Journey to the Unknown World of Science Fiction Library MusicS

Library music is something you hear all the time in science fiction movies and TV without realizing it. These weird, ambient tunes are created cheaply by talented session musicians, often working anonymously, and many of them are beautifully futuristic.

From countless Toho giant monster spectacles to Space: 1999, SF-themed library music has been discreetly making its way into films, television, and radio for at least a century. With the advent and spread of low cost analog synthesizers among recording studios around the world, there was an explosion of electronic library music, some of it truly inspired and bizarre. There are many hundreds of albums of sf-themed library music from France, Italy, Germany, and the UK, and a few are superlative, right down to the LP cover art. Every time I listen to one, it's uncanny how quickly images come rushing to mind, and a movie seems to make itself right there in my head. The titles of the tracks help set the scene: ""Frozen Silence", "Electronic Brain", "Vibraphonoid", and "Window On The Antiworld". I think the liner notes on "Time Signals", Klaus Weiss' 1978 Selected Sound LP, might say it best. The text — meant to suggest different scenarios which the music could be used for — reads like apocalyptic concrete poetry:

Rhythm section + synthesizer, drum solo, various rhythm and sounds. For documentary application. Reporting, information, news, sports, industry, technic, electronic, research and science, crime, adventures, space, science-fiction, environmental problems, narcotic - action, speed, stress, traffic, pursuit, tension, high-performance, violence, fright, power, creation, genesis, constructions, return, unendless, strange world, distance, time-retarder, depth.

The beauty of sf library music is that much of it is sonically so far out there — way ahead of its time when it was made in the 60s, 70s, and 80s — that we are only now just catching up to it. You very well might hear one of these tracks in the future at a theater or drive-in near you.

The glowing, pulsating "Lunar Module" by Earl Salisbury comes from the US-based Major/Valentino library, and was re-issued on "Cinemaphonic: Electro Soul". "Xenos Cosmos", from library maestro Janko Nilovic on the French label Montparnasse 2000, with full chorus and prog rock changes, evokes the soundtrack of "Chariots of the Gods". Working almost exclusively on library music, Nilovic did scores of LPs on Montparnasse 2000, and his complete oeuvre is one of the absolute finest in the field. "Jazz Computer" comes from the Italian library Music Scene LP "Futuribile (The Life To Come)", a masterpiece of personal electronic strangeness by "Gianni Safred & His Electronic Instruments". Finally, we have "Survivor", a post-apocalyptic dirge on the German Selected Sound library, from the LP "Time Signals" by jazz drummer Klaus Weiss, an entire LP of minimal synth lines and acoustic drums, that is nothing short of brain-searing. Weiss is best known for his work as "Niagra", an all-percussion German cosmic disco jam band in the early 70's, but his small output of library music is truly amazing.

View gallery »

Thanks to APM Music

Even more thanks to Adam Pash, creator of the nifty service MixTape.me, which you can learn more about here.