Mort Garson, “Moon Journey” (Sacred Bones)
New York label Sacred Bones has been undertaking the important job of reintroducing Canadian composer/synthesist Mort Garson's variegated recordings into the marketplace. Garson (1924-2008) was at once a mercenary taking on the music industry's commercial ploys and trendlust (music for the zodiac, Moog-worship LPs, interpretations of the songs from the 1967 musical Hair, music to nourish plants, music to have sex to, music to evoke the occult, etc.) and an omnivorous avant-gardist.
Unlike most musicians, Garson generated his most innovative work while in his 40s and 50s. He was a unique, influential figure who blueprinted much of the sonic vocabulary—from whimsy to horror to many points in-between—for analog-synth-loving producers from the '70s onward. Garson's space-age bleeps and aromatic melodies have become as vivid signifiers for that golden era (1967-1975) as the Beatles' indelible tunes and James Brown's funky rhythms—albeit on a more underground level.
The latest long-buried Garson treasure to surface is the music he created for televised footage on CBS News of the 1969 moon landing by the Apollo 11 crew. Audio archivist and record producer Andy Zax discovered the master tape of Garson's lunar musings while sifting through the huge archive of Rod McKuen for a paper that he presented on the poet/musician at the 2015 Pop Conference. The first revelation from that surprise cache—long thought to be lost—is “Moon Journey,” from the forthcoming collection Journey to the Moon and Beyond (out July 21). Sacred Bones has not provided the full album for preview, but the track listing reveals pieces for ads and a 1970 National Geographic TV special titled Zoos of the World, among other things.
“Moon Journey” finds Garson in peak form. It's a six-minute collage that flaunts a delightful range of styles and moods. It whooshes into eerie life and immediately launches into a bold, exploratory mode, with industrious, percolating beats and arpeggiated synth stabs signifying rapid movement over alien territory. The second snippet exudes spine-tingling wonder and a comical jauntiness, then a shocking shift into a manically twittering beat orgy, which might represent mechanical malfunction. Other moments display some of Garson's most audacious tonal and melodic gestures. In retrospect, viewers must have been disoriented as hell. A far-out mission accomplished.
Garek Druss, “The Emotional Addictions of the Body” (Debacle Records)
We are up to our eyelashes in drone-based music. We've never had it so good in that regard—and yet we've never had it so bad, as too many people delusionally think semi-static tones are ipso facto interesting, with the redundant droves of Bandcamp releases trying to prove it.
Sifting through the drone dross can become a full-time hobby. So when you find a drone musician who consistently creates compelling work, you must support them and spread the good word, for drones are the super-charged oxygen of the musical kingdom, essential for optimal health, whether or not you realize it. Your body and mind implicitly know this.
All of which brings us to Garek Druss, a former Seattle multimedia artist now based in Los Angeles. Some may remember him as keyboardist for the artfully gothic A Story of Rats and Dull Knife or for his Ear Venom solo project or for his visual art (e.g., the videos Immensity Without Horizon and The Celestial Din, both of which feature his soundtracks).
Drone is Druss's forte, and he's been honing his immersive tones with soulful, scientific rigor for over 15 years. In The Stranger back in 2014, I said of Druss's Music for the Celestial Din that it “verges on the grave majesty of Popol Vuh's most solemnly beautiful work.” Subsequent releases such as The Wellspring of Light (2019) and Soft Fascination (2022) continue this exalted trajectory.
Druss's new album for the resurgent Seattle label Debacle Records, OHR EYN SOF - Youth Eternal (out June 23), was recorded as he was undergoing treatment for cancer. It is not a wallow in gloom, as circumstances might lead you to expect, but rather a collection of tracks that emits shafts of light and hope. Maybe think of the album as a coping mechanism. For example, “Vivd Aberrations” possesses a chakra-tingling, New Age aura that suggests gentle ascendance. “An Object That Sustains Memory” unfolds its timbral splendors in slow-motion, exuding wonder in tranquil wave after tranquil wave. “Divine Arbitrator (Father Coughing)” pits muted glitches against coruscating tintinnabulation, with a heavy, spaced-out downbeat perhaps symbolizing struggle with the stress induced by cancer medications. By contrast, “Shield Harmonics” tolls in the peaceful, cathedral-like dimension of Brian Eno's The Shutov Assembly.
“The Emotional Addictions of the Body” is the album's most bass-intensive cut as well as its most radiant. It sounds and feels like a breakthrough into robust health, a triumphant gush of synthesizer soma (per Aldous Huxley's Brave New World). One hopes that its wonderful presence on Youth Eternal implies that Druss has recovered.