GRISTLEISM: Throbbing Gristle's unusual new "box set"


Richard Metzger writes:

When Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin and I interviewed Throbbing Gristle in Los Angeles, during the sound-check we were talking to Charlie Poulet, TG’s brilliant sound engineer. There was an insanely trippy song coming over the PA system and I asked him what it was. “Oh, THAT. That is a Buddha Machine—ever hear of one?”

A Buddha Machine is a little plastic box that resembles a cheap transistor radio. It has a built-in speaker and runs continuous tape loops of chanting or soothing, natural, trippy, etc, sounds. They are hipster remakes of the Tibetan prayer loop boxes (they’re ubiquitous all over China) and are manufactured by a company called FM3.

Charlie was running several of them at once to create the amazing sound-scape going on in the background as we spoke. A little while later, Chris Carter hinted that soon TG would be announcing a “special musical project” that involved no CD or MP3s whatsoever. I suspected at the time he was hazily describing something similar to a Buddha Machine. TG-stylee and I was right. Check it out!

Metzger has details here on Dangerous Minds. You can order your very own GRISTLEISM here.


  1. FM3 is not a company. It is actually a musical duo of Zhang Jian and Christiaan Virant. The latter has contributed to compilations for the awesome music label Sublime Frequencie. There’s an interview of Mr. Virant that is floating around that the manufacturer of the Buddha Boxes is the same one that make the original prayer versions.

  2. FM3 are an experimental/ambient band from China ( Other innovations from them include the album Mort Aux Vaches which came in a hand made fabric case.

    The chants can also be downloaded from their website for a chanting mashup of your own.

    The Buddha Machine is available for the iPhone/iPod touch too.

  3. iirc, the buddha machines aren’t hipster remakes, but originated from fm3.

    Okay, they’re still hipster, but not remakes.

  4. If you’re interested in items like this, there’s another recent entry into the game, Flingco Sound System’s Black Box: “Each handheld, tombstone-shaped soundbox contains loops from Cristal, Haptic and Wrnlrd plus two chilling spoken word pieces.”

    It’s nowhere near as… soothing (?), if that’s the right word… maybe, I mean, as atmospherically rich, as the Buddha Machines, but it has its noisy charms. The vocal tracks stand out from the rest. “I will not kill myself… today”, and “I can’t feel anything”, heavily processed, come out better than I imagine they sound in your head, having only read it here–they also give a good sense of the very different aesthetic at work, between these guys and the FM3 outfit. I’m sure TG will present something else entirely. There’s always a new panorama in the world of plastic box sonic loops!

    It’s worth calling people’s attention, too, to Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Music, about which Pesco has posted previously.

  5. “iirc, the buddha machines aren’t hipster remakes, but originated from fm3.”

    Actually, the buddha boxes originated in China where you’d get these little boxes that play a repeating buddhist chant. Thunderbolt Books in Santa Monica used to give them away if you asked. I have a couple that i like just for the niftiness. I have one that is sort of plain black with a bit of writing on it – like the red FM3 box – and then another that’s rounded at one end with a white Quan Yin on it. Sorta nice tho the chants are a bit nasally sounding.

    A friend of mine gave me one of FM3’s Buddha Machines four or five years ago and I love it. I certainly like it better than the chants and it’s great to take traveling… a bit of soft sound to drown out the sometimes cacophonous surroundings, especially in the morning.

  6. PhilipB: Mort Aux Vaches is actually a Dutch label that releases albums all of a similar aesthetic. I’m pretty sure they only release one album per artist, so like there is a Ryoji Ikeda or Etant Donnes Mort Aux Vaches, FM3 also has one.

  7. The Gristleism box has no audio output, unlike the FM3 boxes. So if you wanted to do what Charlie Poulet was doing with several of them, you wouldn’t be able to. So the question is: what’s the point ?

  8. @10: I have several Buddha Machines (four v1s and two v2s) and recording the speaker output is invariably more interesting and fun than using the audio out.

    Of course it’d be a nice option to have available as a mic isn’t suitable for all purposes, but I think the integrated speaker is the most vital feature of the BM. The Machine works best, for me, when it’s droning away alongside the ambient sounds of its environment, which usually ‘soften’ the occasionally harsh output of the BM’s circuits.

    Gristleism preordered, obviously.

  9. Well, I already have a Buddha Box v1, v2, and iTouch and *love* them! But I also own a Nintendo DSi and am planning to try this: Drop a TG sample onto a SD card (must be AAC format), and use the DSi internal processor to loop. The DSi already has pitch and speed distortors, along with some other fun audio toys, so it’s *kinda* like a Gristleism, sorta… Only I can play with it now and don’t have to spend the 25 pounds and wait till December…

  10. @10 – At a guess, the point is to encourage fans to buy a novel but largely useless toy (discouraging public performance is an added benefit).

    I can’t say I’ve gotten much more than a half-hour’s worth of amusement out of my FM3 box, but it is conceptually appealling.

  11. I’ve seen similar things here in India- boxes that play a loop of Hindu shlokas (prayer verses), with some 50-100 of them pre-recorded.

  12. If you are an American, fer godz sakes, don’t buy your Gristle box from England (Dangerous Minds sends you to Cargo UK) Get it from Forced Exposure in the USA. The dollar to Euro isn’t favorable; it translates to over $40, when you could get it for under $30.

    You can’t shut it off(unless you remove the batteries), it scares the shit out of animals and children. It’s the perfect object for dealing with telemarketers; they just think that there is something wrong with the phone connection.

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