This is where a lot of classic Amen sounds can be found. We’ve talked about resampling in various other articles, but in principle it’s taking a second generation sample. For example sampling the Amen from the intro from N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton. This would have its own processing, pitching and chopping, making it virtually an original source.
A fantastic source of second generation samples is this Blu Mar Ten collection of Jungle samples from ‘89-’99. I definitely implore you to get it! It’s packed full of pads, vocals and fx but most importantly breakbeats from the jungle/DnB era prime for resampling. Let’s dig around in there and see what Amens there is to be found…
I’ve added Ray Keith’s Terrorist using the RePitch algorithm, working at 165 bpm.
I’ve layered a break from Sample Magic’s SM101 Vintage Breaks (SM101_brk_Toy Drummer_127bpm) and chopped it to fit our Amen.
Now I’ve added in the first two bars of the break from Quincy Jones’ Fat Poppa Daddy and pitched it up three semitones. I’ve rearranged the first two breaks to fit the unusual offbeat timing off our newest addition:
Let’s tidy our breaks up. Our Amen is a bit left heavy so use a Utility plug-in to isolate the left channel. I’ve high and low-passed it (100 Hz and 14 kHz) and dipped some mids out at 650 Hz.
All three breaks are routed to a group (shift select then cmd + g) with Waves Kramer HLS and Audio Damage Rough Rider. I then resampled our break onto a new audio track, set the algorithm to RePitch and moved our tempo to 172. Now you can chop up your new, original breakbeat to your heart’s content!
N.B I’ve coloured the clips to emphasize the cuts, so purely for visual reasons.
I’ve written something on resampling and recycling samples (in particular drums) here, detailing how you can process breaks to “fake” their heritage. A great example of resampling the Amen is the Tramen break.
The Infamous Tramen
A term often batted around (usually incorrectly) is that of the Tramen. This is a second generation break often attributed to Trace, hence the name, popularised during his early tech step musings around ‘96-7.
The break was in-fact created by Dom & Roland, as the interview with him in Dark Masters below details:
I made the Tramen from a few well known old breakbeats, three of them layered together cut to the same groove. They were all originally off vinyl, I then EQ’d them all to do a different task within the beat… break 1: hats bite, break 2: ride groove and sheen, break 3: weight and roll. I still layer breaks if I need to, but would much rather find one that has all the elements I need in it, that way I don’t have to have my brain done in by working out the phase relationship between them as I layer three kicks or snares on top of each other. The three breaks were then squashed/distorted into one by driving the input gains on my analog desk (very hard to get right in digital) then resampled and chopped up again. So Trace came round to use me as an engineer for a few tracks and convinced me he should use it(!) We ended up doing a few tracks together that all turned out to be classics. Sonar and Mutant Jazz Revisited were the first. One of the tracks I left the break clean on its own for a bar, that’s where everyone else nicked it from. Everyone from Ray Keith to Bad Company and Optical have based whole tunes around it since. It used to piss me off, but now I suppose I feel honoured.
The breaks mentioned above are of course the amen (break 3), Alex Reece’s remix of the Model 500 tune The Flow:
..and a live version of James Brown’s Tighten Up:
I’ve pulled all three breaks into Live ready for chopping up, working at 170 bpm.
The Model 500 track has the break isolated in the intro and from the James Brown track the ride cymbal break enters at 1.49. Let’s start with The Flow break.
I’ve added the individual hits to a Drum Rack, extrapolating a kick, hat and snare, each Simpler instrument inside the Drum Rack uses the Classic playback mode, allowing me to envelope each hit accordingly.
From this I want to isolate the kick and hats with some clever EQ. Firstly let’s get the break in mono by adding a Utility and monitoring both channels. The right channel sounds a little phasey so I’m going to just use the left. Next add an EQ Eight.
I’ve added a high-pass at 85 Hz to remove any low rumble, dipped around 700 Hz to remove some of the presence from the snare and added a high shelf at 13 kHz to bring the hats out. Finally there’s a steep low-pass at 18 kHz to remove any super high frequencies.
