The Buddha Box is one of the most beautiful objects I have found in China. Three years ago on a Sunday afternoon I went to check out a band a bartender had told me I must see. I believe bartenders are wise people so I went. JZ was full of young Chinese guys (not the usual crowd there), all very silent and focused on the stage. The music was beautiful and mystical and the band was amazing. They played maybe two hours and all the musicians rotated around the instruments playing each one of them. There were many instruments, including some I had never seen before. There were no mobiles ringing, no loud drunk customers: it was pure attention to the music.
The band was a collective of experimental musicians from Beijing, lead by Zhang Jian. I didn’t know any of them, and unfortunately don’t even know the name the band used that day. Sorry for that. But I remember clearly that once the music finished and I finally came back to myself, I ran to Zhang Jian. At that moment the only thing I knew about him was that he played strange instruments on stage. I had to tell him how much I liked the music and how thankful I was, he just said thanks. When I was leaving I met him by the entrance where I stopped to check the cds on sale, and he showed me this colorful old-radio-transistor-looking object. He turned it on and said, “here, listen” and I heard this mantric loop coming out of the orange object he chose to show me. Then he pointed “here” and the loop changed. He gave it to me and I began to play. It was a great toy. I bought it for 150 yuan. It took me some extra time to choose the color I wanted. I chose pink. I said thanks and I left. The next thing I thought was what an easy customer I was, but when later I went to meet my friends from a Mauritian jazz band, I showed them the Buddha Box and I realized it was one of the best things I’d ever bought. We were playing with it for hours and imagining all the things we could do if we had more of them. I loved my Buddha Box.
Later on, I discovered the Buddha Machine aka the Buddha Box was a toy that had already been all around the world–even Brian Eno was playing with it–and the guy who sold me mine was one half of the duo who created the Buddha Box, FM3 (the other half is Christiaan Virant), both based in Beijing. The value of my new toy was increasing a lot every minute, and the more I used it and learned about it the more powerful it became. It turned into a gadget full of mystique to me.
Among the things I discovered about this little magic box was that there have been Buddha Machine battles around the world, called Buddha Boxing. Also there are some albums that have been recorded only using the Buddha Machine (see here). And now the newest version of the Buddha Machine is an iPhone application, which also works with iPods, you can have the Buddha Box in your iPhone for a few dollars. If you don’t have an iPhone but just like to play with beautiful artistic gadgets, try it here. And here is a virtual Buddha Machine, not very much like the real one, but better than nothing if you don’t know what I have been talking about for the length of this article.
Here you can download the nine loops of the original Buddha Box. And for those who want to know where to get this, either you can get it through internet here or ask me the directions to the last place where I saw it. And if you get one, get two: one for me please. I gave my pink Buddha Box to a friend who loved it so much I had to give it to him. I believe these magical things have their own path: the pink one had to go with my friend, and I’m still waiting for a new one to come to me. Maybe next time I’ll get the orange.