Earlier today I posted a link to a New Yorker article by Sasha Frere-Jones over at Blast!, where he talks about his considerable affection for the FM3 Buddha Machine – colorful plastic modern musicboxes, decidedly low-tech and appropriately straight out of China, where their musician/makers are based.
The devices use 2 AA batteries and feature creaky, distortion-prone plastic bodies and cheap speakers, but tend to retail for many times more than what you’d imagine they cost to make. Their designs are reminiscent of little FM radios I coveted as a child, except these only play back nine looping audio tracks of under a minute each. Recently, an iPhone app has become available, bringing the cost of sorta-owning a Buddha Machine down to between SGD$3 and $8 (depending on whether a sale is on). If you want a hi-fi, free, but sadly Buddha-Machineless experience, the soundfiles are available for download at the official site.
While you’ll do just fine with one, as I did for awhile before receiving another as a gift, there’s a lot of fun in getting several to play off each other. In Frere-Jones’ interview with one of the creators, there’s mention of several hour-long “performances” in underground Chinese clubs, where audience members take turns to adjust the settings on their way to the bar. I just bought the iPhone app tonight and listened to the three of them droning on for… I don’t know how long. Both my physical boxes are Version 1.0 models; later Version 2.0 models played nine totally different tracks. The iPhone app contains all 18 sounds.
Here’s a video I took, although the sound isn’t great. Let’s see if my new Posterous account can handle this.