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the Buddha Machine

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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…)

Drone Download Project


DDP Year 2 CD cover

It?s heading to complete its third year already, so if this is the first time you hear about the Drone Download Project, you?ve already missed quite a few free ambient-drone download opportunities. You missed 80 tracks of the first two years, to be precise. But don’t worry: the third year (including a Year 2 Megamix) can still be downloaded.

As you?d probably expected by now, all material is of the minimalist drone kind, some even quite extreme.
New tracks are available online for a limited time only, so you have to keep an eye on the site, but Stephen sends out notifications to you if you want.
If you?re into this kind of music (and can spend some money on it), I can heartily advise ordering the first two years on convenient MP3 CD format. Listening to all tracks until now takes op 21+ full hours…

The DDP – as it is sometimes referred to – was started by Stephen Philips, and boasts some famous names. And some more less famous names too. There?s a lot of material by Stephen Philips himself, some other names you may already have heard before are Sundummy, Brannan Lane, Esa Ruoho, Austere, Igneous Flame, Jeff Greinke. To name just a few.

All material is created for this occasion especially, and most of it is not available in any other format.

Support Strongly Recommended!

Brilliant Concepts 2: LAST.FM


Almost everyone online is online permanently, using ADSL or Cable. This fact has produced some new concepts that would never have been possible before..such as that of last.fm – your own online music profile that you can fill up with the music you like. This information is used to create a personal radio station and to find users who are similar to you.

Basically – it’s very simple: you install a small plugin, and from that moment on the information about all tracks you play is stored in your online musical profile (only the tags, not the tracks themselves). This of course assumes that you play your music on a PC connected to the net, so playing normal Cd’s don’t count. But really – who still plays original cd’s???

After playing 500+ or so tracks, your musical contours get more detailed and your profile reveals your musical hangups and habits. This may lead to some beautiful spinoffs: if you like this, you might also like that. Of the 20.000 people listening to the same track you did, about 90% also listens to (…fill in a band that you may never have heard of!…).
Eventually, you get neighbours, or even friends, based on the musical profile you build. People you would never ever meet in your local record store, just because they may live in another part of the world. And there’s more…

Brilliant Concepts 1: Instant live concerts


Remember the good old bootleg days? The thrill of hearing a recording of a concert you actually joined (regardless of the sound quality of the recording)?
Even for people that did not join the concert themselves, a bootleg recording may have some magic to it. 
There are lots of fans exchanging all their live-tapes…(as if 50+ concert recordings do not start to sound alike…)

The guys (I guess) at instantliveconcerts.com have understood this concept and used current technology to offer a quality cd concert-recording in about six minutes after the concert ends…Now that’s what I call HOT.