or the Signs of the Zodiac series, musically, this album isn't too terribly different. I personally love what he does musically here. It's what you hear in the background is best left in the bedroom. It's not the kind of album you want to be heard in mixed company, especially with more conservative minded guests. It's no surprise neither A&M nor Uni released this album, due to content. It was released on Sensuous Music, which, as far as I can tell, a private release. I imagine this was only available in adult book stores, but there's nothing to verify that, but I wouldn't doubt that if that was true. It's hard to find and never been reissued (in this case I can see why it was never reissued due to content). So maybe not the best idea, but if it was a straight musical album it would be great, as I love the music, and I recommend it for the musical part. Three stars, love the music, but the background sounds should have been left in the bedroom.

Mort Garson - 1971 - Black Mass Lucifer

Mort Garson 
Black Mass Lucifer

01. Solomon's Ring (3:20)
02. The Ride Of Aida (Voodoo) (3:07)
03. Incubus (3:29)
04. Black Mass (3:39)
05. The Evil Eye (2:10)
06. Exorcism (3:45)
07. The Philosopher's Stone (3:27)
08. Voices Of The Dead (The Medium) (2:05)
09. Witch Trial (3:00)
10. ESP (1:01)

- Mort Garson / all electronics & effects

It's unbelievable the amount of electronic albums Mort Garson had done since 1967 as of 1971 when Black Mass came out on the Uni label. He helped compose the Zodiac Cosmic Sounds album in 1967 for Elektra, did The Wozard of Iz, Electronic Hair Pieces (doing Moog renditions of music from Hair), the Signs of the Zodiac series, an obscure film soundtrack called Didn't You Hear, and a sex Moog album called Music for Sensuous Lovers. Those last two albums seem to be most obscure as Didn't You Hear was only available at Seattle movie theater lobbies when the film came out, and Music for Sensuous Lovers was obviously released privately (actually Sensuous Records, but I'm sure it was a private release) due to the content. For Black Mass, he records as Lucifer and creates an occult Moog album. After all, he did a sex Moog album, and a bunch of astrology Moog albums, a Broadway musical Moog, and a Moog album inspired by The Wizard of Oz updated to 1968 counterculture themes. Black Mass is full of creepy sounding synth and percussion sounds. Where The Signs of the Zodiac series tend to be pleasant, this stuff sounded pretty creepy. Much of it is on the experimental side, although classical style shows up on "Voices of the Dead (The Medium)". I also notice a part of one of the songs used on Signs of the Zodiac was used on the beginning of "Black Mass". I have often seen negative reviews of this album, but actually it's one of my favorites. For one thing, there's no narration or vocals, often I felt the narration and vocals on many of his other albums a bit hard to take seriously (especially the Signs of the Zodiac series), this one is all instrumental and so works in listener's benefit. If you do like this, don't forget to check out his The Unexplained (as Ataraxia) from 1975 on RCA (despite the four year gap, it's surprisingly similar). I love this kind of Moog music, sure beats a lot of those cheese renditions of pop and classical (for my tastes, some people like that cheesy stuff for kitsch value, for me most of that stuff doesn't hold up). Black Mass comes recommended by me.

Mort Garson - 1970 - Didn't You Hear?

Mort Garson 
Didn't You Hear?

01. Didn't You Hear?
02. No Smoking
03. Dream Sequence 1
04. Dream Sequence 2
05. Kevin's Theme
06. Sail! Sail!
07. Kevin And Paige
08. Bamboo City
09. Walk To Grange Hall
10. Virgil's Theme
11. Walk To The Other Side Of The Island
12. Death Talk And Jeep Approach
13. Jeep Ride
14. Dead Tree
15. Didn't You Hear? (End Title)

- Mort Garson / Moog Synthesizer
- Tom Muncrief / Vocals

Soundtrack to a film that was filmed on location on Lopez Island in the San Juan Island chain in Washington State and the University of Washington campus in Seattle and was aired briefly in Seattle theaters. The album was available only in theater outlets and not in stores.
Front cover: 'The first completely electronically scored motion picture! Experience sounds and sensations you never have before'. 

Custom Fidelity subtly altered the rainbow art color scheme of their record label during mid-pressings of this record as indicated in the above images, though it is not known which pressings were days or weeks earlier (as production was very low) and each versions matrix runout and label numbering remained identical. 

Original 1970 release. This movie and album was released December 16, 1970 in Seattle and filmed mainly on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands chain and University of Washington campus during the Summer of '70. This album soundtrack was available exclusively in the theater lobbies (not sold in stores), and had a very low production. This film played briefly at local Seattle theaters and then disappeared. It was released on video in '83. 

Composer/keyboardist Mort Garson (Modular Moog) and Tom Muncrief (vocals) are not credited on the record cover or labels, including other credits added above. Tom Muncrief was the vocalist in The Beckett Quintet (a garage band from Portales, New Mexico). The individual compositions were written mainly for the film with several from Mort's unused 60's sound library. Two tracks are excerpts of songs which appeared on two of Mort's later albums 'The Unexplained' (1975) and 'Black Mass' (1971) while the rest of the soundtrack is mostly melodic, dreamy and psychedelic.

Soundtrack to a real obscure film that only aired in Seattle theaters, I know little of the film, but the soundtrack album, which you could only get in Seattle theaters at the time, meant this LP is a guaranteed rarity (I used to live in Seattle for a short time in the 1990s, don't recall seeing this one, but then again, back then I never heard of Mort Garson, so who knows). This, and Music For Sensuous Lovers, which came out the next year (1971) seems to be Mort Garson's most obscure electronic albums. Didn't You Hear? only features vocals on two cuts, the bookended title tracks, the rest are short instrumental pieces. There is no denying this is Mort Garson and his modular Moog, in fact musically, it sounds not too different from Signs of the Zodiac series from the previous year, but no narrations to get in the way. More great electronic music from the early days of electronic. I like how (Electronic Hair Pieces aside) that he avoided doing Moog renditions of other people's songs and doing original material, and this album proves that. It's too bad A&M did not release that, then it would have been widely available, instead of on Custom Fidelity in Seattle theater lobbies (although the label was based out of California, so I'm guess it wasn't released elsewhere as the film was never aired outside Seattle). If you can find a copy, this album is required in your collection if you enjoy Mort Garson's electronic music.