Now let’s move on to our Amen. I again want to add this to a Drum Rack, but instead I’m only going to add the third bar where the second snare hit falls on the four-and. Here’s the MIDI, slightly re-programmed:
Again this is a bit right heavy, so using the same technique as before, let’s add a Utility plug-in and examine both sides. The left sounds quite dull whereas the right is a lot shinier. Next add an EQ Eight and remove below 200 Hz with a high-pass filter.
I’ve also dipped a little around 257 Hz and boosted around 534 Hz to bring the snare shuffles out. Finally I’ve low-pass the break at 10 kHz.
Finally let’s move on to the Tighten Up. I’ve pitched this up a semitone and re-arranged it quite heavily, getting the ride to play on beats one-and, three and four (slice 9):
The Utility plug-in isn’t necessary here as it already sounds quite mono, so let’s EQ it. I’ve high-passed at 400 Hz, brought out the ride bell with a very sharp Q at 2.74k HZ and added a high-shelf boost at 12k Hz.
I’ve also added a Redux plug-in to each track with a bit depth of 16 bit. This won’t drastically change the sound but it’s what the Roland S760 Dom used had. Next shift select the tracks and hit cmd + g to group them together for processing.
Dom also mentions it’s quite hard to emulate the analog desk distortion he achieved, which I’m going to attempt using to get close to with Waves SSL E-Channel Strip. I’ve driven the input quite hard and brought down the output gain accordingly with about a dB or two of compression.
I’ve boxed the sound in with a high-pass at 90 Hz and low-pass at 15 kHz. There a boost at 100 Hz where the kick sits, some attenuation at 300 Hz, a boost at 600 Hz and finally a high shelf at around 6k Hz.
For Vintage Warmer I’ve used the Mix semiDrivenTape preset, which really beefs the break up.
Using the mix on the Distressor I’ve blended in a super compressed version of the break with the dry before hitting Rough Rider, which dulls the break a bit without killing the Ride cymbal. Finally using the Grunge Vocal preset on the Vintage Exciter, our break is about done.
It’s not perfect, and it’s not exactly like the Dom & Roland/Trace version, but having each layer gives you far more flexibility to adjust the phase of various hits (kicks especially), process the layers separately and control the overall distortion.
Oldskool Sample Triggering
Here’s a neat (albeit time consuming) trick that can help you get that classic Photek sounding programming to your beats, here you can see the man himself in action in a dutch documentary from 1996:
The idea is retain the breaks original groove, whilst still having each hit separated onto a new MIDI track. If you pressed a key, the break would keep playing from that point until you release it. This is easily achievable in Live.
I’ve cropped the four bars of Amen (ctrl + click in the Sample Editor and hit Crop Sample) to make our file more manageable and to retain any warping and tempo information I’ve given the beat. Now ctrl + click on the clip and Slice to New MIDI Track, using the transients slicing method. Disable Preserve Warped Timing.
Once it’s in our Simpler Drum Rack we need to take the endpoint of each sample as far as it can go. Importantly leave the start where it is (unless it needs some refining) to reiterate; we want to have the break starting from each hit point but playing until the end of the sample.
Once you’ve done this for each hit you can begin programming, Notice the MIDI notes are longer than your average one-shot:
Music Radar have compiled a list of ten oldskool sampling techniques, some of these are really useful and can be applied to what we’ve done with our amens.
I personally think there’s still a lot of interesting sounds to be made with the Amen break, the recording and playing of it makes it timeless, and used tastefully it can add a real weight, groove and sheen to tracks.
It can of course work both ways and within certain genres the usage of it can become a bit tiresome and lacking in innovation but I wouldn’t let that saw you from having a go with it yourself.
Part of the beauty of the Amen is how liberally you can pitch and speed it up and down, as well as it being quite a mono sounding break. It has all the ingredients for being a perfect studio utility, even if not used at the forefront of the mix.
Hopefully some of this has inspired you to look into use Amens in your own music, weather is be jungle, DnB or not. Enjoy!
His YouTube channel has tonnes of great jungle/DnB videos in Renoise and Logic too, so be sure to subscribe.
Computer Music have also run a six-part series on the Amen break, this video specifically deals with the programming of it in Ableton Live: