Friday, May 22, 2009

Test Pattern: FM3's "Buddha Machine"

"Sometimes a product comes along that is so poorly made, so awkwardly packaged, so undermarketed, so bereft of features and so technologically backward that the initial reaction of most customers is: 'Give me two.' It highlights our still-uneasy relationship with technology."
-Jeremy Wagstaff, The Wall Street Journal

Of all the possible explanations for The Buddha Machine's strange allure, this is probably the most cynical. After all, you wouldn't expect the Wall Street Journal to have much patience for a $20 plastic box that plays drone music. But then again, you might not expect them to mention it at all.

Since its release in 2005, The Buddha Machine has garnered a truly remarkable amount of buzz. It has received glowing reviews in Wire, Pitchfork ("8.2"), The New Yorker, and a variety of music blogs. Tens of thousands of units have been sold so far, and Buddha Machines have been used as instruments in dozens of musical projects, including works by Robert Henke and Sunn O))). The New York Times calls it a "weird, mesmerizing, beautifully useless thing," and Sasha Frere-Jones thinks of it as "a receiver of transmissions from a place you will never see."

Whatever your interpretation of this cryptic little box may be, there's no denying its musical value. The Buddha Machine's loops are tense, elliptical, and hypnotic. Each loop is as much a finished product as it is a creative tool, and users are encouraged to experiment with different combinations of loops (as I'll be doing on this week's Test Pattern). And if you're not ready to shell out $20 (plus the cost of AA batteries), all the loops are available for free download on the Buddha Machine's official website. You can also play around with a wall of twenty Buddha Machines on a website called Zendesk, or download the iPhone app ($3.99).

For my Test Pattern on FM3's Buddha Machine, I'll be using the original product itself, as well as the individual loops in WAV and mp3 format. Check it out live the on air today (Friday, May 22nd) at 6:00pm, and look here for an archived version of the show later tonight...

-Will Lynch