They’re two alternative universes with musical wonders in them, places we wish we could live. They both begin with the letter ‘J.’ One is Japan; one is … Jeremy Ellis. Each might as well be their own wonderful planet.

In this case, each is also promoting Native Instruments’ Maschine hardware/software combo, but they’re doing it in a way that’s musically meaningful.

First, let’s talk about Japan. The problem with many artist promos for music products is that they tend to trade on celebrity, bringing all the depth of sports stars endorsing a brand of sneakers. But I was glad to learn the folks from NI were going to Japan (and a bit jealous of their extended trip), partly because it offered the chance to actually meet a different community of artists.

And so, you may not have heard of DJ Baku, the duo Hifana, Olive Oil, Kaito, or Kireek. But you should. The sounds woven through the video give you some indication why, melding American-grown hip-hop sounds and techniques with aesthetics and personality from an ocean away – both unique to this scene and to these artists as individuals. And these are artists who also illustrate how Japan’s musicians are working on the world stage – Kireek is now a five-time DMC world champion. Given fierce, Olympic-quality competition in international turntablism and DJing, that’s something you can brag about.

I find it interesting that the value of Maschine as a tool and product to each of these artists is in some sense being more – and being less. It’s less than what a Digital Audio Workstation is, and despite fears NI would genetically-reengineer Maschine into a hybrid monster, you still get Maschine as a drum machine. But it’s also more, and it’s interesting to hear ways in which these artists do focus on arrangement, sequence juggling, and other techniques. Maschine demonstrates the way in which the concept of a drum machine has evolved from its original hardware days, and why the hardware/software combo is becoming so popular (from iOS apps to plug-ins to Maschine rivals like Arturia Spark).

Oh, and my ramblings aside, they’re also really good at playing this box. (Buy this product, and you … uh … may need to practice. I know I do.)

If you are practicing, Jeremy Ellis is giving you some kind of terrific master class. I may be sitting with these videos myself – thanks, Jeremy!

These are labeled “Maschine and MPC” lessons; really, you could apply them to anything with a grid, even including things like Ableton Push and (if you’re not so concerned with velocity sensing) Launchpad and monome.

These include lessons like these, which while fairly free-form, suggest the beginnings of melodic patterns you could use to build finger dexterity:

— and awe-inspiring etudes like this Break of the Week:

It does make me wonder if you couldn’t begin to assemble, on these grids, melodic patterns. I grew up doing those sorts of patterns on the piano, even including some atonal figures. We might have to invent our own systems for the new generation of drum machines, especially if some of us (cough) don’t instantly pick up the sort of finger dexterity drum machine masters have.

Sadly, I realize now Jeremy’s video series stops about this time last year. Jeremy, if we can somehow coax you to help build this on CDM, maybe we can pick up a sponsorship from Nescafe or something. Consider it, won’t you?

In the meantime, we all have plenty of videos to work through:

— and I’d love to hear about how musicians out there are building their skills.

Getting closer to Maschine. Photo (CC-BY)

Getting closer to Maschine. Photo (CC-BY)

With Grid Tricks overflowing this week, this might just have to be a regular feature.

  • Softcore

    Hmmmm I remember Jeremy Ellis being picked up by NI after those vids, then forming mostly Robot with those other wackos, I doubt Nescafe sponsorship will sound appealing! lol

  • coolout

    In a lot of ways Jeremy Ellis is the Q-Bert of finger drumming…having virtuoso technique and still not being afraid to demystify concepts.

    • B.C. Thunderthud

      Q-Bert at least had one great album and one great mixtape, as well as hundreds of hours of video demonstrating that he could never really find a way to fully utilize his skills. Ellis hasn’t, to my knowledge, created any music of lasting value yet. He’s the most obvious example of this trend in electronic music where gear fetishism and contrived performance elements have made music itself an afterthought.

    • coolout

      Finger drumming and turntablism have a lot in common. I think both are best served as live performance techniques or as a studio supplement . I wouldn’t want to listen to a whole album of either. With that said, I’ve watched videos of Jeremy Ellis over the years at various live shows and would never call it “contrived”. They’re usually pretty varied, original, and inspiring…especially in comparison to most finger drumming videos…but hey if you have a video of YOU doing a superior live performance please post a link. If not…please do us all a favor and STFU…or go troll somewhere else.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, I don’t think you yourself have to be a performer to criticize performers. But, then, you do need a complete argument or some substantive critique, which this is not. So, yeah, if you’re just going to trash talk other players, you’d better have some goods of your own, I agree there.

    • Peter Kirn

      I don’t believe studio albums are the only measure of a musician’s worth. “Music itself” can surely include live performances. And there, I find Jeremy Ellis thoroughly enjoyable to watch as a performer and musician – not out of gear fetishism (he’s, um, using *exactly* the same gear as everyone else, myself included), and not out of “contrived performance elements” (playing drums with your fingers is a technique as old as percussion itself).

    • josephguisti

      Questlove is one of my favorite musicians, not so much for his album recordings as for his encyclopedic levels of music knowledge, killer sense of groove, ability to jam with just about anyone at the drop of a hat, and his dedication to black music as an art form and as a culture. In this video where Ellis is sitting in with the Roots, Questlove gets blown away and pulls out his phone to record Jeremy doing his thing. If that’s not an epic seal of approval, I don’t know what is:

  • NickFrancis

    Don’t forget Jeremy’s excellent tutorial series on finger drumming at macprovideo. He takes you through a whole set of exercises, step by step (or pad-by-pad):

  • Tina Willows

    This is the kind of stuff I aspire to. Great skill and talent come at the cost of hours of work.

  • youngcircle

    A few years back Hifana was part of one of my absolute favorite iphone apps called Fresh Push Play. It’s an early app and could be described by some as more of a toy. But a fun and truly funky toy! I still reach for it every once in a while and was going to recommend it, but alas the App Store says its no longer available here in the U.S. But here’s a link to its web page, in case anyone outside the Stated wants to check it out. Domo origoto, robotos

  • DPrty

    I wonder how long his trigger pads last? I wouldn’t want to buy a used Maschine from this guy those pads are going to be end of life for sure.


    i would like to learn how to play the piano after watching Jeremy Ellis. i have some Ellington and Basie tunes I would like to interpolate.