Much referenced but rarely fully explored, LIbrary music remains a rich source of inspiration for left field producers.
Jon Tye should know - he is one. Writing, recording and releasing inspiring music under a vast variety of pseudonyms, the Lo Recordings lynchpin agreed to set down his thoughts on the Library music phenomenon in this very special Clash primer.
- - -
In 1988 my musical partner (Jan Pomerans) and I were asked to make an album of library music for Bruton Music. At the time we’d never even heard of Library Music; we had produced music for a few Channel 4 trailers and a couple of adverts but this was something else entirely.
After knocking together some demos on our little Portastudio, using the only synth we owned at the time (a Roland SH-101), we suddenly found ourselves in a fully equiped 24-track studio and, thanks to Bruton’s parent company Zomba also owning an equipment hire company, with access to virtually any synth or drum machine we desired including a Fairlight, a machine that at the time retailed for a cool £20,000!
It was the time of house music by the likes of Derrick May and Inner City and before long we were having so much fun making electronic grooves that playing in a standard rock band with drum kits, rehearsal rooms, vans and all the rest that bands entail began to seem rather drab in comparison.
Eventually the album came out and wel… nothing happened… and I mean nothing… So suitably chastened we stopped making Library Music and Jan even moved to Los Angeles. Then two years later something out of the blue happened: the cheques started to come in and they were fat! As it happened, no one had explained to us that it actually takes around two to three years before you see income from Library music, but it does and that’s exactly what happened for us.
Having fallen in love with making music using electronic instruments, I went on to make records for Gee St, Arista, Rising High, R&S, Ninja Tune and others before starting the Lo Recordings label in 1995. It was around this time that Trunk records released the Bosworth Library music compilations and suddenly Library music seemed to be everywhere. Luke Vibert, Coldcut and Andrew Weatherall were sampling it, the legendary Gwen Jamois was unearthing and selling it, and its musical aesthetic seemed to offer endless possibilities. Still given what a huge influence and resource Library Music has been it’s incredible how little info is available about it.
So what exactly is Library Music?
Library music (also known as Production music) is music that is licensed to customers for use in film, television, radio and other media. All the tracks are ‘pre cleared’ and available at a fixed rate. Library Music is not sold commercially and on the whole is not available to the public.
Although it has a reputation as ‘cheesy soundalike’ material, there is also a lot of amazing music that has been created specifically as ‘Library Music’ over the years including compositions by such famous writers as John Barry, Brian Eno, Ennio Morricone and Jean Michel Jarre. If you look hard enough you can even find recordings by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and members of Can, Hawkwind, The Shadows and of course our very own Bernard Fevre (Black Devil Disco Club).
Production music is often sparse, without vocals, and very well produced and played, hence its popularity as sampler food for a host of hip hop DJs and producers. You can find samples of library music in tracks by A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Shadow, Coldcut, The Chemical Brothers, Luke Vibert, Beck, Gnarls Barkely and Busta Rhymes to name just a few.
The other great thing about it is that it can also be incredibly strange and abstract, in fact often far more so than commercially released music, and for this reason has become a major source of inspiration for electronic artists such as Boards Of Canada, Aphex Twin, Broadcast, Cherrystones and more recently the Ghostbox label and in particular acts such as The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly.
In 2001 we (Lo Recordings) released our first compilation of library music. Using my contacts at Zomba we arranged for Luke Vibert (I'd known Luke since around 1994 when I introduced him to Rising High) and myself to visit the Zomba HQ to dig deep through their archives.
By this time Zomba owned many of the best music libraries including Southern, Bruton, Peer, Chappell and iM but we were astounded at how they looked after their material, or rather didn’t… The catalogue was in total chaos - boxes of tapes strewn everywhere - a very incomplete vinyl archive and no comprehensive list of what they did and didn't own. In fact a lot of tapes were in a lock up in Wembley with no electric light and we literally had to climb over boxes and up shelves in the hope of finding some of the lost master tapes.
Eventually we managed to locate master tapes for most of the tracks we wanted to compile and the first volume of Nuggets was born.
Luke Vibert's Nuggets Volume One
Whilst Luke explored the more funky, beat driven area of the genre, Add N To X synth maestro and master of the esoteric Barry 7's take on library music was much more focused on the abstract, the fantastical, the far out and downright weird. The resulting 'Connectors' albums are from the same universe as ‘Nuggets’ but a completely different galaxy. The track below off the compilation is by Doris Hays, who alongside the wonderful and sadly now passed on Delia Derbyshire (responsible for the electronics that make the original Dr Who theme so incredible), was one of the few female composers working in the Library Music scene…
Barry 7's Connectors 1
Barry would go onto compile a second volume of ‘Connectors’ for us, this time exploring the catalogue Italian Cam library, a very different sound, though no less unusual; featuring the truly legendary soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone, creator of soundtracks for the Sergio Leone 'spaghetti westerns' such as 'A Fistful Of Dollars', as well as such major films such as 'The Mission' and 'Days Of Heaven'. (He also provided several pieces for Quentin Tarantino's recent 'Django Unchained' film.)
Since those first compilations Library music has continued to be a source of inspiration to many of the artists we work with, such as Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and before that King Of Woolworths, who recently commented: "we may sometimes think of library music as a genre in itself, but it covers so much ground that it becomes impossible to pin down". Ultimately, that is one of its greatest qualities: no matter how much you investigate there will always be more to discover, new totally unexpected sounds, another revelation.
And maybe it’s that sense of the unexpected that keeps attracting so many musicians to the world of library. A few years ago we discovered Jerry Dammers was a huge collector of the stuff and since then we've been fortunate enough to collaborate with both him and Jonny Trunk on several fine evenings where Jerry has played some of the wildest and deepest tracks we've ever had the pleasure of being exposed to.
Younger artists too are finding much to get excited about in the archives of the great libraries, recently we've been working with Tom Furse of The Horrors on a compilation and only today I discovered that Ed Mcfarlane, of Friendly Fires, is a big fan too.
Lo has continued to feel the force and no article about Library Music would be complete without mentioning Bernard Fevre aka Black Devil Disco Club whose ‘Strange World of Bernard Fevre’ is an all time classic of the genre. We even released a sequel to this amazing album…
And in one of our finets moments managed to get Luke Vibert and one of electronic music's greatest pioneers Jean-Jacques Perrey, (one of the first people to use electronics in advertising, producer of countless great library albums and co-writer of several tracks on Air’s 'Moon Safari' album), together for some Moog Acid:
Twelves years on from that first ‘Nuggets’ compilation we continue to be fascinated and inspired by library music and new old classics continue to be unearted. This month we’re releasing Luke Vibert's third Nuggets compilation, this time exploring the 1980's electronic era and in particular the Bruton label, which of course is where I came in…Funny how things work out.
Oh and did I tell you that we now have our very own music library? Well yes we do , it's called Lo Editions and in recent years we’ve released new collections of music for film and TV by the likes of DJ Food, Toddla-T and labels like Planet-Mu, something for future sonic archeologists to dust off and re-discover.
I've done my best to reveal some of the mysteries and wonders of the library music kingdom but there is so much more still waiting to be unearthed, from the amazing French libraries such as Creasound and MP2000, to Italian libraries like Vedette, Gemelli and other UK libraries like Studio G, DeWolfe and Standard…. but in the end if you really want to find those forgotten treasures you're going to have to DIG DEEP and to be honest that’s half the fun. Happy hunting!
Words: Jon Tye
Check out Lo Recordings HERE.
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here