If you don’t know, a Buddha Machine is a loop player inside a little plastic box, built like a 70s AM radio that plays music; nine constructed drones created by FM3 and varying from two seconds to 42 seconds, which repeat endlessly until the "track" is switched to the next drone or the batteries run out.
If you’re old enough to remember the cheap sound and crackle of those mid-70s pocket transistor radios well, it looks and feels like one of them…only much, much cheaper looking.
The Gristleism follows that formula only instead of the beautiful lurid and cheap packaging of the original Buddha Machine (There are now two versions) the Gristleism is housed in an exquisite 'chinese paper-cut' wrapping, featuring a repeating TG logo pattern, foil embossing and UV ink.
The Gristleism was born from a collaboration between Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle and Christiaan Virant, the creator of the original FM3 Buddha Machine but the specs are very different and quite revealing of FM3’s ethic compared to Throbbing Gristle’s
From the beginning, the Buddha Machine outstripped its original use as a loop player, as musicians around the world started to use it interactively as a musical instrument. Monolake (aka Robert Henke) released an album called Layering Buddha which featured tracks created by "filtering, pitching and layering either the original loops, or new loops which were re-assembled out of parts of the originals."
A compilation album, Jukebox Buddha, featured the nine loops remixed by various artists including Sun City Girls, Sunn 0))), Fehlmann, Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld, and Mapstation. With regards to using the Buddha Machine for creating music, FM3 stated on their official website “FM3 won’t mind. In fact, they encourage people to use the Buddha Machine as inspiration.”
Such interaction was possible with the Buddha Machine because the machine came equipped with an audio output socket and a DC power input socket. Sadly Throbbing Gristle have opted to ensure that no easy interaction is possible with their device. Like the Buddha Machine II, there is a pitch control wheel but sadly the Gristleism does not feature an audio output socket or a DC power input socket. Perhaps it’s Throbbing Gristle’s control-freakery kicking in, or perhaps it’s copyright because the 13 loops on the Gristleism are from works that Throbbing Gristle have released previously;
01 - Persuasion
There is a circuit modification pdf available (http://www.gristleism.com/files/circuitmods/Gristleism-Output-Mod1.2.pdf) but such action could ensure the destruction of the device itself and is only for those with some experience of modifying electronic devices.
“To Clarify...The only controls on the Gristleism unit are the ones listed, namely:a Volume Control, a Pitch Control and a Loop-Selector switch. Gristleism does not feature an audio output socket or a DC power input socket. The reasons for this specific combination of controls are primarily to do with demand, aesthetics and fabrication costs.
However, now Gristleism is available this page includes instructions on howto modify a Gristleism unit to include an audio output jack and (in the future)possibly how to add an external DC input socket.
In 2010 this section will also allow Gristleism users to share their own mods and circuit-bending ideas with the wider Gristleism community.”
It’s a shame that spec and legality (there’s no information on the copyright issues) may step in and not allow the Gristleism to develop as an interactive device such as the Buddha Machine became – there was a real chance for experimentalists all over the world to truly interact with Throbbing Gristle that’s been curtailed by design and, quite probably - control.
Clearly Throbbing Gristle are looking at the long-term use of the Gristleism and perhaps there will be Gristleism II, and if so, I hope the audio output socket and DC power input socket will be included along with copyright free loops.
But this gripe aside, this should not detract from the fact that the Gristleism is a great little device and as with most of Throbbing Gristle’s output it’s beautifully designed and packaged and a lot of fun. I’ve seen them in shops for around £24 but I found mine in a little independent record shop for just £15.