The Buddha Machine has taken on a life of its own. It was created as a portable sound-art automaton, but far more music has resulted from the battery-operated Buddha than was anticipated by its creators, the duo FM3 (Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian). The pocket-size device, which retails for around 25 dollars, contains a chip with nine short sonic loops. Those loops gain a certain lo-fi grit thanks to cheap plastic and a rudimentary, cyclopean speaker. Like the potato chip commercial used to say, one isn’t enough; there’s something about the machine that makes people want to buy two or more and play them simultaneously, enjoying the out-of-phase quality of the same loop playing on different Buddhas or pitting contrasting loops against each other. I was at the store Turntable Lab on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles yesterday, and the guy behind the counter told me people purchase as many as 10 Buddha Machines at a time.
Merely daisy-chaining the devices hasn’t been satisfactory for everyone. Last year at least two full-length albums of proper studio remixes paid tribute to the plastic Buddha, the compilation Jukebox Buddha (Staubgold) with tracks by, among others, Adrian Sherwood, Blixa Bargeld and Robert Henke (better known by the moniker Monolake), as well as Henke’s own Layering Buddha (icm). He’s followed that up with a lengthy free download at his website, monolake.de. (That link goes to the page where the MP3 file is currently located, not to the file itself. The MP3 is the latest in Henke/Monolake’s monthly free downloads.) The set was recorded live on January 31 of this year in Berlin as part of Club Transmediale festival. Where his Layering Buddha album was a series of investigations that riffed on the inherent qualities of the various Buddha loops, this live performance, clocking in at an hour and a quarter, brings in a wider array of more complicated, often abrasive textures.
Writes Henke of the set, “The material for this performance is derived from material I created for the Layering Buddha album. During the performance the audience is placed in between a ring of six speakers with the performer sitting in between them in the center. The layers of sound were dynamically distributed in space, providing an experience of being really placed in between the sonic cloud where the acoustic result depends on the position of the listener. The recording is only a poor protocol of something much bigger. However, it sounds surprisingly cool and this is why I decided to make it public. The track is more a documentation and a teaser for the real thing; the live performance. The recording has some clippings and other technical flaws but I like it anyway.”
In the end, Henke suggests listening to his Buddha recording as one might to the Buddha Machine itself: “If you have two or more computers running in the same room try playing back the track on all of them, starting them at different times.”