The Null Device

The Buddha Machine

A package just arrived in the mail, containing a Buddha Machine.

Buddha Machine (top view)

For those not familiar with the Buddha Machine, it is a small plastic device, about the size and shape of an old-fashioned transistor radio, which plays several loops of what sounds like minimal electronic ambient music, through a built-in speaker or headphones. It was designed by two artists from Beijing's electronic-music underground, Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian.

Buddha Machine box Buddha Machine box (3)

Built in Chinese factories (though what isn't these days?), the Buddha Machine proudly embodies a made-in-China commodity-gadget aesthetic. It comes in a box decorated with lotus flowers, Buddhist swastikas and a photograph of a temple, and looking more like it would hold patent medicines than consumer electronics. The box contained two AA batteries (designed to resemble Duracells, only more cheap-looking) and device itself. The device made of thick plastic, its pieces fitting together slightly roughly (no iPod sheen here), and all the labels are exclusively in Chinese, with the exception of the creators' URL on the bottom. The Buddha Machine comes in six colours, though there is no means of choosing one; they are distributed at random, and which you get is the luck of the draw. Mine was green.

Batteries included Buddha Machine underside

When switched on, the device plays a randomly-chosen loop through its speaker or the headphones. It has a small, ordinary-looking switch on the side; when this is flipped, it changes the loop to a different randomly-selected one. (It has 9 built in.) The loops come from performances by the two artists, and are stored in memory on the device. They sound, in a word, ambient, varying from glitchy, saturated chords and slowed-down instrument sounds to minimalistic micromelodies played on a variety of lo-fi drones and distorted string-like instruments, to what sound like fragments of larger works, chopped out of their context and fashioned into textures. The loops are chosen at random; flicking the rather ordinary-looking switch on the side of the unit switches to another loop. It is probably a cliché to describe it as "oddly soothing", though the effect is.

And here is an interview with the creators, describing how they came up with the idea, and how surprised they were to sell as many as they have; they had expected to sell a few hundred, but then various bloggers and hipsters (notably Pitchfork Magazine) picked the Buddha Machine out as a techno-fetish object to file alongside their Lomo ActionSamplers.

There are 5 comments on "The Buddha Machine":

Posted by: blablabla Wed Apr 19 16:36:38 2006

By the way devnull guy: IT'S 2006, GET AN RSS FEED!

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/ Wed Apr 19 17:13:53 2006

You mean like http://dev.null.org/rss/ ?

Posted by: cos Thu Apr 20 00:02:08 2006

mine's hot pink. my girlfriend and her mum thought it was a real buddha machine (as mentioned a bit in the interview you link to), and it took a bit of explaining to make them understand what it was...

also, i was minorly impressed that it actually came *with* a battery. in this day and age!

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/ Thu Apr 20 00:22:57 2006

I suspect that the rough-hewn Chinese Duracell-knockoffs are part of the product experience.

Posted by: blablabla Fri Apr 21 17:53:39 2006

Thanks for the RSS feed. It was extremely well hidden. Even Bloglines didn't know where to look.

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