The niftiest electronic-music release of 2005 may be neither a traditional commercial recording nor a free download, but something else entirely: a little, battery-operated, plastic device called the Buddha Machine, devised by the duo FM3 (aka Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian). Looking very much like a generic AM radio, it contains a chip with nine loops of ambient sound. It’s reportedly made fans of both Alan Bishop (of Sun City Girls) and Brian Eno, who are said to have purchased ’em by the bushel.
It’s the rare item that receives coverage from both the tech and the music press. engadget.com wrote of the machine, “It’s not a digital audio player,” before clarifying parenthetically, “at least not in the traditional sense.” The folks at the great San Francisco record store Aquarius said, “Oooooh, we got all in a tizzy when we saw this” (aquariusrecords.org). The initial production sold out, but while it’s on back order, you can download for free the nine Buddha Machine MP3s from the “work” page at the FM3 website (fm3.com.cn). In an interview with Disquiet.com, Virant explained, “The nine loops on the website are the same as the loops in the box. These loops, each of which is named after a different Chinese instrument, are taken from earlier FM3 releases or live sets.” Ranging in length from five seconds to eight times that, the MP3s on the site consist of what could be a snapshot of a mournful accordion heard against watery piano (MP3), sad synthesized tones (MP3) and intense shimmering (MP3). Pop ’em into your favorite MP3 player and there you have it: instant Buddha.
Update: A subsequent, full Disquiet.com interview with Virant is available here: “Buddha in the Machine.”