Mort Garson

Resident archivist Jack Dangers examines composer Mort Garson and his Moog modular classics

Mort Garson came to electronic music relatively late in life. He was in his 40s when he bought a Moog modular and started making weird electronic albums with it. He’d trained at The Juilliard School in New York in the 1940s and, after the World War II, had a successful career as a session musician. He made a couple of albums with Doris Day and one with Mel Tormé. Cliff Richard had a hit in 1961 with one of Mort’s compositions ‘Theme For A Dream’. 

His first long-player was a concept album about the 12 signs of the Zodiac, ‘The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds’, released in May 1967 on Elektra – a really early example of Moog on a record. This was Mort’s first encounter with the Moog, and Paul Beaver of Beaver & Krause is credited as the Moog player. It’s been described as psychedelic mood music, and it has the words “Must be played in the dark” on the back. They were definitely trying to tap into the hippy scene and the fad for astrology, with spoken word faff about the merits of each star sign over a mix of orchestral, rock and electronic instrumentation. Mort took the concept further, releasing another handful albums on A&M, each devoted to a separate star sign.

In 1969, after the musical ‘Hair’ became a hit, he released ‘Electronic Hair Pieces’, which was basically the music from ‘Hair’ performed on the Moog.

In 1971 he released ‘Music For Sensuous Lovers’ under the pseudonym Z. It’s two sides of moans and groans which keep building to crescendos. It’s classic. It was released to capitalise on ‘The Sensuous Woman’, a bestselling book at the time that was an instruction manual on sexuality for women. That’s the theme with Mort’s Moog albums. If there’s some kind of fad going on, Mort probably made a Moog album about it. 

My favourite Mort Garson albums are his supernatural black magic albums. ‘Black Mass’ (1971) under the name Lucifer is great, and after ‘The Exorcist’ came out and the occult was all over TV, that he released ‘The Unexplained (Electronic Musical Impressions Of The Occult)’ under the pseudonym Ataraxia. 

His best-known album is probably ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ from 1976, which was re-released last year. That’s pretty good, I remember thinking it was light and airy, but I much prefer the dark and gloomy stuff from a couple of years earlier. He went a bit quiet on the Moog front after that. He died in 2008 in San Francisco, aged 83.

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