Three strands of sound from the first-generation Buddha Machine. The first is the straight audio, its volume raised and lowered ever so slightly. The second is a combined couple of bands of that audio, after it’s sent through a granular synthesizer, and then the contour of that utterance shaped to follow the shadow, or envelope, of the original audio. The third is one more narrow band of the granular-synthesis-derived sound, put through a digital version of tape delay, the speed of the instant replay changing slightly as it rolls.
The audio enters the system through an Erica Synths Pico Input, the gain control of which is quite useful. The initial splitting of the signal occurs via the Performance Buffered Mult by Malekko Heavy Industry. I recommend the Performance Buffered Mult because of that little plastic button at the bottom: It allows you, at any point, to switch back and forth between one or two source audio elements (not that I use it for that purpose here). The mixing occurs in the ADDAC802 Quintet Mixing Console. I don’t know of anything better at this width. (If you do, let me know.) The granular synthesizer is the Antumbra Smog, a narrower remix of the Mutable Instruments Clouds (which is no longer manufactured). The splitting of the bands of the signal occurs in the Make Noise FXDf (also no longer manufactured). The tracking of the source audio’s envelope occurs in a Detect-Rx, from Steady State Fate. (I previously had a Doepfer A-119 for this purpose.) The various LFOs adjusting the volume of the first strand and the speed of the third strand are produced by the combination of a Xaoc Batumi and an S.P.O., the latter also from Steady State Fate. The simulated tape delay occurs in the Expert Sleepers Disting mk4 (that’s setting D2 in the menu). Oh, yeah, and one of the LFO outputs is moving around the position of the granular synth.
I’ve learned a heap from other people’s videos of their work, so I’m sharing these detailed notes in that spirit, and also for my own reference, because once you un-patch the cables it can be difficult to re-patch with any particular fidelity. The track’s title relates to how the sound of the resulting audio, largely due to the tape delay, resembles at times, in an idealized and utterly fictional manner, what a Buddha Machine sounds like when its batteries are dying.
If you meet the Buddha on the road, put on a pair of headphones. That’s the best way to experience the three-dimensional quality of this inspired experiment by musician Darren Shaw. He put two different Buddha Machines on a turntable platter (one from the first generation, the other from the second). An audio recorder (“with the stereo mics on their wide setting,” Shaw explains in accompany project description) captures the sounds in motion, the turntable’s lid providing “a bit of reverb.” In other words, inspired by the loop-based nature of the original device, Shaw has literalized the looping by sending a pair of them in circles, letting the relative volumes, among other factors, cycle round and round. The best part: this is listed as “Piece 1,” meaning variations are likely to follow. (It was also a pleasure to learn this recording was inspired, in part, by my little Buddha Machine experiments of late.)
Video originally posted to Shaw’s YouTube channel. More from Shaw, who is based in Rochdale, U.K., at anexium.com.
A simple set of shifting gates are applied here to four different bands of the Buddha Machine loop, which first goes through a granular synthesis stage in the Smog module (aka a remixed Clouds) before being segmented in the Make Noise FXDf. The gates are sourced from the slow-moving Batumi square wave, and then shifted in the O_c module (running the Hemispheres alternate firmware).
This is titled “USB-C Blues” because I’d planned an especially quiet/subtle variation on the Buddha Machine source-audio processing precisely because I thought I’d sorted out how to record from my modular synthesizer to my Android phone (which is what I’ve been filming these clips with) using a USB-C adapter. This approach worked from the Buddha Machine straight into the phone (via the adapter), but for reasons I failed to sort out, no matter the combination of jacks and cables and routing options, no other audio managed to be recorded. So, this video is, again, going audio straight to the phone’s regular old microphone array (a sub-optimal arrangement if ever there were one). In any case, I ordered a GoPro and will be using that (or so I hope, as it also involves a USB-C adapter, albeit one designed for the task, not from a third party) in a few weeks.
At some point — and judging by wear and tear, “some point” was a long time ago — one of two things happened. First: someone got a deal on these stately (or aspiring-to-stately) doorbells. Or second: that someone made a decision to add something perceived as classy to the front of this otherwise standard multi-unit building. These doorbell fixtures look less like a modular system, and more like individual devices intended for single residences. Perhaps there was a consideration in that regard. Perhaps the idea was to lend an aura of spacious suburban self-possession to the, in fact, close confines of urban apartment existence. There are at least three further stories to be tracked: What’s with that red paint at the bottom? Why is unit 3805’s button pristine in contrast with the three others. And why are the top two screws of the facade clean and bright, while the bottom two seem rusty and old? But those stories are overshadowed, so to speak, for to the right is a telling shadow: a dark, narrow, vertical gap provides stark evidence of just how close the next neighboring building is. The gap is a reminder that in a dense urban setting, even if you bring an illusory touch of the suburban to your own space, tight interpersonal proximity remains a fact of life.
Playing with relative volume and tape delay and granular synthesis. A loop from the first-generation Buddha Machine goes straight into the Clouds (granular synthesis) module (remix version, called Smog, from Antumbra). The output of Clouds is divided in two. One line (left channel) goes straight into the fifth input of the mixer. The other (right channel) goes into the FXDf (a filter bank that splits the audio along the spectrum). Two lines of that, both on the low end, go into the mixer. The relative volume of the audio of both of them is then affected, individually, by a pair of five-step sequencers from my O_c module (running the Hemispheres alternate firmware). Finally, a third band from the FXDf goes into a digital emulation of tape delay in the Disting mk4, and two separate variations head into the mixer. There’s also some clocking and LFO activity from the combination of the Batumi, the SPO, and the Dixie II.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
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• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
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• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.