Buddha Machine: spiritual, generative transistor radio

The Buddha Machine from Chinese manufacturer FM3 looks like a cheap transistor radio. Turn the single dial, and it starts making crazy-ass, generative ambient music. Press the single button and a different kind of crazy-ass music emanates from the single small speaker. That's it -- one button, one dial, one speaker. There's also an LED to let you know it's on.

It is the single most interesting gadget I've held all month. It doesn't feel like something manufactured this decade. It feels like something from the first blush of Walkman knockoffs, the JiLs and the like. And the sounds are really soothing and kind of haunting. There's nothing on the box that tells you how the sound is generated -- maybe it's analog, but I'm guessing digital.

At $35, it's a little steep, given that it has the hand-feel of a Happy Meal toy. But I bought one and I don't regret it. It's going in my keeper pile -- it will be no less anachronistic, weird and interesting in an age of nanocomputers than it is today.

The Buddha Machine is a modified version of a device used in Buddhist temples throughout Asia, which feature repeating loops of chanting monks or nuns. This particular incarnation is the brainchild of the musical duo FM3. It contains nine preset loops which which play individually and run continuously. The sounds can be played from the built in speaker, or by connecting headphones to the built in jack.

If you are aware of ambient music such as the works of Brian Eno (Music for Airports, Discreet Music) then this is of a similar vein. Whereas music on a CD, Record or tape inherrently has to end before being restarted, the loops of the Buddha Machine will continue for as long as the AA batteries work (or forever if you connect a 4.5v supply).


Update: Sonny sez, "GM3 is not a manufacturer but a group formed in 1999 consisting of Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian. They have released full CDs under that band name and have also done some CDs for the excellent Sublime Frequencies record label which I suggest you check out. Also a album was released of remixes of all the loops by various artists called 'Jukebox Buddha.'"

See also: Musician releases songs in a $23 electronic gizmo

Update 2: FM3's Christiaan sez, "Here's the official English site. The Buddha machine is available in the USA for only $23 from our distributor Forced Exposure, and in the UK at Boomkat."

Update 3: Simon sez, "All nine Buddha Machine loops in uncompressed .WAV format are available for download."

Update 4: John sez, "Sonic musician Robert Henke, aka Monolake, has a great album of Buddha Machine remixes available." and Michael sez, "I live in Taiwan and have my own B-box that I bought at the NT$10 (33 cents) store down the road."

Update 5: Rob sez, "Your readers in toronto may want to head to a Buddha Machine gathering *today* in Toronto's Allen Gardens, also, Buddha Machine pool on Flickr."

Update 6: Mark sez, "I thought you might be interested in this (video) interview I conducted with FM3 for flasher.com at Montreal's MUTEK festival in 2005. We talked mostly about the conception and creation of the Buddha Machine and I think it's a pretty interesting look at their process. You can find it here."



  1. Is it just me or does anyone else find it slightly obscene for Chinese manufacturers to call this “Buddha” considering their ongoing, oppressive horrors in Tibet?

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