Mort Garson - 1969 - Signs Of The Zodiac

Mort Garson
Signs Of The Zodiac

Signs Of The Zodiac, Aries

01. I Know You Aries (1:47)
02. Aries At Work (1:53)
03. Planetary Motivations (2:07)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Aries - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:53)
06. In Love, Aries? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Aries (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Taurus

01. I Know You Taurus (1:47)
02. Taurus at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Taurus - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Taurus? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Taurus (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Gemini

01. I Know You Gemini (1:47)
02. Gemini at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon (6:44)
05. Gemini - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Gemini? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Gemini (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Cancer

01. I Know You Cancer (1:47)
02. Cancer at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Cancer - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Cancer? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Cancer (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Leo

01. I Know You Leo (1:47)
02. Leo At Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. What Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Leo - Numers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Leo? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Leo (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Virgo

01. I Know You, Virgo (1:47)
02, Virgo at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. What Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Virgo - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Virgo? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Virgo (3:46)
08. Those Who Know (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Libra

01. I Know You Libra (1:47)
02. Libra at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Libra - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Libra? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Libra (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Scorpio

01. I Know You Scorpio (1:47)
02. Scorpio at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Scorpio - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Scorpio? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Scorpio (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Sagittarius

01. I Know You Sagittarius (1:47)
02. Sagittarius at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Sagittarius - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Sagittarius? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Sagittarius (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Capricorn

01. I Know You Capricorn (1:47)
02. Capricorn at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Capricorn - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Capricorn? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Capricorn (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Aquarius

01. I Know You Aquarius (1:47)
02. Aquarius at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Aquarius - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Aquarius? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Aquarius (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

Signs Of The Zodiac, Pisces

01. I Know You Pisces (1:47)
02. Pisces at Work (2:07)
03. Planetary Motivations (1:53)
04. Where Was Your Moon? (6:44)
05. Pisces - Numbers, Gems and Colors (3:50)
06. In Love, Pisces? (2:40)
07. The Four Seasons of Pisces (3:46)
08. Those Who Knew (3:14)

- Mort Garson / Moog synthesizer
- Nancy Priddy / Narration
- John Erwin / Narration
- Michael Bell / Narration

Mastered At – RCA Studios, Toronto
Manufactured By – Quality Records Limited
Distributed By – Quality Records Limited
Published By – Almo Music Corp.
Published By – Emanay Music

Morton S. "Mort" Garson (20 July 1924 – 4 January 2008) was a Canadian-born composer, arranger, songwriter, and pioneer of electronic music. He is best known for his albums in the 1960s and 1970s that were among the first to feature Moog synthesizers. He also co-wrote several hit songs, including "Our Day Will Come", a hit for Ruby and the Romantics. According to Allmusic, "Mort Garson boasts one of the most unique and outright bizarre resumés in popular music, spanning from easy listening to occult -influenced space-age electronic pop. 

In the late 1960s, Garson became one of the first arrangers and composers to work with the newly available Moog synthesizer, and his electronic albums from the period are now highly prized among collectors and exotica fans. A suite of Garson compositions with words by Jacques Wilson, released on Elektra Records, The Zodiac : Cosmic Sounds - Celestial Counterpoint with Words and Music includes tracks for each of the 12 signs of the zodiac. While Garson was writing the music, he was introduced to Robert Moog and decided to incorporate his invention into the album. The recording features Paul Beaver on a variety of electronic instruments with voice-overs by Cyrus Faryar. Released in late 1967, it was the first album recorded on the West Coast to make use of the Moog synthesizer. Also in 1967, he arranged the obscure single "See The Cheetah", credited to the Big Game Hunters. 

Another Moog album, Electronic Hair Pieces, covered songs from the hippie-influenced musical, Hair. The mod album cover art for Electronic Hair Pieces featured a model with a wired-up skull; liner notes were provided by Tom Smothers of the Smothers Brothers. Another album, The Wozard of Iz, a psychedelic satire based on The Wizard of Oz, also with words by Jacques Wilson, featured Bernie Krause providing environmental sound effects and Suzie Jane Hokom voicing Dorothy. (The widely repeated claim that Suzie Jane Hokom is a pseudonym for Nancy Sinatra is untrue.) 

Following the success of the original Zodiac LP, Garson went on to compose and arrange a 12 album series of zodiac albums for A&M Records, one album for each sign. Like Zodiac, each album contained original tunes with heavy use of electronics. In 1971, he composed an entirely instrumental electronic Black Mass album, released on Uni Records under the pseudonym Lucifer, that again featured the Moog. Jason Alkeny at Allmusic describes the Black Mass album as "undoubtedly... his masterpiece". Garson also released, in 1972, a record of music-and-moans to capitalize on the best-seller at the time, The Sensuous Woman by "Z". In 1974, he composed the electronic music score for the 18th Annual Grammy Award winning Best Children's Recording of The Little Prince narrated by Richard Burton. The following year, he released an album titled Ataraxia: The Unexplained designed to accompany meditations to the mantra of the listener's choice. Mother Earth's Plantasia, which was released in 1976, was a series of Moog compositions to be played for growing plants. It has recently resurfaced online and become a posthumous cult hit.

Mort Garson - 1969 - Electronic Hair Pieces

Mort Garson
Electronic Hair Pieces

01. Aquarius 2:15
02. Frank Mills 1:47
03. Be In (Hare Krishna) 3:21
04. Good Morning Starshine 2:42
05. Three-Five-Zero-Zero 3:38
06. Hair 2:17
07. Easy To Be Hard 2:45
08. Where Do I Go ? 2:44
09. Walking In Space 3:19
10. Let The Sunshine In 3:00

Recorded at EmGee Electronic Studios

- Mort Garsen / all electronics & effects

Since this was released in '69, Electronic Hair Pieces' heavily dated sound is understandable and passable, but most people nowadays I'm sure would mistake this as the long lost soundtrack to the original Pokemon games on Gameboy. To be fair, those soundtracks were fairly awesome.
In an era where a lot of electronic music was inaccessible with strong leanings toward the avant-garde side of things (Shostakovich, Schnitzler, Parmegiani, etc.), Mort Garson had created this reasonably accessible and poppy collection of synth tunes that is comparable to Cluster's pre-electro-pop masterpiece Zuckerzeit.

Each track on this album is short, averaging between 2 and 4 minutes, and display a very mechanical, robotic sense of melody but can be easily hummed. To be honest, considering that this album predates a lot of electronic pop music, I'd say that the melodies and overall structure of these catchy songs are rather sophisticated, even if the time period's technology results in a cheap, outdated sound.

Electronic Hair Pieces is relatively diverse too. Some tracks are lightly jazzy like "Walking in Space" and "Easy to Be Hard", some are forceful pre-dance music tunes such as "Hair", there is even an exotic quality like found on "Let the Sunshine In", but most of the album sounds like electronic-noir pop compositions.

It's a shame that Mort Garson remains relatively obscure because I'm confident that fans of electronic music or general instrumental pop music would find this album to be both accessible and sophisticated enough to warrant repeated listens. Especially, for anyone out there who enjoys Cluster's Zuckerzeit, then Mort Garson's Electronic Hair Pieces is a must have.

