“Folk music of the 21st Century” – radio broadcaster, jazz aficionado, and jazz-based Ableton Live instrumentalist / remix artist Nick Francis really sums up what this whole site is about. As he chops up jazz greats in Ableton, his mash-up music chops are as much musical analysis as they are performance. He walks through his controller moves in a pedagogical way, highlighting the meat of the jazz legends he puts into play. It’s a kind of digital transcription, transcribing re-imagined for Ableton’s colored blocks in place of.

Of course, you’ll only be able to reflect on this once you can take your eyes off that stunning wooden controller, which has the look of a decades-old instrument. Kraftwerk in their early days would have chuckled at the polished-wooden nostalgia, but here, it’s about care as much as memory – and Nick is a fan of Kraftwerk, DJ Shadow, and others. None other than Matt Moldover inspired all of this. (I look forward to catching up with Matt in California next month.)

We first saw Nick in May:
A Controller Love Supreme: Beautifully-Crafted Wooden Jazz Controller with Ableton Live [tons more detail there]

Our friends over at Dubspot have an extensive, illustrated video series on interviews. You can tell they didn’t have to edit too much here, that Nick just kept talking and saying great things.

The Choppertone: Custom MIDI Controller for Ableton Live – Nick Francis Video Interview [Dubspot Blog]

But seeing electronic music with Nick’s self-described “vintage fetish” – from the RCA-chic swirled woodgrain to the great old standards – is a joy. And if you can’t get enough of Nick, you can go listen to his radio show, too.

Quiet Music
Nick Francis @ KPLU (Seattle)

Flip that YouTube into 720p to hear the sound properly – yes, even in this modern age, the default setting is a bit lacking in warmth.

There’s also a second part of the video with a performance of “Canto de Wonderwall.” (Not visible in Germany due to licensing issues.)

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0yDBonBoCE&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

  • Beautiful controller!  The midi fighter buttons are great … used them in my Nord inspired controller shown here:

  • I'll admit that I don't have a lot of knowledge about this style of music creation. But I'm interested to hear people's reactions to two ideas of mine:

    1) Does that controller remind anyone else of steampunk? I suppose real steampunk would require machined brass knobs rather than plastic, but I like the touches of 'extra' craft that go into the plates around the sliders and the fact of using burled walnut instead of just aluminum.

    2) The amount of time that it must have taken to assemble all the Fats Waller (and other artist) clips … is it the equivalent of the time a player of an acoustic instrument would spend on scales, arpeggios, learning melodies, transcribing solos … it impresses me that the art of remixing is not simply about "playing samples." There's a ton of thought, analysis and effort that is going into this work.

    I'd love to hear the thoughts of someone with more experience with this subject. Thanks!

  • Blob


    "The amount of time that it must have taken to assemble all the Fats Waller (and other artist) clips … is it the equivalent of the time a player of an acoustic instrument would spend on scales, arpeggios, learning melodies, transcribing solos"

    No it's not. Most definitely not if you want to be a competent, professional "acoustic" musician. I work in sound design and electronic music (both live and studio) and I have also been a jazz musician and I can guarantee you that mastering the technique of an acoustic instrument is much harder than mastering the techniques of sampling and electronic music production. Conversely, the emotional pay-off you get from performing as an acoustic musician is much greater than what you get from triggering samples.

    Having said that, assembling samples into a coherent and artistic piece IS quite time-consuming anyway, and it's hard work to create something good and original – plus, Nick Francis also built his own physical controller. Kudos for that.

    And yes, it does look steam-punkish, which is cool. Also, is the use of materials like wood signalling a drive for environmentally friendly music equipment? I hope so.

  • Greg

    . . . so a professional musician using a one-of-a-kind swirled walnut controller with $400+ software meant for exactly what he is doing, sponsored by an online school that teaches you to do the same sort of thing, is folk music?

    You're joking, right?

  • @Blob — well, to be honest, that's kind of what I thought. I'm a bassist and have spent and continue to spend a lot of hours 'shedding. I think what Nick Francis has done is really cool, but I just don't see it as being terribly flexible (unless he's got a LOT more samples, in different keys, tempi, style etc, up his virtual sleeves).

    @Greg — You put that pretty well, I like your ironic touch. I admire what Nick Francis has done, but it does not seem to be something that meets the definition of folk music (see the wikipedia entry on that subject, for instance). Notably, it doesn't seem like something that's very accessible to "the people" to make themselves: you need the instrument, the software, the hours of time to prepare samples . . .

