Christiaan Virant: Fistful of Buddha

Christiaan Virant is most well-known for having created the innovative Buddha Machine, the adorable device whose calming loops emanate from a miniature plastic case. Taking full advantage of that association, Fistful of Buddha shows the classically-trained composer to be an equally credible composer of ambient-drone soundscaping in an easy-to-digest nine-track outing. No instrumentation is listed, Virant apparently content with an “all tracks by” credit, but we can report that a rich range of sounds is presented, synthetic and (seemingly) otherwise, and that, while the evocative material at times is animated by ambient-techno beat patterns (the title track, for instance), its moodscapes are very much in the same meditative style as the Buddha Machine's reveries.

The vibrato-laden cries of bowed string instruments give “River Pearl” a distinctively humanizing character that makes it stand out as one of the album's most memorable pieces, especially when said sounds are underlaid by a synth-heavy base. The funereal “Grey Zone” drags itself through a thick field of vinyl crackle and dust, and though Virant's world is largely self-contained, “Do Better” does thread a synthesizer sequence straight out of Plastikman into its otherwise brooding, reverb-drenched array of strings and percussion. All of the pieces hover in the four-minute zone, a move that enhances the album's accessibility and unpretentious character.

Virant's Beijing connection (he was apparently active in its underground and punk scenes in the ‘90s) can be heard in the contemplative quality of the tracks and the sometimes Eastern-styled instrumental design (most explicitly in the lovely closing meditation “Yuan Yi”), though it would be wrong to push the point too far, given that the music generally transcends geographical boundaries; that is, it would be just as easy to imagine a representative track such as “Cricket” as having been produced by some UK-based ambient artist as one in China. Fistful of Buddha hardly rewrites the ambient-drone rulebook, but one guesses that Virant's more modest ambition was to create a credible collection of scenic and sonically rich ambient pieces, and in that regard he's certainly succeeded.

January 2013