Mort Garson - 1968 - The Wozard of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey

Mort Garson 
The Wozard of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey

01. Prologue - 3:05
02. Leave the Driving to Us - 2:50
03. Upset Strip - 2:25
04. Never Follow the Yellow Green Road - 2:40
05. Thing a Ling (Scared Crow) - 2:21
06. In-Man - 1:28
07. Man With the Word (Lyin' Coward) - 2:00
08. They're Off to Find the Wozard - 1:40
09. Blue Poppy - 6:27
10. I've Been Over the Rainbow - 2:10
11. Big Sur - 3:20
12. Killing of the Witch - 3:35
13. Finale - 1:04

- Mort Garson / Moog Modular synthesizer

- Suzy Jane Hokum* / Dorothy
- Barney Phillips / Scared Crow, Lyin' Coward
- Jay Jason / In-Man
- Julie Haas / Baddy Witch
- Jadine Vaughan / Goodie Witch -
- Jaques Wilson / narrator

* the rumour that Suzy Jane Hokum is an alias for Nancy Sinatra was never confirmed

Looks like Mort Garson was really on a roll at the end of the '60s. You got The Wozard of Iz, then Electronic Hair Pieces, and apparently the exact same time, the 12-LP series Signs of the Zodiac (each LP on a different sign, sold separately). The Wozard of Iz is very much a product of the late '60s and the hippie movement, done by an already middle-aged guy, Canadian expat (residing in the States) Mort Garson, a guy old enough to be the "establishment" that the hippies and counterculture wanted nothing to do with (the rather naive "don't trust anyone over 30", when a few of their icons were over 30, like Abbie Hoffman, and Timothy Leary was quite a bit older than Hoffman, old enough to be the father of the hippies - ironically I could see that "don't trust anyone over 30" crowd circa 1978 when they turned 30 and how they reacted! I could also go on that Spencer Dryden of Jefferson Airplane turned 30 in 1968, Grace Slick turned 30 the next year in 1969, Ray Manzarek of the Doors turned 30 in 1969, showing examples how some of their icons turned 30 before the '60s ended. And one last thing, Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy was almost as old as Timothy Leary!).
One thing that needed to get cleared. For years it's been rumored that Suzy Jane Hokum (who did some of the narration on this album) was Nancy Sinatra. No, she was a separate person. The reason for the confusion was Suzy Jane Hokum (actually Suzi Jane Hokom) too had recorded with Lee Hazelwood, she too did a version of "Summer Wine" with him, but it was the version with Nancy Sinatra that became the hit and people are more familiar with. Hokom was a staffer at LHI Production, an enterprise ran by Hazelwood.

The Wozard of Iz was very much a product of its time. The Moog was a brand new invention, so I'm certain Mort Garson was learning as he was going on programming and playing the synth, learning its quirks and limitations (polyphonic synths wouldn't be for another few years, so this required lots of overdubbing, as well as manipulation of the multiple oscillators that it featured). Here he takes the Wizard of Oz, gives it a totally psychedelic synth make over, and gives it a counterculture theme, which is hardly subtle, and the veiled references to real life places and people weren't really all that veiled, it was so obvious to anyone who knew about the 1960s. Canvas City was Kansas City (thought of as a generic Midwestern city), Lemon County was Orange County, California (a conservative bastion that the counterculture avoided, it's largely suburban), Robert Squelch (Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society), the Upset Strip (the Sunset Strip, which was famous for a youth riot in 1966 that inspired Stephen Stills to write "For What It's Worth" for Buffalo Springfield), the only place not veiled was Big Sur. So you get Dorothy, and several characters that are conformist, unable to think for themselves, materialistic, and status quo-obsessed with The In-Man, the Lyin' Coward, and the Scared-Crow.

"Leave the Driving to Us" features probably the earliest use of sequencers that I know of (a sequencer was built into the modular Moog), it almost reminds me of a slowed-down version of Pink Floyd's "On the Run" (which too used a sequencer, but that sequencer was an EMS AKS, basically a Synthi A with a membrane sequencer keyboard). "Upset Strip" really features some nice melodies, Dorothy being warned to avoid the Upset Strip (because of riots, just like the real life Sunset Strip in 1966). "Never Follow the Yellow Green Road" might not be to everyone's liking. It has a very much Broadway musical feel to it, the big differences are being the Moog synthesizer is the only instrument used, and the lyrics having anti-establishment themes. They warn Dorothy not to follow this Yellow Green Road (as it's the middle of the road, representing conformity, and the narrator tells you Ferlenghetti books aren't read there, nor Warhol films played there, guaranteeing your mind won't be blown). "The Scared Crow" is a materialistic character obsessed with status, "The In-Man" is obsessed with charts and statics, while "The Lyin' Coward" is incapable of telling the truth (which was obviously a potshot at politicians). "They're Off the Find the Wozard" and the mellow "Big Sur" sounds like an electronic version of the Association (that vocal style that seems so common with L.A. bands of the time associated with "sunshine pop"). "I've Have Been Over the Rainbow" sounds amazingly like The United States of America (as in Joe Byrd and Dorothy Moskowitz), but using a Moog rather than some home made prototype electronic device. Even Suzy Jane Hokum sounds like Dorothy Moskowitz. This album really is all over the place, from highly experimental electronic sounds effects that sounds like something Nik Raicevic would do to electronic Broadway musical to Association-type sunshine pop with Moog instead of pop/rock instruments. Some of it's cheesy, some of it's great, but that's what you get when you listen to a Mort Garson Moog album. I love this album, but the Klaus Schulze, Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream crowd (or should I say, those preferring electronic music in that 1970s serious manner) might stay away, but those who want to hear an early Moog album that's not renditions of classical favorites (a la Switched-On Bach) or pop hits of the day would want this.

 ''Kansas City (...) a place where people throw rocks at dreams, and the dreams shouldn't be stoned... only the dreamer.''
The most spaced-out hippie stuff you can encounter. In many ways, this record is astonishing.

Down to the bone, it's some sort of a radio-drama (spoken words) with layers of synth-generated sound effects and melodies, with a few musical numbers. But it would be injustice to dismiss it easily, since it's groundbreaking in many ways.

First of all, the story itself is a skewed version of ''The Wizard Of Oz'', overloaded with hippie angst, political recourse, drug allegories and humour. Several people participated in the roles, the narrator being Jacques Wilson, the author of the whole concept (Garson did the music, but not the actual plot).

