shake your buddha-loop

september 16, 2006.

I'm pretty sure that many of our viewers will have heard about FM3( * )'s Buddha Machine( ** ), an intriguing little plastic electronic sound gadget that over the past couple of months became something of a 'hit' - that is, in certain circles, say ;-> ... Earlier this year I got several emails from friends and soundblog viewers (always appreciated, btw !) sending links to stories about and pictures of the Buddha Box, or telling me about the Buddha Machine they just had bought...
my buddhy In many of these stories rumor had it that 'E bought D copies of the Buddha Machine !' or that 'G got F of them !' ... Fans put from snap shots to arty portrayals of their personal buddha thingies up at Flickr's ; someone - apparently totally unrelated to FM3 and its gadget - got the buddha-machine.com domain and set up a website dedicated to the smallish boxy gadget ; one hears about other artists buying a handful of the things to use them as sound sources in their own performances ...
Well, you know, hula-hoop, buddha-loop ... the FM3 box became nothing short of a (mini) rage ...
It's been around for quite a while now, but I only got mine at Bimbo Tower in Paris this week ... As you see in the picture, it turned out to be a white one, which gives it sort of an iPoddy look ...

You probably know that I mainly use personal stereo devices to record in public spaces, and the couple of times that I did use a walkman or iPod to listen to music in the train or the metro, or while walking in the streets, I actually did not like the experience too much, and each time I soon turned of the music and took out the earplugs again. When outside I just almost always prefer to hear and listen to the 'random' chatting and other sounds that surrounds us.
But I did give the Buddha Machine a try this week as an iPod alternative on and between metro trains, while traveling from my home to Bobigny and back again last week. I doubt that this will turn into a habit of mine, but at least this once it was fun as well as being sonically interesting, as the very lo-fi sound of the gadget and its sensibility to (cell phone and other) interferences, together with FM3's so very unobtrusive ambient loops at times nicely added to and mingled with a such commuter's soundscape. [ There was a similar observation in an almostcoolmusic review of the FM3 box. ] Maybe many other an ambient recording on a personal stereo device will have a similar effect, but well, hey, you'd have to select these, burn a CD, copy tracks onto a cassette or into a playlist ... Much of the Buddha Machine's charm is of course its plug-and-play-sounds-in-a-box format, with nothing to add to, nothing to erase nor to load, and nothing much really to choose from ... ( *** )

aligre buddhas I had not seen nor heard a real Buddha Machine until last saturday september 9th, when Cosmo opened up his bag and put two of them on the table at FlexRex' place, where we had gathered for some roughish attempts at circuit bending a number of found electronic children's toys.
Well, actually there was only one of them : an orange copy of the FM3 toy ... the other one - smaller and golden, packed in a red cardboard box - was what is called a chanting box or chant box, the original buddhist gadget that indeed inspired FM3 to produce their own, with their proper sounds ...

Golden Buddha's boxIt was the golden one that really sparked my interest in these little hardware looping players. Cosmo got it on eBay, where a Hong Kong based seller continues to offer them. (Last time I checked the seller actually was offering three slightly different versions : two are golden, one is white.)
In an informative interview published on the Rare Frequency website, FM3's Christiaan Virant talks at length about the Buddha Machine and the buddhist chant box that inspired it. The chant box is used in Buddhist temples to chant or play prayers, and the factories that make them actually produce these gadgets in hundred of thousands of copies ... One of the explanations for the use of 'the machine', Christiaan says, is that instead of becoming a Buddhist monk, nowadays "more and more people are going into business or whatnot, so there are less monks to do the chanting for the Buddha, so they made a small box to do it in the place of a human ...."
Apparently it is possible to get 'original' chant boxes (for free) at buddhist temples or from buddhist societies. So today I went to the Fo Guang Shan He Hua Temple on the Zeedijk in Amsterdam and asked one of the guardians about chanting boxes. He knew about them, he said, and told me that they once had some of them, as a gift from another temple. But he hadn't seen any for quite a while now. So I showed him Cosmo's golden box. He listened attentively to the chants, and seemed to be delighted. "But they should not be sold," he said, shaking his head. "These have to be given to you, they are gifts ..." ( **** )

When googling for chant boxes, one comes across several of them, many not of buddhist but of indian (hindu) origin, and of all sorts of forms and types ...
Here are some pictures :

ganesha chanting box divine life amituofo

The first one is a 'mantra chanting Ganesha', which appears to be available in other guises as well ... "An ideal product to have in your office or home, a unique gift for all occasions," one online publicity reads. "Available in the form of Vighnaharta Ganpati - The elephant-headed god, divine destroyer of obstacles. Begin every auspicious journey of your life with blessings from vighnaharta shri ganesh. He removes all obstacles, vanquishes all evil, dispels all darkness and brings good luck and prosperity to all ..."
The third one, the blue 'Ami tuofo', is a box that Jerry Whiting got from the Amitabha Buddhist Society in Sunnyvale, again one in a series that comes in different forms. The Amitabha Pureland Web site has a page with detailed instructions on functioning and use of the Amituofo chanting boxes. "Everyone can take part in Chanting for Peace in their home - just turn on the chanting player and chant along with it ..."

