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.