For 2009’s inaugural discs in Asthmatic Kitty’s Library Catalog Music Series, a small group of artists collaborated to appease the short attention span-prone with effective mimicry of “library music,” or production music commissioned by sound libraries for use in various media. Library music is a fiscally prudent alternative for a filmmaker. When compared to having an original score composed for a project, it’s far cheaper and less time-consuming to subscribe to a service that offers hundreds or thousands of pre-recorded sounds from a library for the car chase scenes, cocktail parties, or ballroom dances that go down in your film.
In an extensive article for Wax Poetics magazine, writer and music supervisor David Hollander discusses the cost effectiveness of library music and its origins in media: “Before television, library 78s were literally ‘spun in’ to live radio broadcasts, and budget-conscious filmmakers throughout the golden age of Hollywood cinema were able to get pre-made high quality music at a fraction of the cost of recording it themselves.” Because the companies owned the publishing rights to the library recordings, the permission of the actual composers isn’t required for the library to license out the pieces for use. Blogger sonofstan at The Cedar Revolution references the limited pressings, bullshit vanilla titles, anonymous packaging, and “countless…contexts where ‘a bit of music’ would be nice, but not important enough to pay very much for it.”
Mirroring the collaborative efforts of the uncelebrated hired hands who toiled behind library LPs years ago, some of the personnel who appeared on all of Asthmatic Kitty’s first three library music tribute albums would eventually go on to compose entire installments themselves. Yuuki Matthews and Richard Swift lent a hand on Music for Measurements, for example, turning in off-kilter, experimental sets for volumes six and seven, respectively, with little help from outside contributors. Brooklyn-based teenager Chester “Infinitirock” Anand follows these audacious outings well in Music for Primordial Recollection. It’s one of the strongest chapters yet—a rich and divergent compendium of psychedelic, wordless grooves, and weighty sound collages.
Anand’s Music… is jolting and scatterbrained. His beats (and non-beats) are spiked with tape hiss, glassy piano samples, and treated vocal clips. The early Warp Records catalog gets a nod with bubbling, frazzled rhythms on the producer’s “TianchiSightings”, and in the style of the busy artists on Brainfeeder, crackling field recordings and air gusts meet a highly compressed drum loop for “Kiln”. Swirling, mangled vocals line with shuffles and clicks buried deep in the background on Music…‘s “Kiln”, making for just a couple of twisted minutes, while the disconnected chants hovering above the drum circle on “ChasingFat” finds their end even sooner. Music…‘s brevity throws shine on the frustration traditionally associated with these records. The drawbacks will be familiar to anyone who’s heard Paul White, Madlib’s Beat Konducta releases, or 2007’s similarly library-inspired Rockford Kabine effort, and can’t get down with it. Adept producers like Chester Anand shouldn’t let good beats trail off in under two minutes, right? On “QuestionsOutsideAnswersWithin”, he plays with field noise and warbled acoustic guitar recordings like Bibio did on Vignetting the Compost. It’s comely enough to go on for longer, but Anand runs it into an equally tranquil “Bronze” before it’s cut off. I dig this small-dose, stitched-together sort of thing, and it’s even better the second time around, when you catch weird edits and left-field sonics that were a bit less clear last week.
David Hollander explains that “library music had to meet specific criteria pertaining to narrative…in essence, library musicians were required to create films made of sound…” Even outside of his Asthmatic Kitty contribution, Anand’s sample-rich, atmospheric instrumental outings align nicely with Hollander’s characterization.
A similarly score-ready 17 Years materialized in 2010. Anand’s free-for-download, 200-megabyte strong jaunt is often eerie and compelling, rife with quick-draw textures that borrow liberally from films as often as they show film score potential. Given its giant dose, 17 Years is surprisingly less claustrophobic than you’d expect. Loose, out-of-nowhere hand drum loops anchor one track before electro chirps and crafty turntable tricks occupy the focus a few moments later. In fact, before he segues into classic scratch exercises toward the end of the work, Anand’s knack for establishing mood is at the fore in both treble-heavy early techno sounds and organized beats nicked from attic-plundered drum breaks. Music writers and maybe even Anand reduce 17 Years to a “beat tape” when it’s mentioned online, maybe because a handful of the tracks would lend well to some verses. But it’s hardly the straight production that he would do for his brother, a Boston rapper who calls himself Aviator. Anand’s work is fiercely experimental, and on the short side for 17 Years. He does well in long form, too.
A more self-contained endeavor is carried out on the lush title track of Anand’s 2011 EP, Apeirophobia. Sputtering keyboard tones and a crackling undertow on the front end aren’t very telling of what’s around the corner: a melodic, slow-swinging beat laced with choral bits and lazy, tasteful cuts that cap off its three minutes. When he allows for this kind of time to expand an idea on Music… (see a dubstep-rooted “Controller”, brimming with deep bass stabs and toasting MC clips), the results are hypnotic and full, and best enjoyed through close listens. For a filmmaker’s purpose, Chester Anand’s longer pieces might even fit against darting cab lights in a night cityscape scene.
As David Hollander notes, the “library sessions gave (players) some of their first opportunities to try their hand at composing,” and some of these musicians would go on to find considerable success, like Ennio Morricone or Alan Hawkshaw. Because a lot of great library music “has never been digitized,” according to Hollander, interested parties these days are ironically going to pay top dollar. The Asthmatic Kitty series highlights what’s a burgeoning in enthusiasm for this type of stuff. In April of this year, the BBC broadcast a new documentary about library music, while chattering crate diggers on message boards hip each other to one-off rarities that occasionally float into town (maybe someone’s already dropped a chunk of change on the KPM LP that I spotted a few months ago at Good Records in the East Village). The vinyl resurgence is old news, man. And if we’re to herald the heyday for obscure library LPs, that might be old hat, too. There’s a teenager chopping drum samples in Brooklyn who’s already well ahead of the game.