When I was a teenager a surefire way to become one of the cool kids was to jump onto a musical trend before any of your friends. That was pretty handy for me as I had an elder cousin who was ahead of the game when it came to music. She introduced me to David Bowie about three months before the iconic Top of the Pops performance of Starman.
Back in the day before all of this Internet and YouTube TOTP was how we kids consumed our music. A performance on TOTP could make a band, many successful music careers were launched on a Thursday night.
It’s fair to say that on Thursday 6th July 1972 David Bowie became a star.
It’s hard to explain how big an impact that performance had on popular music. Bowie looked like someone from a distant galaxy. Our parents hated him.
We loved him 😻
For the last few months, I’d been playing Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to anyone within earshot so on the 6th of July I officially became a cool kid with all of my peers.
Fast forward to Christmas Eve 1972. Bowie was playing the Rainbow and we managed to get tickets.
The Rainbow Theatre Finsbury Park was the Mecca for Rock concerts throughout my teenage years. It felt like I was there every Saturday. I saw some fantastic bands, Roxy Music, Genesis, King Crimson even Pink Floyd but I have to say Bowie‘s performance was the best that I had experienced.
And no concert that I have been to since has topped it.
The band kicked off with a cover of the Rolling Stones, Let’s Spend the Night Together, it was electric. The classics just kept coming. Hang on to yourself, Changes, Life on Mars, Starman, The Jeanie Genie.
Mick Ronson, probably one of the most underrated guitar payers ever was just stunning. His guitar solo on Moonage Daydream, my personal favourite track from Ziggy Stardust, took my head off my shoulders and sent it to Mars.
The band were tight but the star of the show was David Bowie. He was mesmerising. The concert finished with Rock and Roll suicide. Bowie had every one of us in the spellbound audience in the palm of his alien hand.
The set lasted about 45 minutes it was over far too quickly. By the end, I was completely obsessed with this Popstar from another galaxy.
My love for David Bowie has lasted throughout my life. He has produced an amazing body of work but for me, nothing touches this period of Bowie’s musical career.
And I was there at the start of
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. 🙏
The Amen Break is a 6- to 7.2-second drum solo performed by Gregory Sylvester G is for Gill, an American session drummer who played with soul and R&B musicians in the 1960s. “Amen” was recorded by The Winstons in 1969, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when the song became an unlikely hit in the hip-hop world.
The Amen Break is one of the most sampled pieces of music ever having been used by over 2,000 artists which include the biggest names in Hip Hop including popular tracks from The Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Dr Dre and more recently Kanye West on his single “Black Skinhead”. This breakbeat has also been used by artists such as Madonna, The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Faithless. It can be heard in films like Forrest Gump, Bad Boys II and The Beach, games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and TV series including Dexter’s Laboratory, Metalocalypse & Hannibal.
So what is it about the Amen Break?
The Amen break is one of the most sampled pieces of music because it is six seconds of pure adrenaline. It’s a short, snappy drum solo that packs a punch but what makes it so popular with music producers is the way in which it can be cut up and rearranged to make drum breaks.
This is done by importing the Amen break into an audio sampler then cutting it up into small pieces. Then, select a small section of the break to use. Cut the section out and save it as a new file. Repeat this process until you have enough sections to create a full drum beat.
The Amen break and me. It took me 16 years to discover it !!
I was aware of the Amen break but until 2021 I had never thought to use it in any of my work however one night I stumbled on an onLine Tutorial showing how to cut and use the break. This was at the time when I was making a lot of small audio clips for the FiveNotes media free music site so I thought that I would give it a go
And I was hooked What amazed me was without too much effort I could recreate that Old School Jungle vibe. I was amazed at how many variations of a drum break I could get out of a 7-second sample. I only wish that I had done this when I was using my ASR 10. That beast with its ability to cut and time stretch would have made the Amen break really sing for me.
Sampling and copyright issues of the Amen Break
There are many sampling and copyright issues surrounding the Amen break. For example, The Winstons did not receive royalty payments for any samples that were created from their song until they won a lawsuit against Phonogram records in 2000 for unpaid royalties. Additionally, at least six different hip-hop songs have been removed from YouTube for copyright infringement, including “Amen” by Meek Mill.
Here is little something that I put together using the Amen Break.
When I was doing some research for this blog I came across the Katzenklavier. It’s like something out of a horror film starring Boris Karloff!
Imagine a piano made from the anguished cries of thousands of cats. Now imagine that this is not some tortured artist’s work, but an instrument designed not for musical purposes but for the treatment of psychiatric disorders.
