Sunday, 25 October 2009

Selling music post-MP3: part 2

FM3's Buddha Machine

There are two very good reasons why vinyl records haven't died out: 1) that particular vinyl sound; and 2) turntablism. Value is to be found not just in the music the physical format contains, but also in the format itself: not only do records give a different, some would say warmer listening experience, but in skilled hands they can also be used creatively. If musicians want to make money from their recorded output, then, perhaps one way might be to find intrinsically useful, desirable, even unique physical formats on which to distribute it.

FM3, a China-based electronica duo, have done just this. Based on a popular Buddhist temple souvenir designed to aid meditation, FM3's Buddha Machine is a small plastic box with a speaker that allows you to play and switch between any of nine ambient music loops specially composed by FM3 (rather than the Buddhist chants played by the original gadget). Looped, the contemplative music that FM3 have created, as well as the nostalgic lo-fi crackle of the speaker, somehow combine to be at least as meditative and relaxing as the souvenir which inspired their creation. Here, format complements music - is almost indivisible from it.

The Buddha Machine, much like vinyl, also represents a creative medium: FM3 positively encourage other artists to use the loops in their own compositions (such as Light and All These Accidents by Track A Tiger), but moreover, the machines have given rise to live performances called Buddha Boxing. As the video below will illustrate, this essentially involves people taking a number of Buddha Machines and placing them, one at a time, onto a table to create a semi-random musical composition, then removing them one at a time until none are left (and the piece ends):

Recently, someone clever has even created a website that lets you play with a wall of 21 virtual Buddha Machines (well worth a try, if you're ever looking for a relaxing way of passing some time); the main difference here from actual Buddha Boxing being that the virtual Buddha Machines have no volume control, so unfortunately loops can only be stopped dead, rather than faded out.

But FM3 didn't just stop there. Last year, saw the release of a Buddha Machine 2.0, with a different set of loops and an additional pitch control wheel; an iPhone app version was released this summer; and, following collaboration with Christiaan Virant of FM3, next month Throbbing Gristle will release Gristleism, their own version of the Buddha Machine, containing twice the number of loops and a doubled frequency range.

But back to the loop player as a physical format. While the music can, of course, be lifted from a Buddha Machine (it has a line-out/headphones socket), even so, and even more than vinyl, this is a format that plays an integral part in the music's effectiveness. Not only is it the best way to play the music (unless you happen to own software that will play the music as loops and don't mind only listening via your computer), but it also allows the listener some input into his/her listening experience, and even provides musically-minded listeners with sounds they can create their own songs around. For the right bands, then, a loop player could be both a very interesting way of spreading their music and of getting paid for it.

NEXT TIME: Innovative iPhone apps...

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