Buddha Machine v. iPod

June 10, 2006

Buddha Machine

I bought one of these last summer, and it is still among my very favorite things….ever.

For those of you not familiar with the Buddha machine; it is small plastic box, which contains, a crappy little speaker, a few switches, batteries, nine very simple ambient loops, and as legend has it, there may be a little buddha somewhere in there (though I don't dare peer inside mine). The construction and quality is about as bad as it gets. The speaker buzzes and hisses and, quite frankly, is a huge part of its charm. There are only a few buttons. One is a simple toggle switch that allows you to skip through the tracks. Though, admittedly, I often just get hung up on the first one. The other nob is just an old fashioned on/off volume switch next to a dim little red light.

The Buddha Machine is the opposite of modular – the oppostite of something like the iPod, which is increasingly customizable ( especially my new 60gig video ipod which Ilove but isn't pictured above). Yet, even from the perspective of a longtime Apple fanatic like myself, the Buddha Machine is infinitely more addictive and gratifying.

The loops themselves are very basic, and very background in feel, only slightly shifting in mood from one to the next. They are a bit remeniscient of Brian Enos most minimalistic ambient work, and noticably less interesting; however, the pure simplicity of the box and its contents makes it all the more appealing. It does one thing in nine ways, and that's all.

Maybe a direct comparison to the iPod is unfair (to the iPod), as they don't really seem to inhabit the same region of the brain. The Buddha Machine almost feels more like something totally inantimate, like a favorite potted plant, stuffed animal or one of those little polished worry-stones – except, the Buddha machine seems to fill some less tangeable void.

I listen, play with, and derive endless enjoyment from it in a more consitant way than I do the iPod, which is still in my mind very much a container for things that are essentially me, or of my choosing. The Buddha Machine on the other hand, contains – or has the capacity to contain – so much less, that it actually seems to embody the zen that it references in its name.

It is almost perfect emptiness. How can the iPod compete with that?

• {see it – video}

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