April 03, 2006

Amen brother!

Do you know what the "Amen Break" is?

Maybe you don't recognize it by name, but you've heard it - probably hundreds of times. It is possibly the most ubiquitous drum rhythm in the history of popular music, a six-second loop taken from the middle of a 40-year-old funk B-side, sampled, sliced, diced, and distorted, and re-used in literally thousands of musical compositions, primarily of the hip-hop and drum 'n' bass variety.

Nate Harrison, an American interdisciplinary artist, created an exhibit in 2004 featuring an audio essay (on vinyl, natch!) about the history of the Amen Break. (The presentation includes a QuickTime video of approximately 18 minutes, which takes some time to load.) You may agree or disagree with Harrison's opinions about the ethics of sampling and copyright control, but I found the history of this little musical snippet - only four and a half revolutions of a 45-rpm single - fascinating.