Perhaps to remind us of plants, composer-musician Stevie Wonder held his press conference yesterday afternoon in the humid, light-filled pool room of Harambee House, just hours before his concert here last night.

On his present tour he will devote himnself to his newest turn in music -- manifested in his new album "Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants" -- an album critics have called difficult to grasp.

"You see, I think that we cannot allow ourselves to put boundaires on what we do musically," he explained yesterday. "An element of surprise is always good."

He looked relaxed in a fashionable beige suit, his hair closely cropped.

"I've got the Detroit cold," he said, smiling, his voice a shade huskier than normal. He coughed a little. "Everything's okay, though. It's minor."

Washington is one of six stops for Stevie Wonder's tour with a large entourage, re-creating the music of his latest album -- a musical departure in rhythm and texture from his previous enormously popular recordings.

The album is not selling as well as some of his others. "I'm very happy with the way it has done," he said. "It's different. For it to be accepted to the degree it has been accepted to good. My major expectation was that maybe some people would become aware of some other kinds of music and not put themselves in a box."

This is his first major concert here since his free concert on Human Kindness Day on the Mall four years ago.

"This tour will leaved us making nothing," he said. "Making money wasn't the point."

He is asked if he can afford to make nothing. "I don't want to talk about it," he said, grinning, sipping a glass of orange juice. "Initially everyone thought it was crazy. It is crazy. We're using about 60 to 65 musicians, singers, sound crew, various staff people, an recording truck. I'm almost sure I'll never do it again. I just wanted to do it now."

He added that Motown would be helping them out some, "so that will make things easier."

Wonder started working on his current album three years ago, the music based on a book called "The Secret Life of Plants," which he expects will also become a movie. That project was described by one person traveling with him as "indefinite" at the moment.

"The basic idea of the book is that all living things are bound together by one consciousness," said Wonder, adding that the music reflects that.

Wonder remained fairly down-to-earth, even if some of his interviewers were not. "I get the feeling you go into deep meditation before you begin your music . . ." someone said.

"Actually I don't meditate," he answered. "My music just comes from my life."

He was coy about his next project. "I could say it's music," he said similing. "The hint is July. I'm not going to go any further."

He did say he was currently collaborating on a few songs with Germaine Jackson, of the former Jackson Five singing group, which would be out probably next January.