via BoingBoing

from Nate Harrison

Can I Get An Amen? is an audio installation that unfolds a critical perspective of perhaps the most sampled drum beat in the history of recorded music, the Amen Break. It begins with the pop track Amen Brother by 60’s soul band The Winstons, and traces the transformation of their drum solo from its original context as part of a ‘B’ side vinyl single into its use as a key aural ingredient in contemporary cultural expression. The work attempts to bring into scrutiny the techno-utopian notion that ‘information wants to be free’- it questions its effectiveness as a democratizing agent. This as well as other issues are foregrounded through a history of the Amen Break and its peculiar relationship to current copyright law.

20 minute quicktime movie.

Chuck’s take:

This is an incredible work that only scratches on the surface of the history of the “Amen Break”. Harrison does an excellent job of taking something so simple as a drum beat and growing it into a lesson in culture and law.This particular break over all other breaks has influenced artists in injecting the voice of a sample to a score. It has also had an influence in my life.

Three songs that come to mind that use the Amen Break as a voice in their respective pieces are:

What a diverse collection when you look at the list.

O’Connor uses the Amen Break as the lone instrument voice in a beautifully haunting a cappella. There are a couple of stabs that break up the droning of the beat, but that song was the first time I ever heard or considered using a break beat in a constant loop. In fact, when I saw O’Connor perform this song live in Dublin at the The Pointe, she simply dragged a reel-to-reel machine on stage with her, hit play to start the loop, and in essence sang a duet.

PWEI’s “Not Now James…” predates the other two songs and has the closest resemblance in tempo to the original Amen Break. PWEI always inspired me from a song composition point because of their strong use of samples intermingled with nice guitar riffs and cheesy Brit whiteboy-style rap.

Madonna’s “Justify My Love” features a slowed down version of the Amen Break. This gives it a sultry overtone that works well with the subtle, monotonous synths and Madonna’s lustful whispering. In fact, Fred and I later sampled this version of the Amen Break and dropped it another octave. The result was a dreamy loop that supported a melancholy bass line inspired by a Sisters of Mercy bass line. On top of that was a lot of washed out guitar and voice samples also slowed down to create a bit of sonic chaos that had the same dreamy quality. The song was called “Conformity” and it ended up being great fun to build, rework, and play every time we touched it. And it all started from the Amen Break.

To find out that this six second sample is now essentially under the control of a private lable that has nothing to do with The Winstons angers me. To find out that this scuzzy company seems ready to enforce licensing makes my stomach turn. This company wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the sampling (r)evolution that we have seen since the 80s. They’re obviously a pack of lawyers or business men who have not one lick of artistic talent or empathy.