The Buddha Machine is a collection of loops that keeps on giving. The original device, a cheap little plastic box available in a variety of colors, was developed by the China-based duo FM3. It contains nine short loops of sound that are rendered with lo-fi grit thanks to the machine’s thrift-minded construction. Since its release, the Buddha has become something of a sleeper hit, reportedly selling more than 50,000 copies by this past summer.
It’s also served as an inspiration for numerous musicians. Minimal techno artist Robert Henke (aka Monolake) has recorded a full album of remixes of the Buddha Machine loops, Layering Buddha. Another album, Jukebox Buddha, contains mixes by Henke, dub figure Adrian Sherwood, sludge metal band sunnO))) and others. The Iowa-based musician Mark Rushton has performed with his laptop and the Buddha Machine, and released the music for free download. And FM3 themselves have been touring the world, using the machines in a variety of performance settings.
Now comes Royal Trans and the nine-track In an Expression of Form: The FM3 Experiments album, available for free download from the Internet Archive (aka archive.org). There isn’t much information on the release at that page, but the Royal Trans myspace.com page includes this explanation: “we recorded in different environments including our home studio, the kitchen, by the lake, in abandoned buildings, outside, alongside crazy people… etc you get the picture.”
Oh, and they used “the pink one.”
The tracks range in length from range from a minute and a half to five and a half. In each, the short loops trace the contours of whatever space they fill, mixing with crickets in the back of “Black Mother Teeth” (MP3), echoing beautifully in “Ceramic Disposure” (MP3) and at times taking on the breathy quality of a flute improvisation (R. Carlos Nakai comes to mind) on “Familiar Capsules” (MP3). The resulting pieces are elegant, yes, but there’s a richness to them that benefits from listening on speakers rather than headphones — and at a room-filling volume. (Thanks to Larry Johnson for the tip.)