  • Lu

    come on guys, read, he said electronic music is the folk music of this century…

    there's a huge amount of freely available software and knowledge around too if you want!

    I never thought about it that way but it makes some sense to me…   And concerning his background it amazes me hearing this from him.  Cheers!!

    I see some counter-arguments though, like the poppyness of most electronic music and its transience…

  • Lu

    i meant popness or whatever (sorry for my english)

    the point is: everybody has a computer with internet and can use it as an instrument…

    huge respect to nick francis and his work!!

  • Peter Kirn

    Right, he didn't say his particular Ableton Live set and custom controller were the folk music of the 21st century; that would've been fairly arrogant. He said, simply, all electronic music, which is a pretty safe bet. You could build a Theremin for a few bucks and qualify.

    I agree that it takes more work to play a solo than trigger a clip in Ableton Live; that seems to be an idea that sort of ran away. But I follow the other things he's saying here.

  • Peter Kirn

    PS, now that I'm learning German, no one on this site ever has to apologize for English again, let alone a German speaker… 😉

  • Kinda neat to see someone remixing off old jazz recordings.  It's more DJ'ing or Audio Engineering than musicianship me thinks.  Lots of work, and this guy is obviously a serious jazz fan, which is always a good thing.

    On a second note, electronic music is it's own entity entirely, and requires it's own approach which is often completely different than the way a musician approaches making music on an acoustic instrument.  This is perhaps why, non-musicians often make the most interesting electronic music. Case in point, Yo Yo Ma plays a mean cello, but he can't touch Aphex Twin in the electronics arena. 

  • Greg

    @all. It's still a fucking ad with a broadcast industry insider teaching kids how to do what he's doing.

    The implication is that what he's doing *is*, unqualifiedly, how you make this newfangled folk music, and that's my beef. If you don't have access to those tools and classes to learn them (i.e. "money and the demographics that go along with that"), I guess you're out of luck. Go buy a recording of somebody who can afford that stuff and watch more TV.

  • Oh my god, I totally want one of those! dano&nbsp ;http://www.danosongs.com

  • Holy gain structure, Batman. While that dude may have an exhaustive (and enviable) knowledge of jazz, and is capable of applying that knowledge to an interesting and listenable end, someone needs to sit him down and discuss the nature of Nyquist and headroom.

    Not for nothin' but if this is the kind of learning that Dubspot condones, I'm gonna  call bullshit.

  • Rick

    I'm with Chris Randall (and boobs).

    Also, as a reformed jazz drummer, I wish Mr.Francis didn't use as many obviously sequenced drums. In most styles of jazz (as nebulous as that word can be) the drums aren't as simple as a straight ahead 2 and 4 but dynamic and "conversational" in the same way lead instruments are.

    Even big band drumming is an evolved art where figures and hits are set up by the drummer to guide the rest of the band as to where exactly that 1 is.

  • Odb

    Just a guy with wooden controller, there is nothing special about his mixing technique or sampling methods. Thats just typical stuff that 90% of people are doing in ableton.  Boredom.

  • Odb

    Oh and if thats folk music than Im russian matryoshka doll… Please.

  • Hint

    Lu: "the point is: everybody has a computer with internet and can use it as an instrument…"

    I've worked with talented musicians in the USA who don't have regular access to computers / the internet. It's a big world out there.

  • Spöket Laban

    Can't stand the fact that he's got that brilliant controller and all he does is launch 8bar-loops. Play it already!

  • Nothing wrong with dubbing out Jazz tunes…Nothing wrong with a controller designed for it…Could be used to play notes and improvise with a sample set alongside live musicians whilst also dubbing out their setups ala Scientist. Would be nice to see X/Y pad or touch strip for expression and othe MIDI data use. Point is, he gave the world a new controller to inspire use to do our own thing with our own controllers or to make our own or to buy his. For me, these videos help show kids that Jazz is alive and can be approcahed by everyone uncluding non-musicians. I digg it.

  • midihendrix

    This man is an inspiring role model. He is humble and you can really feel his passion for music. Only someone who is a real fan and lover of music will have the knowledge and dedication to put together sets like this.

  • Toranaga

    Super SILLY, fantabulous.

    what an inspiration, to me