Tag Archives: drone

Meditation in your pocket – Buddha Machine (II)

mybuddhamachineFor today’s “Pocket Music Monday” we are going to talk about the Buddha Machine by FM3. First off, what is the Buddha Machine?

Taken from http://www.fm3buddhamachine.com/:

The Buddha Machine is a small plastic box that plays meditative music composed by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian.

Doesn’t sound like much does it? Well I assure you, this little guy is very cool indeed. I have the 2nd model out of three made by FM3, not including some special editions over the years. This particular Buddha Machine, the II, has 9 looping short tracks, a small volume knob, a built in speaker, and a speed control to alter the music’s pitch and speed. It also had a headphone jack, but I think using it reduces the charm of the device. Perhaps it it useful when if recording or sampling your Buddha Machine.

buddha2deck

So what is so neat about this little gadget? I again refer to my gravitation to lo-fi sounds, as this cheaply made little plastic box just screams lo-fi charm. The tinny speaker seems to crackle and spit at you, whether by nature of the recording or the hardware I don’t know. The music pieces themselves are nicely varied, interesting, and decidedly meditative. They range from somber drones to stringed twangs and melancholy piano strikes. All in all, you can easily become lost in each piece, though repetitious, as either an active or passive listener. I have used my little Buddha Machine II for ambient background, as a lullaby, for concentration, and for meditation.

Buddhamachine2.0

The music is so captivating that there are many artists who have done entire remix albums of the pieces. The tones and textures when manipulated can lead to some impressive soundscapes. Others have taken the simple device to the soldering table, circuit bending and altering it in wildly imaginative ways to create strange sounds and drones.

This track was made by “reducing” or cutting up the sounds of a Buddha Machine II’s loops, and adding some crisp delay and stereo effects:

All in all, this little box is mystifying. I think some of this is due to the music itself, but a lot has to do with the portability and simple form factor. Something about the actual hardware makes it special, despite (and maybe because of) the cheapness of quality. You can certainly find the audio tracks online or listen to them looped from a “Buddha Machine iPhone App.” But don’t. There is a huge difference in this day and age of audio fidelity and computers and smartphones and the days not too long ago when a crackling radio was groundbreaking. Sometimes going back a little bit proves to be a more rewarding and engaging journey than we’d imagine.

If you have a chance to play with a Buddha Machine, do it. If you have one, take it with you.

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Don’t Mind My Drone

Drone
1: a deep sustained or monotonous sound : hum
2: an instrument or part of an instrument (as one of the fixed-pitch pipes of a bagpipe) that sounds a continuous unvarying tone

drone bee

A drone bee. Not to be confused with drone music. Though also very cool.

Drone music and its derivatives have become a recent fascination for me. Previously, the idea of an unchanging tone that spans for the majority of a song sounded strange and terrible. However, I have discovered that the sonic possibilities and subtle harmonic shifts that can be found in drone music to be very deep and gratifying if dug into. Drone music as a relative of ambient and meditative music is also quite intriguing to me. The way sound can seem to slide into the background of one’s consciousness or be specifically focused on in the foreground may depend entirely on the listener, but I feel like drone music can easily be appreciated in both ways.

What I love most about drone music is creating it. There is something very simple and yet tangible about creating this type of music/noise. So today we will build a drone. We are going to use my Drone Lab, designed by Peter Edwards of Casper Electronics. This was built from a kit, and features 4 square wave oscillators, an effects section, and some tremolo features. You can read more about it at Casper Electronics or in my short review of the kit here. The advantages of using this type of hardware for drones (despite the fact that it was designed for drones) is the immediate hands-on nature of the sounds, the simplicity of the device, and the completely manual/analog nature of the tuning of each oscillator.

I’m going to break down a simple process of the way I sometimes build a drone and discuss a little about each element as it is added. This is a pretty raw and dirty drone, but illustrates certain points well. Skip to the bottom to hear the whole thing from start to finish.

First, we introduce a single tone, and then add in another one octave below. The notes are slightly detuned, creating a “pulsing” effect:
Part 1

Then we add in another tone, again slightly out of tune, creating more width and adding a lot more harmonic content as the voices phase in and out of one another:
Part 2

The 4th voice added is one fifth up from the original tone, creating a little more interest in our wall of sound:
Part 3

Here we add some pretty heavy distortion. This ups the harmonic content even more, and accentuates the pulsing of the voices:
Part 4

A simple low pass filter is swept over the gritty sound, revealing more nuances of harmonics and creating movement:
Part 5

Finally, some additional band pass filters are swept around and added in and out, again to create more interest and movement:
Part 6

From here on out, the drone continues by adjusting the above changes to some degree: voices are added and dropped, the tuning is adjusted between them, distortion amount changes, and low/band pass filters swept around. If you’re feeling adventurous, the drone in its entirety can be heard below:

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