Library of Congress Unveils New Digital DJ Tool

The Library of Congress is challenging hip-hop fans and music lovers to remix sounds from its extensive archive. A new digital tool called Citizen DJ, created by one of the library’s Innovators in Residence, Brian Foo, will allow users to explore the library’s recordings to create and download original beats and sounds.

Foo, a data-visualization artist, early hip-hop fan and former break dancer, said in a phone interview that the inspiration for the project draws on the genre’s roots, when D.J.s scoured record-store crates for obscure sounds to sample in their music.

Foo wondered, with modern copyright challenges: “What is that collective crate that we all own as American citizens? What are these sounds that can be used in an unrestricted creative way?”

With Citizen DJ, users can access a pool of free-to-use sounds from the library’s audio and moving-image collections, including recordings from vaudeville acts, interviews with entertainers, speeches and rights-free music. They can select a sound to remix or download sounds in bulk, all while being encouraged to engage with the original source material.

The tool, Foo says, creates a cycle of “music discovery, reuse and then discovery again.”

Ahead of the project’s full rollout later this summer, the library has made a test site available through May 15, with a subset of available sounds. On Friday, the library will host a tutorial event on Facebook, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, with Foo on hand to answer questions. The hope is that this test period will generate valuable user feedback to help Foo improve the final product, and that people who own interesting troves of audio may be inspired to donate them to be included in the tool.

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