Klaus Weisss Survivor is just one of many jewels on the great new library-music comp, Unusual Sounds.
Klaus Weiss's "Survivor" is just one of many jewels on the great new library-music comp, Unusual Sounds. Anthology Recordings

Klaus Weiss, "Survivor" (Anthology Recordings/Mexican Summer)

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Created mainly by people you’ve never heard of, library music (aka production music) is nonetheless some of the greatest shit ever made. It’s a paradox, because it was recorded by session musicians to fulfill specific functions for movies, TV shows, ads, radio bumpers, and other media. The deployment of such records was mainly a thrifty way for companies that couldn’t afford to hire their own composers to procure soundtracks. Undoubtedly, this was strictly a mercenary enterprise for made-to-order situations that occurred in these various platforms. However, these cats who were simply putting in another day at the office—usually in European studios—ended up cutting some of the scariest, funkiest, catchiest, and craziest tracks you’ve never heard... because initial releases were pressed in limited editions and were typically not sold in record stores. Their scarcity made them pricey collectors items, but many of these LPs have become fertile sources for sampling by hiphop and electronic-music producers.

Enterprising reissue labels realized that a not insignificant portion of the population would hunger for such odd music, and thus the last decade has seen a mini-boom of re-releases and repackaged compilations of library music. (On a blatantly self-promotional tip, if you ever get the urge to hear this stuff in public and accompanied by surrealistic visuals, I put on a DJ night every other month at Vermillion Gallery called Obscenely Obscure that focuses on the genre.)

Library music's ascendance has continued apace this year with the publication of David Hollander's book Unusual Sounds: The Hidden History of Library Music and the release today of an accompanying comp, also titled Unusual Sounds. Its 18 tracks do a splendid job of outlining some of library music's multifaceted moods (pacific, funkily debauched, suspenseful, urban bustle, tropical, spacey, liturgical, contemplative, etc.). Of course, this collection only scrapes the surface of library music's manifold splendors; some major names are excluded, and surely licensing issues complicated things. But Unusual Sounds is a great intro for novices and a solid overview for initiates.

"Survivor," off the phenomenal 1978 album Time Signals by German drummer Klaus Weiss, is one of those tracks that instantly strike you as a paragon of cinematic momentousness. It's the sort of piece that scores the part of the movie right after the climax occurs, where everyone's dealing with the fallout, reckoning what the repercussions are. Weiss's subtly funky drums and grandiosely morose and woozy synths here have been imitated hundreds of times over the last 40 years. So now's an opportune time to recognize and celebrate one of the first masters of this deeply chilling sound. Klaus encounters of the third kind, indeed...