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.

10 thoughts on “The Library Of Congress Intros Legal Sample Library, Citizen DJ

  1. “Since its beginnings in the 1970s, hip hop has become today’s dominant worldwide music genre and cultural movement.”

    (joke) You mean that corporate country & western isn’t the dominant form? (/joke)

    While I think that the LOC project is great, it does dismay me that hip hop may actually be dominant. The data varies depending on what oracle is consulted. (I listen to avant-garde classical and electronic, so what do I know?)

    1. Hip hop has more in common with “avant-garde classical” and “electronic” than any other dominant popular genre of the past 60 years.

      1. Take a look at the associative map that the neural network over at Jukebox ( developed. The Classical grouping is on the far right, the Hip Hop grouping is at the far left. Soundtrack is closest to Classical, but still in a distinct group from it. Country and Jazz are closer, but still are some distance away. Fact is, Kiss is closer to Classical than Hip Hop.

        Yeah, after your comment I spent some time listening to various hip-hop artists on Band Camp (50-100 tracks), but I didn’t find anything that I would listen to twice.

  2. I get really tired of hearing the idea that hip hop is the only musical form that utilizes sampling and hardware such as Akai products. This flies in the face of the reality of the many creators in the ambient or pure electronic modes of sonic creation. I site as just one example the SPK album Zamia Lehmanni Songs Of Byzantine Flowers. This is no hip hop album and it is loaded with samples. Not samples of other people’s music that is re-purposed but samples of sounds. Many different sounds. That after all, was one of the reasons for sampling when it first began to appear. There are countless examples of this type of music, some with beats, others beatless. I’m sure Brian Eno used many a sample on his ambient recordings.

    I think the creation of this website and creation tools is a great idea but could they look beyond narrowcasting everything?

  3. Well this is great and the amazing thing is that the Library of Congress has an Artist in Residence position that accepts creative technologists to jack up the LOC website.

    Man, it would be fantastic if every federal agency had an annually renewed position of artist in residence who had a budget and authority to make the agency’s data more accessible according to whatever the heck scheme the artist fancies, with no oversight from anyone. Census, Health and Human Services, etc. It’s often incredibly difficult to access holdings of these agencies.

  4. There is a ton of copyrighted material in the archive masquerading as public domain. IIRC, a lot is in the free music archive they’ve included here. If they did the work to sift a bunch of that out, great, but I’ll presume they didn’t.

    I played with the drum kits a bit and while it might be fun for a novice, I’ll stick with Ableton and my hardware gear. Great source for exploring and downloading samples though.

  5. This is an American fantasy bubble, people don’t go to Hip-hop clubs in Europe and haven’t in my living memory. The most popular music form has been and has always been EDM. It’s in the clubs, pubs, adverts, TV background over here. Hip-pop exists but to call it a distant 2nd would be greatly exaggerating it’s place in modern world music.

  6. People don’t go to Hip Hop Clubs for the same reasons that the Library of Congress project is recognizing its influence; it’s the voice of working class and poor, the Hip Hop that matters speaks to the same ideals that Punk did in the 70’s. And while I love the Clash there’s not much pop-punk that I personally would listen to. But I don’t deny the fact of punk’s indelible mark on culture.

    Hip hop has come so far though, and encompasses so many sub-genres, another reason its being placed in the title of this project. Like all cultural movements that start in expression and idealism, it has been commodified and pummeled into a baseline that’s so far from what it started as it doesn’t really bare trying to argue about its value.

    But trust, there’s a lot of great hip hop music out there.

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