How did it work?
The Katzenklavier or the cat piano as I like to call it was a creative, sickening idea that’s sure to make cats run a mile. Drawings based on historical descriptions show a keyboard with seven or nine cages corresponding roughly to the pitch range where their meowing occurs. Each key on the keyboard is assigned to a different cat and each one has its own tail held down by nails in order for you to press and release keys corresponding with where their meows should sound out from! Makes perfect sense really
How popular was the Katzenklavier?
It was invented by a German Jesuit renaissance man named Athanasius Kircher sometime in the 17th century but to the relief of many cats, the contraption was never built.
What if it had been used
If it had been used how was it meant to help the treatment of psychiatric disorders? Johann Christian Reil, An 18th-century German physician wrote that the device was intended to shake mentally patients who had lost the ability to focus out from their fixed state and into conscious awareness. The patient must be placed so that they are sitting in direct view when playing a fugue on this infernal instrument, watching their expressions closely for any sign which would indicate what kind of feeling it is generating within them at present time during composition.
Would it have worked?
I doubt that very much. I think that the treatment of psychiatric disorders would have been worsened by watching cats being tortured.
The practice of audio sampling has long roots in various experimental methods. Here are some examples.
The French composer Pierre Schaeffer sometimes referred to as the Godfather of modern sampling developed an experimental form of music called “musique concrète” in the 1940s. He used sounds from sources such as human bodies, locomotives and kitchen utensils to create sound collages which were then manipulated on tape by splicing them together with other pieces or recording new material onto existing recordings. To playback these creations he created what is now known as Phonograms—playing loops at 12 different pitches triggered via keyboard performance.
Cage, Varèse, Stockhausen
Composers including John Cage, Edgar Varèse and Karheinz Stockhausen created new sounds with musique concrète. Bebe used it in the creation of his first electronic film soundtrack for Forbidden Planet (1956). The techniques were brought to mainstream audiences by BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop who produced soundtracks such as Doctor Who that are still listening to today!
Dub and reggae music was first introduced to the world in a more modern way by producers such as King Tubby, who used recordings from Jamaica to create riddim tracks which were then deejayed over. These innovations would later influence American hip hop artists who would rap over sampled beats.
Holger Czukay, the bass player with the legendary Greman ban Can, experimented with Dictaphones and shortwave radios showing that sound samples could become a major tool in music production.
The demand for electronic musical instruments had been growing steadily throughout the 1960s as musicians and composers became more interested in the possibilities of manipulating sound electronically. From monophonic “additive” synthesizers using sine wave generators to experimental instruments with complex oscillators that could produce many different harmonic components, the field was rapidly evolving.
A new concept for EMS
EMS had been making all-electronic music studios since 1960, and their catalogue included an extensive line of modules for voltage-controlled synthesis, including complex systems such as the Synthi 100. The Musys was a departure from their traditional design practice as it was the first digital sampler.
Conceived and designed by Peter Grogono in 1969 for EMS. It was designed specifically to playback prerecorded samples of sounds. Instead of making a system that included every possible function in one box, Grogono decided to break up the processing into separate modules that could then be connected together in various ways.
The system ran on two mini-computers, a pair of Digital Equipment’s PDP-8sOffsite Link. This had a tiny memory of 12k (12000 bytes) with an additional 32 k backing up from tape storage all this was absolutely minuscule by today’s standards yet still, these little computers were used as world-first music samplers and controllers in what became known as “The first digital Studio”.
The Musys featured the first digital sampling keyboard.When a key was pressed on the keyboard, no sound would play from its output until an analogue-to-digital converter read in a corresponding value from a memory unit storing a prerecorded sample.
Life cycle and evolution
Although The Musys did not see widespread adoption, it was the first step toward more revolutionary developments in digital synthesis. The Fairlight and the Synclavier were early trailblazers encouragingmusicians like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush to use this new music-making tools
These were followed by improved models throughout the 80s. Making sampling more widespread and available to all. These included the Emulator 1 (1980), which featured an isolated keyboard that does not require a master unit like the Musys, and the Emulator II (1984) which was the first sampler to use 3.5″ floppy disks as storage media instead of large, expensive magnetic tapes such as those used in the Musys. Other notable samplers were the Akai S900 and the ASR 10 from Ensoniq which was my first sampler.
Today, computer-based digital sampling has completely revolutionized music production and changed the course of many musical styles. Although most modern-day producers use software programs rather than dedicated hardware units.