Back in 2004, the era when tens of thousands of songs could fit in your pocket, a band/studio called FM3 released an absurdly low-fi device called the Buddha Machine. The portable speaker was in many ways lower tech than the average radio, playing but nine preprogrammed loops.
Now, FM3 is prepping to release the latest rendition, the Buddha4. It’s been upgraded in the barest sense of the word. The plastic shell is now dyed in neon colors, while audio is processed at 16 bits, rather than 8, for richer sound (especially if you don headphones), but it still stores only nine songs, just like the original.
"The Buddha Machine is our ‘album,’" FM3’s Christiaan Virant tells me. "Some bands release CDs, some put their music on 12-inch vinyl, others release on cassette or MP3. We put our tunes in a small plastic box."
The nine-song list used to be a by-product of expensive storage, which limited the machine to just 300 seconds of sound. But now, when flash memory is absurdly cheap, the Buddha Machine’s stubborn obsolescence actually feels even more relevant than it did eight years ago. With cloud-streaming services like Spotify and Rdio, music distribution has seemingly evolved to its final stage: a truly unlimited, on-demand, all-you-can-eat experience streaming to you anywhere in the world on pretty much any device.
The Buddha Machine continues to be the anti-gadget, the cultural equivalent to a soda fountain that only sells green rivers in an era when Coke machines can mix a thousand flavor combinations right into your cup. Its nine loops are a designed experience of monotony, not variety, that has actually streamlined the effect those of us who work with Rdio or Spotify in the background constantly seek out—the glorious moment when your ears hear the music but your brain no longer attempts to process it. You ride the feeling of sound rather than its content, and in doing so, you really do reach a sort of zen.
[Hat tip: Creators Project]