Buddha Machine 2.0! 9 new loops with a pitch control! New colors.
The Beijing-based duo FM3
is back with an all-new version of their wildly successful 2005 release, the Buddha Machine
. Introducing Buddha Machine 2.0
: 9 new loops. 3 new colors. Pitch bend. Blurring the line between music box and musical instrument, the Buddha Machine 2.0
is an interactive album that lets users customize the listening experience. Drop the pitch and the music ebbs in a low ambient drone. Boost the speed and suddenly its alive with melody. Add a few more machines, set them at different speeds and you have an evolving audio perfume. Plug it into a mixer, add some beats or vocals or guitar... FM3 won't mind. In fact, they encourage people to use the Buddha Machine
as inspiration. Since its release in 2005, the original Buddha Machine
has sold more than 50,000 units worldwide and has won praise from artists as diverse as Daft Punk
, Sunn O)))
, Blixa Bargeld
and Mike Patton
. Legendary producer Brian Eno
was the first customer for the original Buddha Machine
and nearly 3 years later told FM3 he still "cherishes" his purchase! Similar in shape and design to the original Buddha Machine
, but boasting more robust construction and improved sound quality, the 2.0 comes in three colors: burgundy, grey and brown. For those who haven't experienced the pleasure of the original, the Buddha Machine
is essentially a small plastic box that plays ambient loops. The loops repeat endlessly until the "track" is switched or the two AA batteries (not included) run out. The machine has its own built-in speaker and there is also a headphone jack for a more personal experience. But the charm of the device isn't nearly as specific: the Buddha Machine
has a calming presence in today's fast-paced world. Its charm mixes with FM3's innovative music to provide the owner with an experience that is hard to define. Essentially, it's a box with a life, a tool for living, and to many, it's a friend. Founded in 1999 by Christiaan Virant
and Zhang Jian
, FM3 are considered pioneers of electronic music in China. Inspired by Buddhist prayer boxes found at temples around Asia, the duo released the original Buddha Machine
in April 2005, winning acclaim in publications including BoingBoing.net, The New York Times
A review of the original Buddha Machine 1.0:
FM3 is an electronic act based in China, an act known primarily for its minimalist bent and their tendency to subdue live crowds into absolute silence. As such, it only makes sense that they be the act to introduce Staalplaat's Buddha Machine series.
The Buddha Machine, then, is a little plastic box that plays music. Specifically, FM3 constructed nine drones, varying from two seconds to 42 seconds, which repeat endlessly in the listener's ear until the "track" is switched to the next drone (or the two AA batteries run out). The machine has its own built-in speaker, in case one would like to fill a room with the drones, but there is also a headphone jack for more personal meditative experiences. There's a switch on the side that allows for traversal of the tracks, and a DC jack (though an adapter is not included) for those who would like the Buddha Machine experience be truly endless. In a way, it's like the cheapest pre-loaded IPod you'll ever be able to buy. It even comes in a number of different colors, for the fashion-conscious experimental music aficionado. Mine's a very stylish magenta.
At its heart, however, the Buddha Machine is actually a counterargument to the onset of the downloading age. For one, the entire point of the release is to have the little box. Sure, you could theoretically download each of the drones (which are actually available in mp3 form on FM3's website), push "repeat" in your media player of choice, and have something close to the original effect, but you lose much of the aura of the work that way -- evaluating these drones purely on the basis of their musical merit is entirely different than evaluating them as an aspect of an odd little artifact. For two, the sound of the drones via the machine is very, very lo-fi, creating an audible buzz in the speaker as the volume gets higher, not to mention the fair amount of hiss that accompanies the drones at any volume. An argument could be made that the constant hiss and crackle is a part of the music (much as the point of John Cage's 4'33" is not the silence, but the sounds surrounding that silence), lending a bit of entropy to the largely static drones.
All of this is not even to mention the idea that in an age where "how much have you got?" is at least as important a question as "how good is it?", an entire release that contains just under three minutes of unique sound is quite the rarity.
The drones themselves are largely wonderful, whether carefully studied or relegated to the background. Most of the drones are (if my online translation skills don't fail me) named after animals and musical instruments, with a couple given the nondescript names of "b1" and "b2", and the final drone named after the verb "To Dance". The first drone, translated "Horse", is particularly lovely, two repeated organ-like tones that last about fifteen seconds each, which after a while create a lovely, moody, minor-key atmosphere. "Sheep" actually features a melody, which when repeated for a couple of minutes, becomes one of the most peaceful of the drones for its simplicity and use of empty space. Even "b1", composed with a single, decaying chord only six seconds in length, could slow your heartbeat with its insistence on never, ever moving.
Sure, the Buddha Machine is more than a little bit novelty. That's part of its charm. You can have a little pink (or red, or black) box that plays music. You can display it openly. People will ask about it. It's an icebreaker. But what's truly special about it is what FM3 has done with a tiny bit of recording space on a little speaker. It's mesmerizing. It's portable relaxation.
And if you've read this far, admit it -- you know you want one. — 1 November 2005