The middle one, the "Divine Life" box, is also a 'music box', but of a somewhat different type, as this one is not loop-based. "Unlike the traditional chanting boxes, the Divine Life box comes with the full version of chants [and contains] two-and-a-half hour[s] of songs, and 21 mantras."

All absolutely fascinating, and I'm especially intrigued by this "Divine Life" machine, containing two-and-a-half hours of music ... Just makes me wonder whether we'll be seeing more 'hard-ware based' music and/or video releases in times to come ... Is it not just one step beyond releasing an album not on CD or DVD, but on a usb-stick, as was done earlier this year by dutch saxophonist Hans Dulfer ? Just imagine ... filling up room after room with plastic loop-boxes, chanting elephants, birds, planes, cars, barbie-like and other dolls, loads and loads of what-shall-we-call-its playing their what-shall-we call-it ? ... Hmmmm .... impractical, you say ? Waste ? ... I dunno ...
It absolutely did cross my mind earlier this summer, when we finished 1024, that one 'ideal format' to 'present' these about two hours of sound would be that of a hardware-based random playlist : read it onto an iPod-shuffle, and then seal the iPod, so that it will and can play only 1024 ... Music-in-a-box ...

Ah ... well ... for the time being there's at the very least FM3's Buddha Machine.

Absolutely fabulous, as a transcultural object and as an idea ...

[ Many thanks to Cosmo Helectra, for finding, getting and lending me the 'golden chanting box'. Together we 'shook our buddha-loops' before the microphones of the parisian Aligre FM, during monday september 11th's emission of Songs of Praise (see the picture above) ...
The nine loops of FM3's Buddha Machine are available as mp3 downloads from FM3's website ... The four chanting loops of the 'golden box' are included as this edition's podcast s ...
I'm very interested in getting more buddhist chanting boxes, and I'd like to invite viewers from asia, or viewers visiting asia, to find them for me, and send or bring them over (there's an email link in the menu to the left of this page). I do not want to buy them, though. as I'd like to adhere to the buddhist tradition of considering them as gifts ... but I will of course return with a gift from my side ... ]

[ next related SB-entry : sblog2 {i} ]

[Added September 2nd, 2012]
De: Mahinda Thilakaratne
Objet: Loop Player
Date: 2 septembre 2012 02:55:38 HAEC
À: soundblog

Dear Sir,
I'm writing to you from a company called Aarathi Electronics in Sri Lanka.
We are a company that imports and market electronic items to the end user as well as to resellers in Sri Lanka and have a strong distributor network. Aarathi Electronics always look at giving innovative products to the market and present us looking at the possibility of promoting Chanting Loop Players. Going through your website and company profile I understood that your company manufactures components for radios and thought you would be in a position to produce this item.

* We will supply the chanting mp3 track that should add to loop player. If you are in a position to design manufacture the said item, please let me know the following.

1.   Minimum qty order
2.   Lead time of manufacture.
3.   Exclusivity and rites of the product.
4.   Time length of the mp3 track.

Please find below my company and contact details.
Looking forward to hear from you soon

Mahinda Thilakaratne
Managing Director

notes __ ::
(*) FM3 - a duo formed by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian - are based in Beijing, and make a "meditative, quietly minimal music, employing a mix of electronics, computers, and traditional Chinese instruments". [ ^ ]

(**) The 'Buddha Machine' has the rectangular shape and the cheap plastic texture of a small toy pocket radio, with a built-in speaker and a headphone output. It is not a radio, though, but a "portable, hardware player", being able to do nothing but continuously playing back ('looping') short sound files. FM3's Buddha Box contains 9 different samples. When you turn on the machine, it always starts looping the first 'sample'. With a small knob you may switch from 1 to 2 to 3 etc ... on to 9, and from there back to 1 again ... [ ^ ]

(***) Best to use it in relatively noisy environments, I think. I have been listening again for a while to the Buddha Machine in the Thalys today, on my way from Paris to Amsterdam, and found use in the relatively quiet train environment far less pleasing ... the cell phone interference in the train moreover was absolutely hard-core deafening at times ...
(Added november 29th, 2006:) Shortly after having written this entry, through the excellent spanish mediateletipos blog, I heard of Noah Vawter's Ambient Addition project. More about it in the Ambient Addition entry. [ ^ ]

(****) During my quest in Amsterdam I also went to the Maitreya institute on the Brouwersgracht, where I spoke to Sheléne, who told me that she had received a small chanting box when visiting a buddhist temple in Vietnam. Much to my surprise and delight she immediately offered to give it to me ... We will meet wednesday on the platform of the The Hague railway station, when my train back to Paris passes there ...
I plan to contact other buddhist temples and institutes in France and/or Holland to find out about more about the buddhist chanting boxes over the coming weeks ... [ ^ ]

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