Gristleism: a different take on the Buddha Machine concept

I have written before about the Buddha Machine. It is like a mystical modern-day music box. I’m a big fan.

The original was described by some as the anti-iPod. It looks like the sort of iPod knock-off that you might get free in a cereal packet. Instead of loading it with several gigabytes of your favourite music, the Buddha Machine comes pre-packaged with nine low-fi loops, which vaguely emanate from the fuzzy in-built speaker.

And it’s marvellous. The Buddha Machine may look cheap and tacky, and the sound quality certainly is not great, but this all adds to the quaint and charming nature of the device.

It became a cult object. Brian Eno is said to have been so entranced that he bought eight of them on the spot. It was treated by some as a musical instrument in its own right. Artists created remix albums inspired by the Buddha Machine. It even spawned a bizarre game, Buddha Boxing. Any resemblance to World Championship Stare-out is purely coincidental.

The second version of the Buddha Machine brought new loops, and the addition of a pitch-bending function, adding an extra dimension to the curious box of sounds. But it still retained its charm.

Now the idea has been developed further with Gristleism. It is a new variant on the Buddha Machine concept developed by the revered experimental group Throbbing Gristle.

As you can see from the demonstration video, Throbbing Gristle’s take on the Buddha Machine is rather more brutal than FM3’s more relaxing version. And while the originals come in unassuming, antiquated, almost second-hand packaging, Gristleism has a very slick, modern and extravagant style to its packaging.

Gristleism unpacked Gristleism is an altogether different product. But it chimes with the same ideas about what it means to buy music in a physical format in these days of digital downloads. Record companies are increasingly seeking to make the physical editions of albums more appealing by making the package more of the product. The stylish packaging of Gristleism asks questions about music, just as the original Buddha Machines did.

Musically, Gristelism fulfils a completely different role. The originals, with the music composed by FM3, were more ambient in nature. They could sit happily in the corner, quietly emitting unobtrusive drones.

But as you would expect with Throbbing Gristle, things are a bit more madcap here. I have to admit that when I first started playing with this, I couldn’t stop grinning. I had to interact with the music. You can really utilise that pitch altering knob to great effect.

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