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Adidas Response Earbuds

  • Made to stay in your ear during intense activity like curling, sumo, and jazzercise
  • Keeps out noise and sweat and Venusian brain parasites
  • Made by Monster, branded by Adidas, scavenged by Meh
  • Model: 128649-00 (OK, normally that “-00” would drive us nuts, but it does make the difference between this being Googleable or not, so we grudgingly concede it serves a purpose)
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Library Music: Overdue for Recognition

You know, sometimes people ask me “What do you, Meh writer @JasonToon, listen to while you’re working on things like the copy for these Adidas Response earbuds?” (They don’t pronounce the @.) And I never know quite what to say. Sometimes, if I’m really honed in on writing something complicated, I need silence. Sometimes, if I’m just researching or invoicing or whatever, I’ll listen to whatever music I’m in the mood for. But when I’m writing, I just want a mood in the room that’s rewarding when I pay attention to it and non-intrusive when I don’t. So I listen to stuff like this:

That’s “The Winslow Boy” by the Syd Dale Orchestra, and it’s called “library music”. It’s stock music recorded in the 1960s and 1970s by production houses for use in commercials, industrial videos, TV shows, and movies. Library music was first rediscovered by '90s hipsters, hugely influencing bands like Stereolab and Saint Etienne and being sampled by hip-hop and electronic DJs. Now there are countless commercially available compilations of this once-anonymous, insider-only music.

I put it on, not too loud, and I’m transported to, like, a department store in 1975. Some of it is light and sunny, some of it is cop-show funky, some of it is Austin Powers cheesy. But it’s never predictable, and sometimes insane. Most of the stuff I’ve heard comes from the UK, Italy, France, or Germany (also home to the manufacturer of these headphones). but I don’t know a ton else about it. And that’s the way I like it: for me, the music’s mystery is part of its weird time-travel allure. If you want to know more about where this music came from and where it’s gone, this Pitchfork article is a good start.

But if you just want to hear some of it, let’s lift off with the soaring fanfare of Keith Mansfield’s “The Great Outdoors”, a masterpiece of the lighter, airier end of the library music spectrum. If you just can’t hang with the cheesiness of this one, it’s probably best to deplane right now:

Still here? Your reward is a German cigarette commercial that combines a funky-ass beat, a pathologically peppy chorus, and an indefinable Euro-'70s vibe into something you’ve never heard before. Take a deep drag on “Zigarillo” by the Botho Lucas Singers & The Sound Masters:

Italy’s low-rent film factory Cinecittà nurtured a huge output of library music, most famously by Ennio Morricone of The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, but also by other oddball talents like Piero Piccioni. Here’s his cool, refreshing “Adoro Ancora”:

So far, so pleasant, but where’s the insanity I mentioned earlier? Brace your mind for the woozy, reality-warping flutes of “Flutes Ad Libitum” by French composers Raymond Guiot and Guy Pederson. Its inclusion on the soundtrack to Nacho Libre might have been the best thing about that movie:

In contrast, “Carry On Joe” by the Colin Frechter Orchestra evokes more of a “brooding in a convertible speeding down a sunny coastal highway, your scarf flapping in the breeze” feel:

Meanwhile, back in Italy, we’re busting up a smuggling ring with Armando Trovajoli’s “Blazing Magnum”:

If you’re discovering that you like this library music stuff but wondering why you’ve never heard any of it, you have. Delia Derbyshire was a pioneering electronic composer working for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop when she put together this theme for a new kids’ sci-fi show:

British composer Alan Hawkshaw is best known for his oft-sampled funk workout “The Champ”, released as the Mohawks. But he also put together a huge body of library music work, covering every style and mood like the pro he was. We’ll stick with the sci-fi theme for the cosmic easy listening of 1977’s “Mystique Voyage”:

And we’ll bring things in for a landing back on Earth with the psychedelic funk of “Les Temps des Loups” (time of the wolves) by French composer George Garvarentz:

To many of you, this whole thing will seem like an exercise in gratuitous obscurity, a noxious hipsterer-than-thou display of competitive crate-digging. All I can say is that I really like this stuff, and I just found it all on the Internet. I’ve never even seen a vinyl copy of any of these records. But yeah, I get the uneasiness with listening to ephemeral TV commercial and soundtrack music on purpose.

Maybe, though, for one or two of you, this piece will turn you on to a weird smorgasboard of unexpected sounds and uncommon moods. Google the names in this post. Follow the trail of suggested videos on YouTube. Fill your Adidas Response sport earbuds with transmissions from a lost universe. Maybe I’ll run into you in the menswear department.

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