Musically, there's a plethora of noodlings, bleeps and burps to back up the narration. All sounds are exclusively produced with a synthesizer, if there are any traces of other instruments, I was not able to trace them.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the record (apart from being ahead its time) is its musicality. Those sound effects are not thrown in randomly as unsubstantial piles of various tones and noises. Yes, there are moments that can be compared to academic avant-garde musicians of the century - such is Stockhausen - but I'm wondering from which of those old maestri Garson picked influence, if at all. This is rooted in rock and marked with a lysergic mark all over the place. There are melodies - moreover - some incredible hooks, and a couple of tunes in a strict sense. There are bits that remind me of THE RESIDENTS and their works few years later; there's 'Never Follow The Yellow Green Road', which fuses funky electronic bass hook with a choir of female vocals in 60's soul style -- transfer this one into the early 2000's and you got an instant four-to-the-floor electronic dance hit!!! There are also beautiful (if a bit underdeveloped) 'I've Been Over the Rainbow' and 'Big Sur'; lovely songs with synth arpeggio emulating bassoons and electric organ and female vocal that came straight from the mellowest, dreamiest depths of West Coast, dream pop and psychedelia!!

I must point out Garson's skill great skill in producing the sound out of the synth: those big old bulky Moog Modular systems were beautiful and versatile machines, but unstable: it was a hell to keep them in tune. Garson is brilliantly avoiding such problems applying all sorts of bendings and resonances, glissandi, running sequences with smooth pitch shifts, and clever application of noise bursts (hiss) on sequencer to produce rhythmical patterns. Such an approach won't became old-fashioned until the dawn of useful drum-machines in late 70's/early 80's. He's also avoiding the monophonic properties of his machines by stacking oscillators on various frequencies, producing a one-key chord (a thing often used by Emerson, Wakeman and others), but he is never overdoing it. As for the more MUSICAL moments of the's bordering on unbelievable.

This record struck me deeply - remember it was done in 1968 - the electronic pioneers in Europe won't reach a degree of coherency for a couple of years more. Now I'm deeply interested to further check pioneers of electronic music from the New World - the place where the very concept of the synthesizer (as we know it today) was born.

Highly recommended. Far out, man!

The Love Strings Of Mort Garson - 1968 - Love Sounds

The Love Strings Of Mort Garson 
Love Sounds

01. Paradise In A Concrete Jungle 4:32
02. The Apartment 3:07
03. The Park (When We Were Kids) 4:13
04. A Quiet Sunday 2:50
05. Chile City 2:25
06. Nocturne For Lonely Dreamers 4:25
07. Saturday Night Rendevous 3:18
08. Midnight Blue 3:15
09. Love Affair In A Museum 3:02
10. Lost Heart (In A Lonesome City) 3:34
11. Girl Watching 3:07
12. The Enchantment 2:50

Arranged By, Conductor – Mort Garson
Producer – Alex Hassilev

Mort Garson boasts one of the most unique and outright bizarre resumés in popular music, spanning from easy listening to occult-influenced space-age electronic pop -- all in the same decade, no less. Born July 20, 1924, in the Canadian city of St. John, New Brunswick, Garson attended the Juilliard School of Music, briefly graduating to the ranks of professional pianist and arranger before he was drafted to serve in World War II. Upon returning from duty, Garson cemented a reputation as a top session hand, tackling arranging, conducting, or even composing duties if necessary; a small sampling of his credits includes sessions by Mel Tormé, Doris Day, Ed Ames, the Lettermen, and the Sandpipers. He also arranged and conducted a series of easy listening records in the mold of Les Baxter, among them the Continentals' Bossa Nova for All Ages, the Total Eclipse's Symphony for the Soul, and the Dusk 'Til Dawn Orchestra's Sea Drift. In 1963, Garson teamed with lyricist Bob Hilliard to write the lovely "Our Day Will Come," a number one pop hit for Ruby & the Romantics; with Perry Botkin Jr., he also arranged and conducted a number of easy listening records inspired by the era's biggest pop hits, among them two volumes in the Hollyridge Strings' Play the Beatles Songbook series and also their Play the Hits of Simon & Garfunkel. And in 1968, Garson experienced his crowning moment of commercial glory as the string arranger behind the Glen Campbell blockbuster "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

But the aforementioned accomplishments are all mere prelude to the most fascinating work of Garson's career -- specifically, the series of electronic LPs he made with spoken-word artist Jacques Wilson. 1967's Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds, which also featured contributions from electronic pioneer Paul Beaver, was the first record cut on the West Coast to feature Robert Moog's namesake synthesizer, and a year later the principals reunited for the Bernie Krause-produced The Wozard of Iz -- An Electronic Odyssey, a hallucinatory psychedelic satire of the L. Frank Baum children's classic featuring Nancy Sinatra (credited as "Suzy Jane Hokum") as Dorothy. For A&M, Garson next recorded Electronic Hair Pieces -- electronic renditions of songs from the hit musical Hair -- as well as the 12-volume Signs of the Zodiac series, with one record for each astrological sign. His masterpiece, however, is undoubtedly 1971's Black Mass/Lucifer, a seriously freaky and intense concept record drawing upon themes and images central to Satanist mythos. That same year, Garson teamed with performance artist Z for the aural aphrodisiac Music for Sensuous Lovers. He then spent the next several years composing film and television scores, returning to record stores in 1975 with another occult-themed effort, The Unexplained -- Ataxaria; a year later, Garson issued Plantasia, a collection of Moog pieces designed to boost the growth of indoor plants. From that point forward, Garson basically disappeared from sight.

There's a comment from someone on the YouTube page for Mort Garson's 1976 album Plantasia who says that they inherited the album from their grandfather, who was given the album free with the purchase of a mattress at a mattress store in the late 1970s. The mattress store was giving away was giving away a copy of the album—a psychedelic, instrumental electronic record about plants—for free with every purchase. If this story is true, I would really love to find out how that particular deal came about. Thanks in advance.

Plantasia is an instrumental concept album about, yep, you guessed it, plants, made using only Moog synthesizers, accompanied by the subtitle "Warm earth music for plants...and the people that love them". Like most other people who've accidentally come into contact with Garson's magnum opus, I clicked on the album having had my curiosity piqued by the title and album cover. I stayed for the mesmerizing music, which still makes me feel like I'm happily trapped in a lucid dream whenever I listen to it.

And, again, like most people, I had no real idea of who this mysterious bloke with a plant fixation actually was. So, I started researching more and more about the man who made it, and began to uncover not only one of the most forward thinking composers of the early electronic era, but surely one of the most unusual characters—a middle aged, working class American who according to his daughter at least, was an incredibly emotionally sensitive man, who made his music mostly for the enjoyment of his wife.

Having worked as journeyman classical composer for many years, Garson first found commercial success writing pop songs for a string of acts based on the East Coast in the early 1960s.

