FM3 Buddha Machine Vs. FSS Black Box

I was sitting in my music studio the other day fiddling around with my gear to create a new musical masterpiece. As the day drew on, I felt void of creativity or originality. I decided to stop making music and venture out on a mission to find original noise in the form of a new record (LP) or CD. My first stop was Aquarius records in San Francisco. I originally set out to find Monoton, which is a famous Krautrock group, which falls in line with Kraftwerk. But unfortunately, Aquarius was sold out of hard to find Monoton, instead they turned me onto Pulse Emitter, Emeralds, and Cluster & Eno. Satisfied, but not completely done with my mission I set out for Amoeba records. After locating Klaus Schulze, Amon DUUL, I ventured over to the experimental section where I happened upon Nurse With Wound and the FM3 Buddha Machine. Now, I was familiar with the Buddha Machine due to a friend of my mine that was lamenting about how cool it was. So, I grabbed one and started to move in the direction of the cashier, where I suddenly stumbled across the FSS Black Box. In big bold letters the description read, “THIS BOX WILL PREVENT YOU FROM COMMITING SUICIDE”. Well, with Nurse with Wound, in my hands I thought that the Black Box would be a perfect companion to an album reviewed as an item that would scare your pets and neighbors. I felt my mission was complete and headed home.

Upon first glance both the Buddha Machine and the Black Box are similar in fashion, except the Black box is in the shape of a tomb stone. Here’s a little background on both devices:


FM3 Buddha Machine II
FM3 is an electronic act based in China, an act known primarily for its minimalist bent and their tendency to subdue live crowds into absolute silence. The Buddha Machine is a small musical loop player. The name and idea derived from a popular Chinese music player similar to FM3’s player that intones repeating loops of Buddhist chanting. It continuously plays one of 9 ambient sound loops (drones) that range in length from 5 to 40 seconds. The Buddha Machine fullfils certain criteria of a generative music device. The idea of layering loops of ambient sound goes back to Brian Eno who worked similarly using tape machines for installations.
The Black Box
The Black Box is a hand held tombstone, an obsidian device with looped tracks from FSS artists Cristal, Haptic and Wrnlrd and two spoken word sound pieces from Annie Feldmeier Adams. These artists have created deep dark and disturbing sound constructs specifically for this project. There are nine tracks total.

Both devices are portable, battery powered soundboxes. You can control the volume, select the track or allow the looped tracks to play as long as you like. There are outlets for earbuds or external connections. The Black Box features an external power source and the Buddha Machine features a pitch control.

It’s pretty much Yin meets Yang or the light versus the dark. The Buddha Machine has converged onto the internet in many forms. One is the ZenDesk which is a website with a wall of Buddha Machines that you can interact with. The Black Box on the other hand has not been widely adopted, it may be due to its dark, droning loops. The one feature both of these boxes do not have, is the ability to add your own loops. I guess it would be a different product if the feature exist. Overall, I think these modern day generative music devices are cool and a great novelty item. I must admit, both devices have a place in my heart. The soothing sounds of the Buddha Machine nearly puts me to bed, and the dark, nefarious sounds of The Black Box puts an evil grin on my face. I plan to use both devices in my music, possibly chaining them to my Kaoos Pad and creating zen/droning musical masterpieces.

As I was researching the aforementioned devices I stumbled across another generative music device designed by Throbbing Gristle & Christiaan Virant (original Buddha Machine) which will be available in late November ’09. It’s actually the bastard offspring of the Buddha Machine, GRISTLEISM is part Industrial sound machine, part noise instrument. Featuring thirteen original and uncompromising loops, more loops and almost twice the frequency range of the original Buddha Machines. GRISTLEISM delivers a mix of signature TG experimental noise, industrial drone, and classic melodies and rhythms. There is one small drawback tho, Gristleism does not feature an audio output socket or a DC power input socket.

My mission for inspiration was complete. The devices I purchased gave me the boost to go outside the box and create something that doesn’t have to be commercial, possibly pushing me into conceptional sound-scapes. I can’t wait to hook these devices up to my existing analog studio. For now, if you feel like you need a boost of inspiration or if your looking for a musical gift, go buy one of these devices and I guarantee you will be satisfied.

Buy the Buddha Machine.
Buy the Black Box
Pre-order the Gristleism

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