Many new age and ambient projects are based on impressions of a certain location, but not until musical veterans Scooby Laposky and Charles Copley created their dual project Palm Reading has any artist been so immersed in the flora of single specially chosen locations - and created a synthesis of sounds that combine synthesized electronic music generated by biodata recorded from plants using a biodata sonification device, in addition to ambient field recordings and original acoustic guitar accompaniment.
On the surface, all this sounds very complicated and technical – yet anyone who listens to their debut EP Malibu: Point Mugu and their latest full length myndstream album Joshua Tree will be treated to some of the ambient genre’s most captivating, hypnotic, soulful, and most importantly organic music. In line with Laposky and Copley’s desire to “give plants a voice,” each sound, every resonant spark of energy created is literally the earth talking, inviting us to immerse in the depth of its mysterious way of communicating to us.
Beyond the sheer sonic beauty of their mystical atmospheric and gently rhythms and melodic pieces, their goal is to further inspire sustainability and action to protect the ecosystems that gives birth to their music. As I wrote in my review of their debut work, “By showcasing the humanlike qualities of plants through music, Scooby and Charles helps us better connect with their strength and fragility on an empathetic level.”
From the lilting and soothing dreamscape of “Mojave Yucca – Big Horn Pass” to the heavier, murky moods and echoing resonances of “Pinto Basin at Sunset Part 2,” the ten emotionally evocative tracks on Joshua Tree artfully build on the concept Palm Reading launched on Malibu: Point Mugu. While in some ways, the blend of deep walls of ambient energy and meditative guitar sound similar, there are profound differences between the projects.
The duo recorded the albums a few days apart, but on the first project, they were still learning how to capture and respond to the unique musical moments that arose when they connected to the plants and started listening to their melodies. The Malibu recordings included ambient sounds like the rising chorus of crickets, ocean waves and birds. The desert is a much quieter environment, so it took a more delicate touch to bring out textures and sonics from their field recordings to create the immersive sonic experience of their time in Joshua Tree.
Those listening to Palm Reading for the first time may also notice a difference in length, from three tracks/16 minutes to nine tracks/45 minutes. This is due to the length of time Scooby and Charles had at each location. They captured the Malibu recordings in a single evening as the sun was setting on a cliffside near Point Mugu. They were inspired by the dramatic scene and continuous sense of motion they felt being close to the ocean.
In Joshua Tree, by contrast, they took their time and spent three full days recording in different locations throughout Joshua Tree National Park, where they created haunting, stark, spacious, sometimes sparse and soft-spoken, sometimes denser and more intense pieces - – including Big Horn Pass ( “Beavertail Cactus,” “Desert Parsley), Utah Trail River (“Creosote Bush”), Cottonwood Spring Oasis (“Blue Palo Verde,” “Goodding’s Willow”) and Pinto Basin at Sunset (presented in two parts plus an Interlude).
“The desert environment and the sounds of the plants take a bit longer to reveal themselves in the desert,” Charles and Scooby say, “and this rewards close listening and careful recording. We chose to include more of these recordings in the final Joshua Tree release to highlight the special character and energy of different locations throughout the park. The plant life in Malibu is more lush, and to some extent that had a fullness and expansiveness. The Joshua Tree recordings are expansive in their own way, because you feel the sense of space and emptiness of the desert more. The textures of the music reflect the openness and spare qualities of the plant life there.”
“Joshua Tree is special,” they add, “because we recorded it in a national park. National parks have become tremendously popular in recent years, which has inevitably led to some questions of environmental degradation and exploitation. There is no singular ‘right way’ to experience nature, or to appreciate shared preservation land. Our approach to working with plants is always non-invasive and we try to keep a ‘leave no trace’ attitude about the landscape we are lucky enough to record in. For us, the most fulfilling experience of these recordings are the unexpected moments of discovery and learning, and getting the chance to create music in one of the most beautiful places on earth.”