A Not-So-Quiet Library

Thanks to the sound library, background music is coming to the forefront

There are enough original sound library records to bankrupt even the richest collector. To begin with, there used to be hundreds of library labels, some with catalogs running into triple figures. Since the albums were originally pressed in tiny quantities and carried restrictions on their resale, today they usually fetch a hefty price, more for rarity than for quality. Furthermore, sifting through these releases can be difficult, since the catalogs often cover numerous styles, sometimes on a single release. To make matters worse, the covers aren't a reliable gauge of content, and the albums are almost always uneven.

Locally, Groove Merchant is the best source for original library records. Veltri does a brisk business in them -- particularly with DJs -- finding many copies through trades with European dealers. While most sound library albums run $8 to $15, Veltri occasionally sells individual albums for as much as $200.

Luckily (especially for the novice listener), dozens of compilations of library material have been released over the last five years, both legitimately and as bootlegs. The legally issued collections typically focus on an individual label or artist, such as Janko Nilovic's Impressions Volumes 1 & 2 or the Cabildos' Crossfire. Bootleg compilation series such as Planet of the Breaks and Dusty Fingers often combine sought-after library tracks with commercially released material that sounds similar.

The first well-known library compilation was EMI's Sound Gallery, a 1995 oddity that showcased easy listening tracks from the KPM label. Others followed soon after, mostly from European labels. Recently, Veltri and his partner, Vinnie Esparza, got into the act by reissuing Nino Nardini's sound library effort Jungle Obsession on their label, Rejoint Records. The album has sold well, garnering good reviews as well as college radio and club play, encouraging Veltri to license other library tracks for future releases.

The newfound popularity of sound library music has had another odd effect: A few of the studio musicians have become minor pop stars on the strength of work they did decades ago. James Clarke received widespread notice when his old tune "Elephants a Go Go" was used front and center in the Gap's khaki ad campaign, while sexagenarian organist Alan Hawkshaw performed at a recent London concert for musicians who used to compose for KPM.

Sound library music began as nothing more than a cheap way to sell detergent or fill out a car chase scene. Now it's invading home stereos, nightclubs, and hip hop records. When they write the sound library chapter of music history, they'll file it under "b" for "bizarre."

Out of the Background

Here's a dirty secret: Even though sound library reissue compilations allegedly feature the best material, they aren't always the most scintillating listens. After all, the tracks were originally designed as background music -- many simply run riffs into the ground. With such concerns in mind, the following are some of the most consistently satisfying releases.

Super Sounds of Bosworth (Trunk UK) Divided equally between ambient electronic interludes and rigorous funk, this collection manages to be both eclectic and consistent.

Setting the Scene: From the Vaults of KPM (Groove Attack Germany) An excellent overview of the biggest and perhaps best library label, focusing on a number of KPM's more important composers.

Blow-Up Presents Exclusive Blend Volume 3 (Blow Up UK) Drawn from the Telemusic label, this compilation showcases the exotic and weird sound of French library music, with particular emphasis on the work of Guy Pedersen and Bernard Estardy.

KPM Soundclash (Mono) Along with Setting the Scene, this album provides a superb introduction to the sound of KPM, and especially the work of Keith Mansfield and Alan Hawkshaw.

Nino Nardini -- Jungle Obsession (Rejoint) This reissue is an unusually cohesive album by a legendary, prolific Italian composer, a unique fusion of exotica and funk that brings to mind Martin Denny leading James Brown's band through a luau.

Cinemaphonic: Electro Soul (Emperor Norton) Cinemaphonic focuses exclusively on the best of the American labels, Valentino/Major Records, with tracks drawn together by former What's Happening! star-turned-DJ, David Hollander.

Janko Nilovic -- Rhythmes Contemporains (Cosmic Sounds) This rerelease of a 1973 sound library album brings together big band jazz, funk, rock, and symphonic music in a synthesis that's dynamic and unique.

Bite Hard: The Music De Wolfe Studio Sampler 1972-80 (Barely Breaking Even) More than either of the De Wolfe albums released on the Italian label La Douce, this compilation provides a superb overall view of one of England's most important library labels.

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