After meeting the creator of the Moog synthesizer Robert Moog at some point in the late 1960s, Garson bought one of his early instruments, and began to incorporate it more and more into his music, eventually using nothing else. After getting to grips with the new technology, Garson was soon at the top of his game as a studio engineer and composer for television, creating jingles and sound effects for adverts and jingles, and in July 1969 he was even commissioned to soundtrack the transmission of the first moon landing.

But rather than just get drunk every day for the next ten years, Garson used his success to make over 20 solo albums exploring the possibilities of the synthesizer, choosing to work within concepts such as space travel, the occult, and the growth of plants.

The following is an attempt to map out his extraordinary musical journey in five steps.

1. Ruby and the Romantics - "Our Day Will Come"

Garson had been writing pop songs for other artists since 1957, but this was his first big hit, an R&B ballad that topped the Billboard chart upon its release. The song is nice enough and full of rich vocal harmonies, but for me the only thing that really draws any comparison with Garson's later work is the dreamy xylophone that drops in and out, and what I assume to be a harmonium bleeding in about halfway through the song. It's not that remarkable, but the textural qualities of the instrumentation and production hint at a composer ahead of the curve.

2. The Zodiac - Cosmic Sounds
After a hugely successful commercial period writing albums for singers like Doris Day and Julie London, and working as a producer for Capitol and Elektra records, the late 1960s is when Garson's experimentation with synthesizers begins proper.

This album was allegedly commissioned from Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra at the time, who hired Garson to write the music, and to produce alongside Alex Hassilev, of skiffle group The Limeliters.

The result veers between cheesy, by-numbers, synth-led psychedelic rock, and electronic atonal noise, punctuated by drippings of sitar and a sort of King Arthur-esque medieval narrative. One of the songs was sampled by DJ Shadow on Entroducing. Weirdly enough though, this album was a massive commercial success, which encouraged A&M to offer him a deal to write and produce 12 albums about each sign of the zodiac. So there you go.

3. Mort Garson - Electronic Hair Pieces
Alongside writing the 12 zodiac albums for A&M, Garson was also hired to compose the incidental music for the moon landings in 1969, of which he said that "the only sounds that go with space travel are electronic ones".

Earlier that year, Garson released Electronic Hair Pieces, which is the first album of his that has a cohesive identity. It's supposedly a reworking of the soundtrack of the musical Hair, although to my ears Garson's version of "Walking in Space" sounds nothing like the Hair version.

The Garson version brilliantly encapsulates his ability to build cinematic dreamscapes out of layered synth lines and a suggestive title, while at other points he predates classic video game music ("Good Morning Starshine"), as well as Conrad Schnitzler-esque motorik electronics ("Let the Sunshine in").

4. Mort Garson - Ataxaria The Unexplained
Garson first explored the concept of the occult on Black Lucifer Mass in 1971, but of his occult albums I prefer Ataxaria The Unexplained, which is meant to soundtrack mantras of your own choice.

It's much more industrial sounding than a lot of his other albums, which starts off sounding a bit like Throbbing Gristle playing Zelda, and ends in a sort of Giorgio Moroder-esque crescendo. What couldn't dear old Mort do!

5. Mort Garson - Mother Earth's Plantasia
While some of his previous works can be compared to German groups of the time like Cluster and Tangerine Dream, there is nothing to my ears before or since that sounds like Plantasia.

The record—designed to play to plants to help them grow—somehow sounds both primitive, and a product of a much more advanced civilisation than our own. I love the album in its entirety, but my favourite is Ode to an African Violet—like the best electronic music, the sound conveys a feeling more pastoral and human than is possible through traditional instrumentation, however paradoxical that might sound.

As far as I'm aware, this was Garson's last full solo LP, calling it a day after 20 odd albums, and heading back to his day job making jingles and sounds for gameshows such as Battlestars. TV's gain would be the plant world's infinite loss.

But Garson's legacy today lies in obscurity, even among the niche of early pioneers of electronic music. Not only was Garson's work the first use of the Moog on any record coming out of the West Coast, his use of electronic sounds to capture esoteric ideas and moods was unprecedented, foreshadowing an entire generation of ambient musicians and composers for film.

Although he reportedly kept recording music until his death in 2008, Garson did not release any more albums after Plantasia. Instead, his most commonly heard pieces of music—the sound effects and jingles that he continued to make for television throughout the 80s—were anonymous, and now largely lost.

So join us today in celebrating the life and work of a man who reshaped the sound of the 20th century.

Robert Greer

Mort Garson - 1967 - The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds

Mort Garson 
The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds

01. Aries - The Fire-Fighter 3:17
02. Taurus - The Voluptuary 3:38
03. Gemini - The Cool Eye 2:50
04. Cancer - The Moon Child 3:27
05. Leo - The Lord Of Lights 2:30
06. Virgo - The Perpetual Perfectionist 3:05
07. Libra - The Flower Child 3:28
08. Scorpio - The Passionate Hero 2:51
09. Sagittarius - The Versatile Daredevil 2:06
10. Capricorn - The Uncapricious Climber 3:30
11. Aquarius - The Lover Of Life 3:45
12. Pisces - The Peace Piper 3:19

- Cyrus Faryar / narration
- Paul Beaver / Moog and other electronic instruments
- Emil Richards / exotic percussion
- Bud Shank / bass flute
- Hal Blaine / drums
- Carol Kaye / bass guitar
- Mike Melvoin / keyboards

Composed By, Arranged By, Conductor – Mort Garson
Words By – Jacques Wilson

"Must be played in the dark"

A one-off album project composed, arranged and conducted by Mort Garson in 1967. The album was called "Cosmic Sounds" and was based on the signs of Zodiac, with psychedelic rock music featuring electronics from Paul Beaver and Cyrus Faryar as narrator.

By Richie Unterberger

At first glance and hearing, The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds might seem like an anomaly in the Elektra catalog. When it appeared in 1967, the label was recognized primarily for its eclectic catalog of folk recordings, and starting around 1965 for its run of extremely important folk-rock records by Love, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Tim Buckley, and others.  Just a couple of catalog numbers in advance of the album was the debut by the Doors, which would advance Elektra to a whole new level.

    The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds, however, was like none of those records. It was not so much the product of a group or artist as it was a collectively-hatched concept album, matching psychedelic mood music with spoken prose and all manner of exotic and electronic instrumentation. It was, as the subtitle boasted, "celestial counterpoint with words and music." And as the back sleeve instructed, in capital purple letters, it "MUST BE PLAYED IN THE DARK." Should there have been any doubt that it was serious, the astrological sign of each contributor listed on the back sleeve was announced, in parentheses, after each name, even for Elektra owner Jac Holzman. Artist Abe Gurvin and art director William S. Harvey concocted a suitably florid sleeve, with a mosaic of colors so bold and gaudy they nearly glowed in the dark, supplemented by huge wavy title lettering and a nocturnal backdrop.

