Amen, Brother

February 07th, 2008 | Category: Marginalia, Videos

V. Vale sent this out in his most recent newsletter (thanks, Vale). It’s a mini-documentary of a six-second drum break from the B-side of a Winstons’ record, a track called “Amen Brother,” that’s been sampled, looped, and reapproriated — by everyone from N.W.A. to car manufacturers — since its release in 1969. This is Nate Harrison’s meditation on that break, the “Amen Break.” It is “Amazing Grace” to his Bill Moyers, and this is a deep monologue on the ownership of cultural artifacts, the legality of sampling, and this six seconds of recorded history.

If you’re interested at all, please watch the whole thing as Harrison has some interesting and salient points to make about copyright law and fostering creativity through cultural freedom. Here is Nate Harrison’s mini-documentary on the “Amen Break” (runtime: 18:08):

Further Posting:


  • Bill said:

    I’ve seen this doc; it’s amazing. I can’t believe a whole genre of music (jungle) was developed from one loop. It proves the genius and ingenuity of these electronic artists. Thanks, Roy.

  • Mark said:

    This is a great essay, and the audio is OK, but why the hell is it a video? The long shots of a record spinning add nothing to the story. Makes me wonder if this video is itself a result of overly restrictive copyright law. In other words, this “documentary” looks ridiculous without the presumably copyrighted photos of the bands, people, and records being discussed… Maybe that’s the point.

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    You may be right, Mark. Given Harrison’s mentions of copyright law stifling creativity, the one-dimensionality of the film might just be aiding his point.

  • Thijs said:

    great docu, i think the video works great, the spinning record is a perfect illustration and it makes you LISTEN. Also it probably makes more sense today if you’ve written an essay that’s on point, to turn it into a youtube clip. Over on Grandgood, i saw that there’s some guy who has studied the mathematics of the Amen break, and apparently the ‘golden cut’ ratio is the hidden reason this snippet is so damn seductive.