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For decades, library music has been a world of shadowy, mysterious depths - a place where only the most serious record heads dared to dive. It has no one genre, in fact it has them all and is one all its own. Often its artists come without a name. It’s albums, thousands upon thousands of them, were pressed but never released commercially, circulated within the film and television industries, but slowly, over the years, slipped out into the world. These LPs, the height of which appeared across the 1960’s and 70’s, but stretch from the earliest days of radio to this very day, carry descriptions which often give little clue to what they contain. In a nutshell, it is among the hardest arenas of music to crack, which is why Anthology Editions latest in a string of incredible books, David Hollander’s Unusual Sounds: The Hidden History of Library Music, is about as valuable as books about records come. It brilliant piece of work, and an open door to a widely unrecognized and misunderstood world.
As anyone who knows anything about Library music knows, the only way to define it is with the simplest means. It is music which has been made within the recording industry to offer radio, film, and the television a cheap alternative to commissioning original scores - a kind of readily available, and recyclable, stock music. Beyond this there is no firm definition. It can be anything which music is or aspires to be. It stretches from the towering heights of creativity, to the depths of kitsch, schlock, & camp. It is precisely this which has made it so desirable to such a wide range of collectors over the years, with DJs, samplers, and beat-makers, as likely to be found at the bins, as the most devoted of experimental music fans. This is also why so many dare not stray down its paths. It’s incredibly hard to get your bearing and know what is what.
While the quality of music varies vastly, part of what makes library music so fascinating, is how incredible and ambitious much of it turned out to be. Streams of composers used it as a mask to unleash strange experiments into the world, while remaining largely unknown outside of the industry walls. Among its many incredible attributes, this what makes David Hollander’s Unusual Sounds: The Hidden History of Library Music, such an incredible and amazing piece of work. It puts a names and stories with much of the best of this work- singling it out, sifting, and celebrating. It is not your average book on records, nor the sort featuring page after page of great cover. It is a rigorous, in depth, but accessible piece of work, unwinding decades deep shadows and mysteries, returning humanity and the notion of art to a territory which has so often been denied those designations.
Across its 332 pages and 422 images, Unusual Sounds takes a deep dive into a musical universe which has largely remained only accessible to producers and record collectors - a celebration of this industry at the nexus of art and commerce. Filled with interviews, intimate narratives, meticulously divided by label and country of original, Unusual Sounds also features original art by Robert Beatty and an introduction by George A. Romero, whose use of library music in Night of the Living Dead changed film history. Mandatory reading for anyone interested in this enigmatic field and its hidden but pervasive cultural influence. As far as expansive cultural surveys or books on records go, this one is as important as they get. Grab it fast, everyone is already scrambling for this long over due look at a wonderful world.