The Library of Congress Makes Its Archives Free for DJs to Remix: Introducing the “Citizen DJ” Project

Since the begin­ning of hip hop and turntab­lism, the best DJs have been the best crate dig­gers, peo­ple who would spend hours flip­ping thru old vinyl, unknown titles, rare cuts, and some­times seri­ous­ly out-of-fash­ion, embar­rass­ing old records for those brief moments of music that when looped, could be spun into mod­ern mag­ic.

At the same time, hip hop sam­pling has also been a mine­field for copy­right law, so much that mod­ern DJs shy away from sam­pling lest they spend months and or years seek­ing clear­ing rights.

Artist and com­put­er sci­en­tist Bri­an Foo knows where there are plen­ty of crates that have yet to be dug: the Library of Con­gress. Already the author of sev­er­al projects that turn data into music, Foo received a grant from the Library this year to do some­thing amaz­ing with their col­lec­tion and offer it to the pub­lic.

Cit­i­zen DJ is the result and cur­rent­ly you can play around with the beta ver­sion. The above video fea­tures Foo lead­ing you through the site, and I high­ly rec­om­mend you watch it before div­ing in.

Sound sources come from the Library’s many col­lec­tions: Edi­son sound record­ings, Vari­ety Stage record­ings, Joe Smith’s inter­views with ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry celebri­ties, a col­lec­tion of Amer­i­can dialect record­ings, gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion films, and their more mod­ern free music archives.

You can browse these as a col­or-cod­ed graph­ic tapes­try or as a list, with plen­ty of fil­ters to nar­row down your search. Once you find a sound you like you can chop it up in a sequencer and then bring in loops, change the bpm, and cre­ate some very, very odd mod­ern music. (If you’re lucky it will also be funky!) Every­thing can be down­loaded off­site into a (dig­i­tal audio work­sta­tion) DAW of your choice.

What­ev­er you make, by the way, is yours to do with what­ev­er you want, and that includes sell­ing it as your own track. (Although it’s best-prac­tice to cred­it the source and the Library).

Foo notes that the project is ful­ly launch­ing in late sum­mer, but is real­ly look­ing for your feed­back, whether you are a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian or a curi­ous cit­i­zen. (We also want to hear any­thing that you wind up mak­ing, so let us know.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Is Fair Use?: A Short Intro­duc­tion from the Mak­er of Every­thing is a Remix

The Library of Con­gress Makes Thou­sands of Fab­u­lous Pho­tos, Posters & Images Free to Use & Reuse

The Library of Con­gress Makes 25 Mil­lion Records From Its Cat­a­log Free to Down­load

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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  • Julian K. says:

    I think the library of con­gress does have audio.This is an inter­est­ing project and I can not think of a way I could use this.

  • koua says:

    Yes of course they have audio,it is always a require­ment to have audio for all they know.I think this is one f those projects that has a lot of info but wont be enough info to help us learn about real world life prob­lems.

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