Anthology Editions, the publishing arm of Mexican Summer’s reissue label Anthology Recordings, debuted with a book called Flying Saucers Are Real! by Jack Womack, and has continued to release ever more intriguing titles which as striking visually as they are textually interesting. Their latest, Unusual Sounds: The Hidden History of Library Music, by David Hollander is no different.
Telling the story of library music labels, who created ‘royalty-free LPs of stock recordings for any mood’, Unusual Sounds looks into a facet of composition many are not only unfamiliar with, but likely completely ignorant of. As the author states in his introduction, the reissue market for these releases are thriving, but niche, because ‘much of the best material was never chosen for use in a soundtrack, so it was shelved’.
That’s because, as Hollander makes clear in the course of this gorgeous and involving book, library music was composed to be used later. It was written in advance of its need in film, television, or radio - or, just as likely, in advance of it never being used. Just because a composer wrote a track called The House on the Hill (‘haunted house theme with woodwinds and brass’), it was no guarantee that it would ever soundtrack that kind of scene.
Thanks to interviews with composers, engineers, and the like, Hollander is able to create a fuller picture behind the scenes than anyone’s attempted of library music thus far. Unusual Sounds examines the British library labels more thoroughly than those on the continent, but one has a sense that’s due as much to language as it is the profligate releases from the likes of KPM and Bruton Music.
Looking into every facet of library music - the compositional skills required, the legal ramifications of the musician’s union in the UK which required recording in France, time spent in the studio, and so much more - Unusual Sounds is more than just a look at a kind of music, but a way of making music which has essentially gone away.
Hollander also touches on the themes which have stepped beyond their humble library origins into longtime iconic use - Keith Mansfield’s Funky Fanfare, which is known more popularly when accompanied by the words And Now, Your Feature Presentation, or Johnny Pearson’s Heavy Action, which has been used as the fanfare for Monday Night Football in the United States for over forty years.
It’s a fantastic read, which will have any reader nodding their head in recognition at some of the surprising names to have worked somewhat anonymously like Piero Umiliani, Stelvio Cipriani, Ennio Morricone and the like, to say nothing of wondering just who these other people were to have recorded so much music and to be virtually unknown outside a small circle of like-minded musicians.
Especially intriguing - beyond the interviews with those who there at the time - is the sheer volume of art that Hollander has on display, in terms of photographs and dozens of album covers which are presented in full-colour, allowing the reader to really get the full effect of just how striking these albums were, despite being made for an audience nearly as niche as those who now seek them out in charity shops and record store bins.
David Hollander has crafted a book which appeals to the reader interested in history, music, or visual arts. Most readers will approach it, thinking they know nothing of what the author is discussing, only to be amazed at just how much of the music discussed within the cover of Unusual Sounds is familiar to them.
UNUSUAL SOUNDS: THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF LIBRARY MUSIC / AUTHOR: DAVID HOLLANDER / PUBLISHER: ANTHOLOGY EDITIONS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW