The enduring appeal of Italian composers’ dramatic ‘library music’

One day in the summer of 2011, Lorenzo Fabrizzi rode with a friend into an abandoned warehouse outside Rome. The building’s custodians, who said they bought it for about $100, let them inside to see its contents: an estimated 10,000 vinyl LPs by Fabrizzi. They were welcome to take as many as they wanted, the owner said; He was brewing beer in space and was of no use to them.

Fabrizi was starting his career as a fan of rare records. This collection, which previously belonged to Radio Vatican (a station owned by the Vatican), was unwelcome to everyone in Italy at the time. But Fabrizzi found something he had never seen before: “library” music – obscure vinyl records containing songs written directly for radio, television, or ad placement, in this case classically lush, string-laden. Trained Italian composers, funk- and jazz-informed arrangements.

“I wasn’t interested in this stuff when I started,” Fabrizzi said on a recent Zoom call from Rome, where he runs the label again. sonor music version since 2013. “They had pressed 200, 300, 500, 1,000 copies, but they were not destined for shops or distributors. They were given only to the inner circles of music supervisors, journalists and people working in television. “

Sonor is one of several labels over the past few decades that have revived Italian classics from the European library genre (in July, it replaced the lost soundtrack of the 1977 film “Emmanuel in America” ​​and Nico Fidenko in Sandro Brugnoli’s “Utopia”). will release). From the 1960s to the 1980s, subjects had to make a lot of money: TV and radio producers needed music with opening credits, action or love scenes, game show sequences or commercials. Well-trained musicians had access to large ensembles and budgets, and Italians were especially drawn to the fence.

“You hear a lot of stuff and you laugh because you’re like, it was recorded on insanely expensive gear, and there’s no way they thought this theme would work in any movie,” says Mike, a collector. Wallace said San Diego who produced a compilation About the work of Italian composer Piero Umiliani in 2017. “It’s just too far out there.”

Recent album by producer and composer Adrian Young “American Negro” Similar orchestral flourishes over crunchy backbeats. “It was as if classically trained musicians were asked to make modern black music, but for Europe, so you would have these crazy orchestrations, but it would still be funky,” Young said. “They had a lot of latitude because they weren’t making this music for a particular audience,” he said. “So if they want something dramatic, they can just madly [expletive] And nobody has to deal with saying, ‘That’s not pop enough.'”

Because it had no commercial life, the output of many talented musicians remained hidden for years. But in the late 1990s, labels such as Easy Tempo began to reissue compilations of soundtracks and Italian works. Leaving these decades-old nuggets in the Venn diagram of hip-hop producers, record collectors and fans of the short-lived lounge revival, it created a wave.

Composer Ennio Morricone, best known for his dramatic scores for so-called “spaghetti westerns” such as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, was one of the greatest of Italian music in that era. But as collectors began to unearth the recordings of Umiliani, Brugnoli and Alessandro Alessandroni, the well of talent from Italy began to deepen.

The large-scale experimentalism of the Italian library catalog should also be examined in the context of its era. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s – known as the “Ani di Piombo” or “Years of the Leads” – Italy suffered from turmoil among left-wing, far-right and neo-fascist protesters. were full. “It was devastating,” Fabrizzi said. “People were shooting in the streets, clashing with the police.” While these musicians were locked in the studio, the imaginary sounds they created were like portals to a different world.

In that appalling atmosphere, Italian musicians were also paying attention to the music made by black Americans. Classic rock of the era was influenced by innovators including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry; The boundaries were being pushed by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus; And funk and R&B were bubbling up at labels like Stax and Motown. And then, of course, there were stellar movie soundtracks like “Shaft” and “Superfly.”

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“From the late ’50s to the early ’70s, uncharacteristically black music came to the fore for cinema; European composers, Italian composers, took this sound and synthesized it with their classical teachings,” said Young. . “And it created a palette of music that inspired later generations of hip-hop producers trying to find the best samples. It became a treasure for many of us.”

For character-based narratives of hip-hop, a genre built on finding loops from records that few had heard, these compositions were practically begging to be mined. Prolific producer Madlib was one of the first to sample an italian library record To a larger audience, as on their 2000 album Quasimoto, “Ignore.” Cut Chemist used a track from Alessandroni’s most famous release, “Open Air Parade” on their 2006 LP “The Audience Listening”. Once word got out about the Italians, a collectors’ arms race was underway.

“I became very obsessed with Morricone and started buying a lot of his records, and then you find guys like Bruno Nikolai, Alessandroni, Riz Ortolani,” said 37-year-old Sven Wonder, a musician from Stockholm. “Natura Morta” Due Fridays is one of the closest modern counterparts to the Italian library oeuvre. “It seems like every record geek ends up in the library section at some point.”

Wonder’s first two records from last year, “Eastern Flowers” and “Wabi Sabi”, show influences from Middle Eastern musicians and Japanese jazz, but “Natura Morta” is a clear nod to the Italian library pool. Written primarily during the pandemic, it has the sluggish rhythmic pulse of those 1970s classics, topped with a 15-piece string section. (“It should have been 16, but we couldn’t get the right amount of meter between all the players,” Wonder said of the socially distant recording session. “The double bass players had to go.”)

“Natura Morta”, which is being distributed and promoted in the United States by the Rapcats web store operated by Ethan Alapatta (owner of the re-released label Now-Again Records) and the label Light in the Attic, is filled with erotic flutes, Tinkling Fender Rhodes solos and long melodies doubled on 12-string guitar and harpsichord. It’s delicate, pervasive music – and one that most independent artists will have a tough time in 2021. (It was built with the help of a grant from the Swedish government.)

Allapt praised the album as an innovation: “They’ve tried to figure out how they can do it in a way that both pays homage and doesn’t sound derivative.”

Most of the musicians that Fabrizzi introduced to new audiences are no longer alive, and more music is still to be discovered; Sonor will release another Alessandroni soundtrack this summer. A big challenge, Fabrizi said, lies in the business side of things. As the big labels consolidated their catalogs over the past few decades, library work got lost in the shuffle.

“It’s crazy hard” to deal with major labels, he said, adding that library music is not a priority for him. “The problem is they don’t know they own it. They don’t know, because they don’t have the documents. They don’t have the original contracts.”

But collectors like Wallace find thrill in discovering what’s buried in those safes. “One thing that’s really frustrating about this stuff, but also really fun, is that we’re learning new things every day,” he said. “We know more than we did five years ago. We know more than we did last year.”

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