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.Link
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.'"
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."
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.