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CLOSE-UP: BREAKING POINT

Kevin Beasley, A view of a landscape: A cotton gin motor, 2012–18, GE induction motor, custom soundproof glass chamber, anechoic foam, steel wire, monofilament, cardioid condenser microphones, contact microphones, microphone stands, microphone cables, AD/DA interface, custom speaker system, subwoofers, amplifiers, Ethernet switch, mixer, modular synthesizer, equipment racks, wooden table. Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

IN 1969, drummer G. C. Coleman played a seven-second solo on “Amen, Brother,” an instrumental gospel tune by the Winstons sold as the B side to “Color Him Father.” The track’s brief percussion “break” was mostly overlooked until 1986, when two DJs from the Bronx presented Coleman’s work on the first LP of their enormously influential compilation series Ultimate Breaks and Beats, from which it scattered far and wide, via sampling, across music history. The Amen break, as it became known, was first used to create hip-hop beats, then went on to grace everything from TV jingles to David Bowie’s 1997 song “Little Wonder.” The drummer’s grit and swing also formed the core rhythmic unit for drum and bass, a genre that continues to loop and rearrange him endlessly. As the most sampled piece of music to date, the Amen break—played by a black American who died homeless and received no money

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