Tag Archives: pocket music monday

A Flute for Your Pocket: The Ocarina


Allegro Ocarina by Songbird

This Pocket Music Monday we are going to divert a little from our past two weeks of battery powered electronic styled pocket instruments. Instead we will talk about the wonderful and versatile little ocarina. The ocarina is a small flute that can vary quite a bit in size, shape and design, but usually has a larger more open body cavity as opposed to the more common flute with its slender and tubular design. Ocarinas have traditionally been made out of clay, and often have between 4 and 12 holes. These can be arranged in many different ways, allowing for different tones, key registers, and playstyles.

The Ocarina has been around for quite some time, but saw quite a bit of jump in interest after the Nintendo 64 game, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in 1998. Here, docjazz4 plays the main Zelda theme on a Zelda themed ocarina:

Since Ocarina of Time, the ocarina has gained quite a bit in popularity, though is still relatively unknown to most. It is a shame because these little flutes are a lot of fun to play. It doesn’t take much to learn a little melody, and it is great fun to have with you wherever you go, whether in your pocket or strapped around your neck. Like most instruments, learning to master the ocarina will take time and practice, but the accessibility of this little instrument is quite wonderful.


my ocarinas

Here are the two ocarinas that I own. On the left is a small soprano ocarina by Songbird Ocarinas made of clay with 5 holes. On the right is a polycarbonate ocarina in G from Mountain Ocarinas. Both are a lot of fun to play, but the Mountain Ocarina is definitely a bit easier. If you’re interested at all in ocarinas, definitely check out Songbird Ocarinas and Mountain Ocarinas, as they both have great info and audio/video of their products. And definitely check out docjazz4’s youtube channel. He owns a huge variety of ocarinas, reviews them and plays them excellently.

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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.


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.


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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Pocket Music Monday – The Stylophone

the original stylophoneI’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for little music gadgets and toys. Each time I see one I have to seriously fight the dreaded “gear acquisition syndrome” (GAS). Then usually it is just a matter of time until I break down and find some excuse to buy the item. Needless to say I have quite a lot of musical toys now. Most of these are small and somewhat portable for some music/noise making on the go, which is quite fun. So to share some of these musical toys, this will be the first in a series of posts on musical items that are small enough to fit in your pocket. Enjoy.

The (in)famous Stylophone is probably one of my first, if not THE first of my music gadget acquisitions. It is a little on the big side of “pocketable,” but I couldn’t not include it. It was most recently made famous online by Brett Domino. (Be warned that the video below is entirely tongue in cheek.)

It was first released in 1968 and was sold mostly as a children’s toy. The Stylophone did end up seeing some use by some notable acts like David Bowie and Kraftwerk, but remained largely obscure, with production stopping in 1975. It was rereleased in 2007 featuring a volume control and two extra sounds.

The stylophone is played by using a metal stylus that is moved up and down a metal keybed to close a circuit and give different pitches to a VCO (voltage controlled oscillator.) The stylophone has a very unique and some would argue, harsh sound. It is a whole lot of fun to play, and you can slide around to various pitches quite quickly with the stylus for a very recognizable style. It has a built in speaker and headphone output, as well as an input jack so you can play along with some other sound source from the Stylphone’s speaker. The speaker itself is terrible, but that appeals to the lo-fi junkie in me, and makes for a great portable instrument.

What I like the most about an instrument like the Stylophone is that it really becomes whatever you make it. It’s limitations become your chance to use some creativity. You can use it as is with its tinny sound, or double it up, sample it, make it into a bassline, and a lot more. See my Stylophone in the Vine video below. Click the icon in upper left for sound.

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