Disquiet.com 25th Anniversary Countdown (4 of 13): Buddha Machine(s)

An archival ambient advent calendar from December 1st – 13th, 2021

It’s day 4 of my archival ambient advent calendar countdown to the 25th anniversary of Disquiet.com, which was founded December 13, 1996. As time passed during the quarter century of Disquiet.com’s existence, my focus didn’t necessarily shift so much as expand. In the process, the devices used to make sound became as much an interest of mine as is the music itself. At the Venn Diagram overlap are devices that make sound where there’s an internal coherence to them, where the sound object is as much object as sound, and a key example of that is the Buddha Machine.

Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian, who together comprise FM3, introduced the Buddha Machine in 2005. It borrowed its shape from cheap boxes that Virant, an American living in China, came upon a decade earlier in the gift shops of Buddhist temples. He and Jian made their own such box, but in the place of the original prayers were abstract ambient, textural, and rhythmic material intended to be played on loop. I’ve interviewed Virant twice, once when the Buddha Machines first came out, in 1995 “Buddha in the Machine,” and then three years later, when FM3 introduced a second generation: “Buddha Machine, Reloaded.” (And during pandemic lockdown, I also recorded a bunch of short videos, the Buddha Machine Variations, of Buddha Machines being used as musical instruments.)

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