Given that I’ve been living under a rock for about four months now, I missed the grand US debut of the Buddha Machine 2. 0 in December. Of course, if I were really on the ball. I would have picked one up even earlier from Europe. Big-ups to Sasha Frere-Jones for alerting me to this one.
But let’s back up–the Buddha Machine, if you are totally unaware of this device, gets my vote for the best example of ID, aural innovation, marketing innovation, and the best executed guerilla attack by lo-fi sound on iPods of this century so far.
Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian are a husband and wife ambient music duo living in Beijing. Virant and Jian (their group goes by the name FM3) decided in 2005 to forgo the traditional means of releasing material–CDs, or mp3s to be played through computers and iPods. Instead, FM3 took their cue from small transistor radio-like, handheld devices that loop Buddhist chants favored by some devout Chinese. From that notion came the first Buddha Machine–a brightly colored plastic device that contained nine audio loops ranging from five to forty seconds. The small unit was fitted with its own speaker. The loops would play infinitely (or as long as battery life would dictate), or until the listener selected a new loop.
Since its 2005 release the Buddha Machine has taken on a life of its own branching far out from the the ambient music devotees. This thing has become big in the DIY circuit bending world. FM3 encourages listeners of the Buddha Machine to interact with the music, and the loops are available for download under a creative commons license. This is so users can submit their own remixes. This past Christmas saw me handing out a couple BM 1.0 to the few people I actually like. I mean, where else can you find such an endearing and unique gift for only about twenty dollars?
The Buddha Machine 2.0 features nine new loops, comes in three new colors, and has as new pitch control feature not seen on the previous incarnation. Also, there is a new iPhone application available. But probably the coolest outgrowth of Buddha Machine culture into the greater geek culture has to be this:
It’s a virtual wall of 21 Buddha Machines that can be play simultaneously and mixed into a wall of blissful sound.
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