    Divided into 12 separate tracks, one for each astrological sign, it appeared just as both psychedelic rock and astrology itself were coming into vogue in the youthful counterculture. In some respects it was similar to other instrumental psychsploitation albums of the time, with a spacy yet tight groove that could have fit into the soundtrack of 1966 Sunset Strip documentaries, played in large measure by seasoned Los Angeles session musicians. In other respects, it was futuristic, embellished by some of the first Moog synthesizer ever heard on a commercial recording, an assortment of exotic percussive instruments, and sitar. The arrangements were further decorated by haunting harpsichord and organ, along with standard mid-1960s Los Angeles rock guitar licks. For those who took the astrology as seriously as the music, there was the dramatic reading of narrator Cyrus Faryar, musing upon aspects of each astrological sign in a rich, deep voice without a hint of irony.

    Only a few of the musicians involved in the album were listed on the back cover, and much mystery has surrounded the conception and realization of the record in the ensuing years. As it happens, though, the album featured some of the creme de la creme of the Los Angeles session musician clique, as well as some notable contributors with strong ties to the early-1960s folk music that had been Elektra's backbone prior to 1965. In addition, there were precedents for albums not tied to a particular artist in the Elektra discography. Only two or three years before, the company had released a 13-volume series of Authentic Sound Effects, as well as records on how to play bass and blues guitar. The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds was not an accidental one-shot aberration from an out-of-control producer, but in fact instigated by Elektra founder and president Jac Holzman himself.

    "The idea was mine," Holzman confirms. "It was not my first choice for a concept album. But the person I broached [my first choice] to stopped returning my phone calls and stole the idea for himself. I was pissed, and then decided that the Zodiac was an even better concept, and far more hip for its time. Plus, it neatly divided itself into twelve tracks."

    Producing the album was Alex Hassilev, one-third of the Limeliters, the successful pop-folk group of the early 1960s who had recorded their debut LP for Elektra in 1960 (followed by numerous other ones for RCA). Hassilev had recently formed a production company with Mort Garson, who had arranged one of Alex's RCA albums (as well as doing some arranging for fellow Limeliter Glenn Yarborough). "Mort was going to do most of the arranging, I was going to do most of the producing, and we were going to make millions of dollars," says Hassilev today. "But of course, that never happened."

    Yet in the meantime, "we had sold a concept to Jac to do a series of concept albums called 'The Sea,' 'The City,' and I think there was another one as well. He went for it." But Rod McKuen did his own album matching words about the sea to arrangements by Anita Kerr on the early '67 Warner Brothers LP called The Sea, which to Hassilev's recollection "kind of torpedoed our project. As I recall, Rod was supposed to be part of that project; that's how we sold it. And Rod jumped ship, and went over to Warners with Anita Kerr.  That was definitely a bitter pill, 'cause [Garson] wrote a bunch of music that never saw the light of day."

    Something of the original sea concept did survive on the Dusk 'Til Dawn Orchestra's Sea Drift LP, produced by Hassilev with an orchestra conducted by Garson, and released on Elektra just before The Zodiac (in fact, it bears catalog # 74008, just one digit shy of The Zodiac's #74009). In comparison to The Zodiac, according to Hassilev, the wholly instrumental Sea Drift "was a much more conventional album, a symphonic type of album. I went to England to record it with English musicians. The Dusk 'Til Dawn Orchestra was a bunch of English session players, like twelve strings and four celli and that kind of stuff. It was supposed to have had Rod McKuen on it. It was a bad scene.

     "In any event, we went ahead with The Zodiac. Mort was of course assigned the task of writing the music for the individual signs." The Juilliard-educated Garson, already in his early forties, was a seasoned veteran of the industry in many capacities, including composer, arranger, orchestrator, conductor, and pianist. Most famous as the co-author of Ruby & the Romantics' 1963 #1 smash "Our Day Will Come," he'd also done arrangements for discs by Doris Day, Mel Torme, the Lettermen, Esther Phillips, and the Hollyridge Strings (famous for their easy-listening adaptations of Beatles songs). It was not, to say the least, the average resume for an artist engaged in any role on a recording for Elektra Records, the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. And Hassilev was not the sort of producer one might have been expected to get entrusted with an experimental concept album about astrology. Not only was his background commercial folk, but he had barely produced anything prior to The Zodiac, although he did have one of the first home studios in Los Angeles, where Carole King used to cut demos in her early days in the city.

    But Elektra was the type of label to take risks that others might have dismissed as reckless. "Jac, being a very adventurous guy, sonically speaking, really believed in finding new things," enthuses Hassilev. "He bought the idea of doing a kind of electronic score for this project. And Mort assembled this group of musicians, including Paul Beaver." Beaver would play the electronic instruments on The Zodiac, including the Moog synthesizer, a creation at that point known to few, and used by many fewer.

    "Paul in those years was primarily known as a film music effects guy," says Hassilev. "I went down to Paul Beaver's warehouse with Mort to check out what we could use in the way of devices Paul had. He had a warehouse in downtown L.A. filled from one end to the other with these arcane instruments, theremins, and strange beasts that he created himself. So we hired him to be on the sessions, and Emil Richards."

    Percussionist Richards boasted a staggering array of credits. Over the course of his lengthy career he has worked with everyone from Henry Mancini, Dizzy Gillespie, and George Harrison to Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Linda Ronstadt, and Herb Alpert, as well as on over 1700 movies. "At that time, I recorded with just about everybody who came through the West Coast," he remembers. "I'm a friend of Mort Garson's; I was his percussionist, usually did a lot of his stuff. I have a collection of over 700 percussion instruments, and he wanted some strange stuff, I guess.

    "I turned him onto Paul Beaver, who at that time was one of the only guys into electronics. Paul and I had a group going at that time called AHA, the Aesthetic Harmony Assemblage. Paul was the first guy to use the Moog out here; he introduced the synthesizer to the West Coast." The Zodiac, according to Richards, was not the first album to use the Moog synthesizer: "I think we preceded [it] with an album I did for Uni called Stones. We took everybody's birth stone, and I wrote twelve songs. I was actually, I think, the first one to use the Moog on the West Coast. [The Zodiac] was closely behind this."

    Adds Hassilev, "The AES [Audio Engineering Society] convention was taking place as we were getting this album together. It may have even been going on during the recording of it. I do know that I went down to the AES convention to check out this thing called the Moog synthesizer, and to meet Robert Moog. And I was just bowled over by this thing. We decided to hire the Moog, which was the only existing one in town at that time. I mean, nobody had started to work with this instrument yet. We hired it right out of the AES convention and brought it here. But of course, it didn't play in real time. We overdubbed it."

