Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Innovative Partnerships at RPTF 2023

Curator's Note

This year was my first opportunity to explore audio preservation as a career path. Through fortunate connections, I found myself the social media manager for the Radio Preservation Task Force while barely halfway through my master’s in information science, which led to me talking myself into attending my first conference this past April in Washington, DC. 

The RPTF conference brought together academics, archivists, hobbyists, radio broadcasters, and basically anyone interested in radio and/or preservation for a few days of panels and talks focused on the past century of recorded sound. One word was repeated over and over: collaboration. 

I can say that I know enough about preservation to be certain I know nothing about preservation. But my barely informed opinion is this: without tangible collaboration and innovation, we are lost. The old methods of preservation failed in the face of an increasingly digital world. Still, it seems every archive and radio station is working in parallel, desperately digitizing an unending pile of sound recordings while trying to engage a modern audience, all the while not communicating with their peer institutions. 

So a conference was the perfect opportunity to see tangible examples of collaboration and innovative uses of archival sound.

The Innovator in Residence position at the Library of Congress sounds infinitely fascinating, and what Brian Foo has created is equally entertaining. As part of the Sound Submissions series, he presented Citizen DJ; a reenvisioning of the National Jukebox as a resource for music producers. Citizen DJ takes all audiovisual material without restrictions or in the public domain at the Library of Congress and lays them out grid style for users to sample. Furthermore, the DJ takes a selected sound and incorporates it into a remixing interface, allowing users to interpose a drum beat or change the syncopation of the sound. Foo said he wanted to engage amateur music producers, particularly hip-hop artists, and bring them into the sound preservation sphere.

A hush fell over the room as Foo created a beat right in front of us. Despite the differences in our backgrounds, whether we were broadcasters, archivists, or graduate students, we were entranced as an archival interview became music right in front of us. What sound archivists on their own could’ve conceived using sound collections to create a music-producing tool? What hip-hop artists would’ve known the wealth of resources available to them in archival collections?

Preservationists’ problem right now is a lack of outreach. When collections actually leave the archive, the materials reach new audiences and generate new ideas on how sound can be preserved and used. Collaboration is more than just talk between archives; it’s working with nontraditional groups towards our shared goals.

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