Climbing Mount Buddha: Lona Records’ Electronic Decade

Lona

Hong Kong-based label celebrates 10 years of existence with a free double album based on the Buddha Machine’s quirky drone loops.

It’s fair to say that in the 10 years since Alok Leung launched his Lona Records label in Hong Kong, the music industry has had a few ups and downs. While technology has made it much easier for artists to release their music into the wild, and for fans to find, share and listen to music, the problem is that it’s a whole lot harder for anyone–save a few global megastars–to make any money.

So we need to celebrate the survivors. And Leung is definitely one of those. He’s been putting out experimental electronic sounds since 2003, and back in September he celebrated this decade of activity with a sprawling, inspired 28-track album, Tribute to FM3: Buddha Machine 4, available free from the Lona Records’ Bandcamp site.

This is not your standard compilation. Rather than collecting up a bagful of previously issued tracks and throwing them onto the internet, Leung gave a “Buddha Machine” loop player to artists who had recorded for him, and asked them to create a track from the short drones played by the device.Buddha Machine whole

If you have ever tinkered with these cigarette-box sized pieces of hardware, you’ll know that the Buddha Machines are fascinating in themselves. (Check out fm3buddhamachine.com/v2/ for all your Buddha Machine-related needs.) But for Leung, there was added significance: FM3, the Beijing-based electronic music duo who created Buddha Machine, was responsible for 2006’s Hou Guan Yin, which helped bring the label to wider international attention.

The Buddha MachineSo, Leung sent the Day-Glo Buddha Machine version 4 to his artists, along with the source code. The result is very tightly curated collection of tracks, which nevertheless contains enough variety to sustain the listener’s interest across its two volumes.

Anyone with an interest in non-mainstream electronic music, or in the emerging underground music scenes of China and Hong Kong, should get this album. It’s effectively a survey of some of the most interesting players from that region from the last 10 years, along with tracks from under-the-radar artists based in Macao, South Korea, Europe and South America , zipped up into two, easily downloadable packages.

A few personal highlights: Leung’s own contribution, “Buddha Assembler Code” is fantastic, an unsettling drone overlaid with howling, stretched guitar feedback. Macao’s e:ch–latterly of post-rock outfit Forget the G–uses guitar too, for “Echoes in Pink,” artificially sustaining his power chords into a rushing wave of white noise.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong DJ Shelf Index’s “Buddha Looking for Machine (Nil-Fi-Disko-Mix)” is a maximalist burst of loops and beats reminiscent of Daniel Lopatin’s recent Oneohtrix Point Never work. In contrast, Beijing sound artist Yan Jun’s “Does Buddha Has A Heart” demands the listener’s attention with barely audible scrabbles and fidgets.

There’s a lot of amazing stuff on here, played by artists who deserve wider attention. South Korean-based German jazz player and polymath Alfred 23 Harth’s contribution is particularly out-there. His epic, 15-minute “Invocation Orhk” adds manipulated voice clips, free jazz meanderings and industrial noise to the Buddha Machine clips, creating a nightmarish and ritualistic sound world.

Also worth mentioning are Alan Courtis’ “Climbing Mount Buddha Machine4,” a chilly, queasy montage of slurred tapes and hisses; the surrealist, pranksterism of Timmy Lok’s “Derivative Wonton for Buddha”; and the deep-space immersion of Salapakka Sound System’s “Drifting (Edit).”

This is a majestic compilation, which will nourish your ears and open your mind. This review really only scrapes the surface of the electronic goodness that’s offered here.

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Get Tribute To FM3: Buddha Machine4 , Volume 1 here…

…and Volume 2 here

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lona-records.com

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