    Although the assortment of percussive and electronic instruments was pretty advanced for its time, the sessions for the album were actually pretty straightforward. Hassilev: "Mort wrote the score, and pretty much it was all written out, every note. There was probably some slight improvisation of the percussion. We recorded the album, I believe, probably in four sessions. The narration, of course, was overdubbed, but the tracks were played live. All parts of the tracks, except the Moog."

    Recording live presented its own challenges, particularly in "capturing Paul Beaver's sounds and all of Emil Richards's stuff. I mean, Emil ran around that studio like a sprinter. I'm not kidding! Because the score called for him to play five or six different instruments during the course of one song. Some of this stuff was large. He would run from one to the other, and play them on cue. It was something that really hadn't been attempted quite in that way before, at least not to my knowledge.

    "Emil had just an incredibly large collection of stuff that arrived in a semi truck. He had the water chimes; they're a chime that has a doppler effect. It goes"--here Hassilev breaks off to mimic a swift high-to-low descension--"'Baaawwmm.' [It's] literally a set of metal plates that are lowered manually into water. He also had a fantastic bamboo instrument that makes the most incredible percussive rattling noise." The water chimes, clarifies Richards, are "four brass discs; I commissioned someone to build this instrument for me. You dropped them into a trough of water, and that microtonally bends the pitch downward. " The bamboo instruments, he adds, were "angklungs, bamboo rattles from Southeast Asia."

    It was the Moog that supplied the freakiest swoops and textures on The Zodiac, and the greatest challenge to capture on tape. "The Moog, while a wonderful instrument, had very unstable oscillators," explains Hassilev. "They were good, but you had to warm up the machine. It took time for everything to stabilize. And then it wouldn't necessarily stay in frequency, which meant the tuning would go out. It had problems. It wasn't until later, when they were able to stabilize the output of the oscillators, starting with the ARP synthesizer and others, that they became more accepted."

    Filling out the personnel for The Zodiac on more conventional guitars, bass, and drums were top Los Angeles sessionaires, although unfortunately the precise names and details have been lost to memory. Hassilev is fairly certain that bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine--both at the very top of the list for rock, pop, and session calls in Los Angeles in the 1960s--comprised the rhythm section. Holzman thinks Blaine was on the date for sure; Cyrus Faryar remembers Bud Shank playing bass flute, and Mike Melvoin, who played on numerous jazz and pop sessions (including some harpsichord on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds), contributing keyboards. Kaye, who did uncounted sessions in the 1960s (including some others with Garson, and some other dates with Beaver), recently confirmed after listening to the record that it is indeed her on bass: "That's me on the whole thing. [The] double paradiddles, tons of slides, and the octave licks [are] typical of my playing." Garson, she adds, "was an extremely talented arranger. I can see his face now, sort of smiling here and there as if he was up to some mischief."

    Once the music was finished, Moog and all, one more component would be needed to put it to bed. This was the spoken astrological narrative, written by Jacques Wilson, and voiced by Cyrus Faryar. Like Hassilev, Faryar was a young veteran of the early-1960s folk boom, having played with Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers (led by ex-Kingston Trio member Guard, and also including Judy Henske) and the Modern Folk Quartet. Also a session musician who played on some of Fred Neil's finest records, he was well known to Hassilev. "Cyrus has an absolutely gorgeous voice," beams Hassilev. "That's why I suggested him for the role."

    "Although I had a chance to review the text, one never knows how it is going to sound," says Jac Holzman. "Because Cyrus was new to this type of recording, as were we all, I didn't listen carefully to his track, since I intended to have him redo it against the finished stereo music track. The musicians' union frowned on overdubs, but with him there in the studio, who was to know. After the sessions, when I listened closely to how Cyrus fitted into the music, plus the quality of his reading, we just kept most of everything he did. It was wonderful."

    "I had a great and grand time doing it," says Faryar. "The funny thing about it was that I got paid, like, a couple of hundred bucks. For some reason, years after that, I was thinking, 'You know, I didn't get my whole paycheck.' This is like ten years or eight years or something after it was all over. I went down to Elektra one day and talked to Suzanne Helms, the lioness in charge of everything down here. They looked it up and they'd been holding this $800 check for me for like, about, eight years! The rest of my session money, for doing the job."

    Over the years Faryar (who eventually recorded a couple of albums himself on Elektra in the early 1970s) came across admirers of The Zodiac and his narration in some of the most unexpected places. At one party he met the late Graham Bond, the brilliant but erratic British blues-jazz-rock musician noted for dabbling in the occult, who moved to the States in the late 1960s. "When Graham showed up, the scuttlebutt was that he was the illegitimate son of Aleister Crowley, legendary author, necromancer, and mystic," reminisces Faryar. "Graham never denied that, and I think he allowed the rumor to circulate and played upon it. He was sort of introduced into society at this party at some record guy's house. He was an impressive fellow--large and stocky and like a movie kind of guy, flashing eyes and the whole bit. Just checking it out to see if any of these people were real, or if they were going to fuck with his head or something like that.

    "We met, and Graham knew it [The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds] by heart! He said, 'Cyrus! Are you the bloke that made that record?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'I love that record, mate, come here!' It was just hysterical. And we just became  pals. Right away, his whole facade just evaporated, and he was just this real guy. I will always remember that as a great moment."

    There would be no follow-up to The Zodiac on Elektra; there are, after all, only twelve astrological signs, all of which had been used up by a track apiece on the album. Garson, however, would go on to devote more than half a dozen LPs to separate, individual Zodiac signs on A&M, and use the Moog and electronics on obscure albums like Electronic Hair Pieces and Wozard of Id. He's more renowned, however, for scoring National Geographic, as well as doing the theme for that series. Now living in San Francisco and still composing, he declined to be interviewed for these notes, preserving some of the mysterious aura that has surrounded The Zodiac since its release. As the album became harder and harder to find over the years, its price tag followed its lyrics into the heavens, no doubt bolstered by the cover, which was eye-catching even by Elektra's own high standards.

    For years afterward, Hassilev had a studio in Los Angeles and continued to produce, working on projects as diverse as albums by Hoyt Axton and Ananda Shankar (Ravi Shankar's nephew, who combined traditional Indian music with modern electronics), a single by Seals & Crofts, and commercials with Van Dyke Parks. He's still playing as part of the Limeliters, and still proud of The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds. "What I chiefly remember is that the recording of the music for me was just a joy," he summarizes. "Working with Cyrus was wonderful, and working with Jac was great too. Jac was there for all the sessions, supervising this whole project. In that period, he was the hands-on for everything." -- Richie Unterberger

This album, complete with psychedelic illustration of the twelve sun signs set on a black background with hand drawn groovy letters, always intrigued me. Not least of all the bright pink legend on the bottom of the back cover which cryptically stated: “MUST BE PLAYED IN THE DARK.” Why? Was it satanic? Would I go mad? Or would I simply forfeit its true meaning by playing it in broad daylight? I mean, later rock albums like “Ziggy Stardust” or “Let It Bleed” would simply require the listener to play at maximum levels, but this? For some reason it vexed the living daylights out of me every time I thought of it. Years later I saw it again in a used record shop. ‘Oh, no,’ I thought by reflex, ‘that Zodiac album again’. As I inspected it, it came to me: Hey...

