Echo Location: Blooming Buddhas with Eno and FM3

Back in the 1960s, Max Mathews, one of the pioneers of computer music, reputedly proclaimed that one day, even your plumber would be able to create music. His dream was realized sometime ago with computer programs and electronic keyboards. Now a new generation of music generating toys is upon us that makes it even easier. Late last year a couple of interesting products were released that make creating music as easy as tapping your fingers.

(You can hear an Audio Version of this Blog with music.)

A few years ago, a device called a Buddha Machine was developed by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian, who work in China operating as FM3. The Blue Buddha MachineBuddha Machine is like a cheap transistor radio from the 50s, but instead of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, it plays a random set of 9 ambient loops at very lo-fi resolution.
Now they’ve transferred that program to the iPod as well.iphonebuddha1 The screen is filled by a Buddha Machine whose color you can change by shaking your unit. The only controls are volume and a single button that let’s you swap the loops around.

But much cooler than that is the Buddha Machine Wall. It’s a free on-line application with a 3 by 7 Buddha Machine grid filling the screen. Each machine has the same 9 sounds and patterns with two labeled B1 and B2 and the rest all in Chinese characters. You can layer these in infinitely looping soundscapes.  Here’s a piece by Echoes’ Jeff Towne:  Buddha Wall Improv

More interactive is Bloom, an iPod Touch and iPhone application created by ambient avatar Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers. I wrote about Bloom when it was released last fall (Brian Eno’s iPhone Music). Bloom is an elegant program. It displays as softly shimmering screen of shifting blues, purples and greys emanating a gentle drone until you touch it with a finger tip, then a soft, bell-like tone sounds out while a pastel colored dot expands outwards like a water drop on a placid pond. Touch it more and more tones and dots emerge, higher tones at one end, lower tones at the other. The tones cycle, creating layered musical loops. You can get a look at it here.
You can play your own ambient opus. Here’s one of mine: Echo Bloom #1

Or, if you’re very lazy or keenly unmusical, you can listen to a generative composition by Eno that’s different every time you play it.

Eno once claimed he was a non-musician and now, a real non-musician like me can make music that’s in tune and in time. Although I did find it impossible to play an actual melody or scale, it’s a great way to zone out on a long trip.

You can get Bloom and Buddha Machine as iPod and iPhone applications. There’s also a physical version of Buddha Machine. The Buddha Machine Wall can be found on-line at

This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for New Music.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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