Library music is the functional art par excellence, a utilitarian backdrop for other media – TV, adverts, radio shows – to do their thing. It should be flourishing in our hyper-mediated, information-rich, marketing-infested age, but it sadly isn’t.
When we think of contemporary library music, almost only bad things come to mind: the faux gamelan and revolting banjos of tech commercials, TED talks and storytelling podcasts, the plasticky electro music of science documentaries (Horizon, we’re looking at you), the sub-Moby (!) bombast that tries and fails to pound us into amazement when we run the insta-grammatical gauntlet of adverts at the movies. And then there is the general replacement in ads, TV and films, of library music with songs originally intended for other purposes, in transactions that taint the original song and ill-fits its new host.
This depressing state of affairs is a far cry from some decades ago, when Suzanne Cianni produced jingles for Coca Cola and Atari, Sven Libaek soundtracked trippy underwater documentaries, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop invented a thousand impossible genres, and populated a thousand children nightmares What would be today’s equivalent? Holly Herndon composing music for adverts? Hieroglyphic Being producing a techno-symphony about neuroplasticity? Hyperdub on a BBC Radio retainer?
We think this would be awesome for several reasons:
First, and contrary to what many of you may contend (“are you calling for these wonderful artists to prostitute themselves commercially, you 20JFG fiends?”), we feel that the best library music can and should capture the spirit of its times in a way that transcends its immediate utility, and enlightens its audiences both now and in the future. In short, it can be art, and also political. In the 1960s and 1970s, library music captured society’s fascination with the possibilities of science and technology, new types of leisure, mass holidays, sex and drugs. In the same way, a library music fit for our anxious times would reflect their illusions and worries (more on that below).
Second, the secondary role of library music as background for other media gives it a license to be experimental, weird and spooky. If in doubt, check Ron Geesin’s synth oddities and tape manipulations for headache tablet adverts. Creative submission creates opportunities for creative subversion, and we would like to see those explored and realised.
Thirdly, and more pragmatically, we are sure that a new revenue stream for musicians would be welcome in these days of business model turbulence and uncertain micro-transactional and gig economics.
So now that you are all convinced, how do we get the neo-library music revolution started?
As with almost anything else, the BBC is a good start. Hereby we call the Beeb to replace the non-descript drivel it often uses in its content with high quality sounds. An Oneida/Mary Beard collab would be a good start.
We also call brands and advertisers to recognise that nothing spells “innovation” like a music jingle offering a glimpse into the status anxiety of tech consumers whose lifestyles and identities are constantly “disrupted” by new products, services and experiences. Getting Burial to produce the ad for the next Apple Watch would show self-confidence and self-awareness, it is the way to go.
We think that new, non-linear media like social media, web, video games and augmented and virtual reality are ripe for musical exploration – the new frontier for a reclaimed music library genre. The possibilities are endless.
Here you have three examples:
Unfollow’s new cassette in Blue Tapes is pretty great. Shy techno for introspective cyberpunks, futurism shrouded by a fog of distortion devoid of aggression. If Demdike Stare adopted a puppy, this would be its dance.
In the press release for the record, Unfollow refers to it as good for “3am on the dancefloor when everyone’s drugs have run out and all the poseurs have taken Uber rides home.” We agree with the sentiment. We also think that its aura of mystery intermingled with recognisability would provide the perfect backdrop for a documentary about the future of jobs, or even more appositely, a fishing expedition into the job boards of the Internet, to look for new and strange occupational species resilient to the advent of mass automation.
Half Blu makes us think of cyclical delusions after a day working on an assembly lines for 3-d memes.
We already told you about the majestic post-punk, red-cold skronk of JD Twitch’s So Low compilation. The remixes are similarly brilliant, specially Helena Hauff’s transformation of Klinik’s Moving Hands into a furious, fast-moving mechano-snake which could perfectly soundtrack one of those reality shows about brits getting blasted in Mediterranean resorts, its luridly epic synths and electro aggression a metaphor for their desperate, impossible joint search for control/oblivion, perhaps a glimpse into flares of stroboscopic violence that are unavoidable whenever a segment of society has so little to lose, even if it hasn’t realised yet.
Get the So Low Remix EP here.
We conclude with Dang Olsen Dream Tape, whose ectoplasmic harmonics vibe mellow like a collection of Ariel Pink dub remixes, or Peaking Light dissolving into the primeval soup of our eternal summer.
We think this music captures perfectly the friction-less flow of tech utopia:
The placid waves of humankind’s collective intelligence getting itself linked up and ready to go.
The soft staccato of nano-orgasmic endorphin hits from a barrage of likes saluting our virtual personas.
Sipping on cocktails in the penthouse of a cookie-cutter creative city, while we wait for the singularity.
Can’t wait to see the advert.
Thumper is included in DODT’s forthcoming Zonk cassette, in Constellation Tatsu.