Been a while. This is a new entry in the occasional Buddha Machine Variations series. The previous one was about 10 months ago. This was a test run of something I’ve never done before: recording video straight off my laptop (a MacBook Pro), bypassing the microphone in favor of the internal sound. Oddly, such a routing isn’t an immediate option within macOS Monterey, so I had to use a third-party tool, in this case Loopback from Rogue Amoeba. Recorded in QuickTime. Edited in iMovie. Cover image in InDesign. The source audio is one of the tracks from the original Buddha Machine, created by the duo FM3. It’s been looped and processed in VCV Rack (this is the Pro edition, but there’s probably nothing going on in this patch you couldn’t do in the free edition, except a few of the modules may have had a fee associated with them). In any case, this was more a proof of concept, or of several concepts: (1) could the routing work, and (2) would this all happen without the new laptop’s fan turning on. In both cases: yes!
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.)
A little test run of the new Hazumi sequencer, running on VCV Rack, the free modular synth emulator. Hazumi, the grid on the far left, is from the Voxglitch family of modules, created by Bret Truchan. The audio is the initial loop of sound from “Ma,” the first piece of music heard on the very first Buddha Machine (this is from a digital file, not from the physical device). It’s heard here in three pitches, rendered in Adobe Audition: the original, then up four semitones, and then up one additional semitone. The original is also running through Glitch Shifter, a module from Unfiltered Audio, the company of Joshua Dickinson, Michael Hetrick, Ryan McGee, and Benn Cooper. Hetrick spoke to my Sounds of Brands course last year. The additional noise comes courtesy of two sources: the fan of my laptop, and the wind from a chimney, the latter due to the storm (an “atmospheric river”) currently assaulting San Francisco.
Monday night. Your batteries have run out, so to get the Buddha Machine source audio, you opt for the album version of the first track, “Ma,” on a streaming service. Running through the Glitchlets script for Norns (albeit on a Fates).
That is, indeed, a cassette player in the foreground. It’s been modded in a couple ways, the key one here being that the speed of the playback can be manipulated electronically. Specifically, the sort of control voltage that works between synthesizer modules can be applied externally to the speed of the cassette. In this case, a slow waveform is increasing and reducing (back and forth, pendulum-like) the pace of the cassette playback, lending it that slurry, warbling quality. (Note the long, pink cable that plugs into cassette player.)
The recorded sequence itself is a Buddha Machine as sampled, sequenced, and played by Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator (PO-33 K.O.). I recorded that PO-33 K.O. sequence onto the tape, and then rewound the tape and played it back as controlled by the control voltage (CV) output of the synthesizer (seen in the background). This is the first patch I’ve tried out with the CV cassette player, which I received on Friday in the mail and have been eager to give a test run.
The slow wave form, an LFO (low-frequency oscillation), is from a Batumi (by Xaoc), its highs and lows compacted by the SPO (by WMD / SSF). SPO stands for Scaler / Polarizer / Offset Generator. The cassette player mod is by the awesome Chester Winowiecki, of Whitehall, Michigan. (The other mod is it can take an audio line in. The standard device only used its own microphone.) I shared some photos of the tape cassette player a few days ago: “Cassette Bent.”