the Buddha Machine

Recently I stumbled upon some news about the buddha machine: a small device that looks like a cheap fm-radio that endless loops 9 ambient samples. You can switch samples, connect a headphone, or listen to it using the built in speaker. The ambient sample-loops for this small device are created by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian, known as FM3.

Brian Eno is said to have bought eight of these things, for obvious installation purposes.

Well th?t’s a gadget (*) I cannot refuse! So I immediately ordered one from Staalplaat.
It’s a conceptual thing: it’s the idea that counts more than the result. Due to the inexpensive hardware the samples don’t even nearly sound like they do on-line (click the speaker icon below to hear the online version).
But still – the Buddha Machine proves irrestistable. After the initial scorn for buying ‘crap’ like this (“it doesn’t even play decent radio!”) I found my family playing with the thing and enjoying this piece of obvious irrelevancy. Although I probably won’t buy the complete series, I certainly won’t regret this purchase….

(I’m very curious to hear about any other ‘ambient gadget’ you may have found, so please let me know if you did)

(*) there’s a matter of definition here: a gadget is defined as ‘a device that is very useful for a particular job’ – whereas ‘a device of clever design that has no practical purpose’ is called a novelty item. It’s up to you to decide which one the buddha machine is.

Brian Protheroe – Enjoy It

2005 celebrates the 30th birthday of a record that belongs to the few that I must have played hundreds of times when I was fairly young: Brian Protheroe’s Pick Up (1975). Along with the preceding Pinball (1974) and the following I/You (1976), this album belongs to my all-time favourites.
When you hear these records now, it may be a bit difficult to hear why they did appeal to me so much then. But even nowadays the strong voice still sounds appealing, the tongue-in-cheekness of the lyrics still can bring on a smile. It’s only some of the the arrangements that sound so very 70’s, sometimes musical-like. (I hate musicals, by the way).

The performing scene clearly attracted Protheroe: after he quit recording albums he has continued his career as an actor and has been performing in numerous musicals. Check his CV on his website for details (by the way – this is by far the worst website I have seen in years!).

These albums records have been hard to find in their time , but they have been re-released on CD by Basta.

Nine Horses – Snow Borne Sorrow

If you’re one of the people that cannot stand the voice of David Sylvian, you’re not gonna like this record, because he is one of the main performers in this one-off group. But if you can, you’re gonna love this project!
Nine Horses’ ‘Snow Borne Sorrow’ sounds just a like slick sounding coffee-table album — when you don’t give it enough attention. But in fact the music is very subtle, probably because Sylvian and Jansen chose interesting performing partners like Burnt Friedman (adding his unrivalled adventurous and ever-surprising arrangements and sample wizardry), Arve Henriksen (haunting Jon Hassell-like trumpet whispering), and a host of others like Stina Nordenstamm (voice), and good old Ryuichi Sakamoto – to name just a few.
But beware: these beautiful sounds ultimately reveal a very dark, maybe even depressing atmosphere, which may hit hard when the days start to turn darker:

'its a wonderful world / and she doesn't knows why
she wakes up each day / and continues to cry'

If this were a David Sylvian project, it’d be the best he has done in many, many years.
But this is not a David Sylvian project. This is Nine Horses – one of the unexpected musical pleasures of this year. Perfect release for the closing days of 2005.

Inside and Outside

Being the prolific musician that he is, Stephen Philips has come up with quite some unusual ideas (see the recent post about the drone download project, for an example).

There’s quite a few projects under his name at www.darkduck.net. Inside and Outside is presented in the form of an extremely limited multi-part subscription project, which immediately raised my interest.
Only the final (fifth) album of this series, which is planned to end in december 2005, will be available as a non-limited release, but the preceding four (ánd an extra bonus disc) will be available only for the 25 subscribers lucky enough to have spot this in time..I guess we’re talking about a 100% collectors item release here!

The music is a combination of field recordings (from near Washington DC), blended with dark deep ambient drones and textures. The field recordings are made only just before creating the albums, so the complete series finally turns out to be an auditive description of this year’s summer, fall and the beginning of winter. I like that idea. And I like the music.

Most of the two cd’s that were releases until now contain dark, moody drones (though the atmosphere gets lighter in the seconds half of part two…)

Lewis Furey – Cleanup Time

From: Lewis Furey; 1975

Canadian singer sounding like Lou Reed performing musical soundtracks…(can you imagine?)
He was a one-of-a-kind man, performing with Carole Laure in music and movies…ohh those were the days.

If anyone of you remembers this man or this track I invite you to post your memories.

Stimmhorn – Melken

Overtone singing and ALPENHORN blowing….a combination you will probably NEVER hear on your local radio station (unless you’re swiss).

This track, Melksuite, is definitely a good first candidate for the ‘Weird Department’. The album from which this is taken is called ‘Melken’, and was released in 1997.

Arvo Part – Lamentate

Referring to Arvo Pärt’s music as ‘ambient’ is a bit like swearing in church, I guess.
But still, there are similarities. Listen, for example, to Da pacem Domine, and you’ll probably be remembering some of the earlier ambient works of Brian Eno (Music for Airports 2/1, to be specific).

The Hilliard Ensemble as always guarantee a flawless and heavenly performance.

Michel Banabila – Hilarious Expedition

Michel Banabila must be one of Hollands best kept secrets. He has released numerous albums, some ambient, some world, some jazz, some experimental, all worth the listen.

Hilarious Expedition is a double album with movie- and theatre music, which he has released himself in a limited independent edition. Because it probably would be too ‘difficult’ for official release.

I regret this album is a bit overlooked – due to it’s independent release – because it should attract a wider, adventurous, audience.

Nils Petter Molvaer – ER

For the ‘pop’ listener, ER is a far more complex album than Molvaer’s earlier work. The arrangements sound like studio improvisations, and the result is more ‘jazz’, less ‘dance. The accompanying background is created with delicate electronic sounds, which make the record very modern.
‘Sober’ is one of the best tracks, in my opinion. And that may very well be because it’s so ….er…..sober.