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The Amen Break: The History Of The Six-Second Burst Of Brilliance

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THE Amen Break Beat. You’ve heard it. It’s been played on pretty much everything. It’s six seconds of music history. You heard it on Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise, N.W.A.’s awesome Straight Outta Compton and lost of sounds from the rave scene.

Writer Nate Harrison will explain its use after this blast of godly goodness from The Winstons, who filled a gap in the tune Amen, Brother, a B-side makeweight to the Grammy-winning 1969 hit Color Him Father. You might not know the song, but listen for drummer G.C. Coleman beating out the Amen Break. And, no, they got no royalties for their short blast of magic:

The Economist told us about its use in British Jungle music:

Amen also has certain sonic qualities that set it aside from its rivals. Rather than keeping time with a hi-hat, Coleman uses the loose sound of the ride cymbal, filling out the aural space. And the recording has a “crunch” to it, says Tom Skinner, a London-based session drummer: “That quality is appealing to beatmakers.” The pitched tone of the snare drum is particularly distinctive; as any junglist will tell you, a snare can be as evocative as a smell.

Here’s Nate:

 Michael S. Schneider did some maths:

To appreciate this relationship between the Golden Ratio and sound, it’s worthwhile to consider some of the ideal, eternal, unchanging principles of Golden relationships which can only be approximated in nature, and byartists, architects and musicians. I’m not going to re-teach here everything there is to know about this wonderful ratio since some great websites already tell you everything you want to know, such as this and this. Most pertinently, information about the appearance of the Golden Ratio in worldwide music, such as in the work of the classical composers Mozart, Beethoven, Bartok, Debussy and Satie can be found here.

For our interests, the main principle to appreciate about the Golden Ratio is this: A whole line may be divided in such a way that the length of the whole relates to its large part in the same way that the large part relates to the small part. In other words, the same relationship appears on different scales, comprehending a mathematically balanced whole.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. Sean Barrett says it’s bunkum.