It’s on Elektra. 
Released two albums after The Doors’ first.

And it’s psychedelic as all get out. It’s just GOT to be a classic. So just buy the thing and leave a note for the puzzle farm indicating manner of present mental condition: sheer unbalanced madness. Cause: mysterious rock album on Elektra. 
I bet this never happened to anyone, I thought, “Cosmic Sounds” under my arm and heading home with me in broad daylight, destined for immediate turntable spinning. 

I laughed like crazy when the needle hit the first track -- an unmistakable Moog synthesizer WOOOOOOOO came out of the speakers and backed by a totally L.A. sessionman-styled rock out armed with extensive harpsichord action. When it broke down to random sitar strums and the first emergence of three sentence narrations on “Aries-The Fire Fighter”, then I really started to laugh. Looking at the credits, I saw no group credited as such, just “original music composed, arranged and conducted by Mort Garson,” Paul Beaver on electronic instruments and Cyrus Fayar on narration. As well as Elektra’s president, graphic designer, producer, et al., all with their respective zodiac signs in parentheses! The instrumental segment continued for a bit, then crashed to a stop, giving space for the narration with: “Nine times the colour red explodes like heated blood.” I had been laughing at my ridiculously overblown 14-year old paranoia, but now I started laughing at THAT all the way until “Cancer-The Moon Child.” Here I quickly hushed as it had finally reached the cosmic territory promised in the title, an eerie beginning courtesy of the first Moog on a rock album ever. But then it slid into a lighthearted romp with a fuzz guitar straight out of a late sixties commercial for the ultimate airline for swingers! If it continued like this at least until “Virgo-The Perpetual Perfectionist,” I thought, this record will drive me over the brink with laughter. So drew the shades and TURNED OUT THE LIGHT and began again. By the time I did get to “Virgo-The Perpetual Perfectionist” I began to hear the record in a completely different light: Opening with click clack percussion and acoustic guitar and flute, it soon weaved into a harpsichord and Moog texturing that, despite its brevity, was quite beautiful. Side two’s cosmic raga opener, “Libra-The Flower Child” opened with some extremely quiet Moog, accompanied by tablas and sitar. By complete contrast, “Scorpio-The Passionate Hero” was all strident drums marching off to war and many a Moog whoosh as a menacing harpsichord pattern emerged, building with a fuzz guitar. Early synthesizer corkscrews were jettisoned into my darkened room, and I began to notice the how great the album sounded, with a dynamic range approaching that of a classical record. The cheery “jumping Jupiter things” of “Sagittarius-The Versatile Daredevil” appears, all circus-like and the complete opposite to the Capricorn track, the eeriest trip-out on the album. A thin, thin fuzz guitar is plucked against a continual swelling of descending chords, and was VERY effective in the dark. “Aquarius-The Lover of Life” begins as a Latin-based shuffle theme from childhood, all Moog sooth-out and peaceful vibes. “Pisces-The Peace Piper” is just as cosmic, drum-less save for hollow bells struck and atmospherically-correct vibraphones. Echoed, hollowed bells are struck twice in finality, ending an album of timeless themes with a psychedelic perspective that could only have been recorded at this time. The whole integrated package still speaks to me after all these years, and taught me never to be superstitious about liner notes ever again. 

"The Zodiac : Cosmic Sounds" is a collaborative concept album on the theme of the signs of the Zodiac released by Elektra Records in November 1967. The basic idea for the album came from head of Elektra Records Jac Holzman. The idea was fueled by the grand commercial succes of the debut album by The Doors which was also released on Elektra Records.Jac Holzman hired Alex Hassilev (The Limeliters) to produce the album. Alex Hassilev asked Mort Garson, whom he had a production company with, to compose the music for the album and the lyrics were written by Jacques Wilson. Different session musicians were brought in to contribute to the recordings most notably Paul Beaver who played Moog and other electronic instruments and narrator Cyrus Faryar.

According to Alex Hassilev the album was recorded in about four sessions but Cyrus Faryar´s recitation of the poems (the lyrics) and the recording of the moog parts were done at another time and then overdubbed. All parts of the tracks were played/recitated and recorded live though except the moog parts. A rather stressful task for percussionist Emil Richards who according to Hassilev had to run around in the studio to play his many different percussion instruments (according to Richards he owned over 700 diferent ones).

The "The Zodiac : Cosmic Sounds" album is generally considered to be one of the first commercial albums to feature the use of the moog synthesizer. It´s not the first though. But the moog that was used for the recording of the album actually had to be rented as nobody on the US West Coast scene had started to work with the moog yet. Hassilev had heard about the instrument and went to the Audio Engineering Society convention to meet Robert Moog (the inventer of the moog) and to check out the moog. After being very impressed by what he heard, he hired the demonstration model which was the only existing one in that part of the country at the time. The instrument turned out to be quite the challenge though as there were problems with keeping it in tune (the oscillators were unstable and the instrument had to be warmed up before use). So the recording of the moog parts proved difficult.

The music on the album is psychadelic rock with lots of spacy moog sounds, loads of different percussion instruments, West Coast guitar blues rock riffs, Harpsichord and organ. On top of that there´s the recitation of poems by folk singer Cyrus Faryar (whose voice is very similar to the voice of Jim Morrison). There´s no singing on the album only recitation of poems on the theme of the signs of the Zodiac. There´s a mystic aura about the album that some might find cool and others will probably find tacky/kitchy. There are 12 tracks on the album each named after the 12 Zodiac signs and the lyrics (which are rather strange) reflect the theme. 

The musicianship on the album is impeccable. It´s easy to hear that these musicians are all experienced session musicians. So don´t expect drug induced sloppy playing. This is psychadelic rock but the musicians behind the project weren´t necessarily into this kind of music. That´s of course a paradox that many will probably complain about and I fully understand the objection but that doesn´t mean I can´t enjoy the music without prejudice.

The sound production is very professional, organic, warm and well sounding. A quality sound production considering the album was recorded in 1967. It´s a great deal more polished than most other psychadelic rock albums of that era, which is probably due to the background history of the album (a pre-fabricated product backed up by a label boss and played by session musicians). If you listen without prejudice, "The Zodiac : Cosmic Sounds" is still quite a great psychadelic rock release with a captivating atmosphere