The Library Of Congress Intros Legal Sample Library, Citizen DJ

The US Library of Congress has introduced Citizen DJ, a project currently under development that promises to let you make sample-based music using the Library’s public audio and moving image collections.

The website will include three ways of accessing the sounds identified :

  • An interface for quickly exploring a particular collection by sound and metadata
  • A simple music-creation app that let’s you remix collections with beats
  • “Sample packs” that you can download which contain thousands of audio clips from a particular collection that can be used in most music production software

Developer Brian Foo says that the project is driven by the ‘golden age of hip hop’:

“Since its beginnings in the 1970s, hip hop has become today’s dominant worldwide music genre and cultural movement. At the center of this movement is the DJ, whose role is to excavate, transform, and collage disparate and obscure sounds from current and past cultures to create wholly new, relevant, and infectious music.

The golden age of hip hop was said to be in the late 80s to early 90s when DJs had unconstrained creative freedom to collage from found sounds. This small window of time produced landmark albums such as Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising, both considered to be culturally significant and selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. These albums were dense and intricate sonic collages composed of hundreds of found sounds.

However, the increasing popularity of hip hop in the following decade gave rise to high profile lawsuits resulting in excessive restrictions on how audio could be sampled. Today, collage-based hip hop as it existed in the golden age is largely a lost (or at best, a prohibitively expensive) artform.

I believe if there was a simple way to discover, access, and use public domain audio and video material for music making, a new generation of hip hop artists and producers can maximize their creativity, invent new sounds, and connect listeners to materials, cultures, and sonic history that might otherwise be hidden from public ears.”

Available collections include: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies; Variety Stage Sound Recordings and Motion Pictures; The Free Music Archive; and The National Screening Room Government Film collection.

Citizen DJ is available to preview now and is expected to be available in Summer 2020.