Forget about iPod and grab an iGod

A SIMPLE plastic box which promises instant karma and plays nine sequences of electronic notes on an endless loop has become the must-have accessory.

Called the Buddha Machine, the box was invented by a Beijing-based duo of musicians, Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian, who modelled it on a popular Chinese device which intones Buddhist prayers.

Thumbing its nose at the iPod generation and containing a tiny figurine of Buddha and a microchip, more than 10,000 have been sold in the US, after the New York Times described it as "beautifully useless".

In the UK, eager buyers have snapped up 2,000 of the machines in a range of colours, with the only Scottish stockist selling out in days.

Customers include Brian Eno, the music industry legend, who is reported to have bought eight machines, and Duglas Stewart, the lead singer of Glasgow cult band BMX Bandits.

Stephen McRobbie, co-owner of the Monorail music store in central Glasgow, said: "There is a real buzz about them since they started to appear on websites. We sourced 25 and they went like hot cakes.

"Musically they are very interesting, and I know people who have been put in a trance by them. The Buddha Machine is certainly not a piece of trash - it's real quality.

"We have people collecting different colours because they really like them."

Virant and Zhang Jian are part of an experimental China-based pop group called FM3, which has cult status in America and the Far East. They are renowned for subduing large, live crowds into absolute silence.

To counter the current craze for downloading music from the internet, they decided to invent a static box containing the Buddha and the microchip, on which nine sequences of electronically produced notes are recorded.

A sequence repeats constantly in the listener's ear until the user switches to the next in line. Although most have definable patterns, with up to 42 notes, some are only two notes long. Respectability arrived last November when the 15 Buddha Machine was reviewed in the influential New York Times.

"Who says a boxed set has to include CDs?" the reviewer asked. "The 'Buddha Machine' is, literally, a small plastic box with a built-in speaker, a headphone jack and a little switch you use to toggle between nine different and quite lovely ambient electronic compositions. It is a weird, mesmerising, beautifully useless thing."

US distributor Firstexposure.com's spokesman Eric Benoit said: "The Buddha Machine became a big deal at Mutek music festival last year when lots of serious musicians started to buy them. When bloggers started talking about them they got even hotter."

Benoit said it took him some time to be convinced of their merits. "It's hard to say what their appeal is, because when you first see the machine you don't think it's that impressive. The loops don't come out with hi-fi sound but they are incredibly soothing."

Manchester-based Baked Goods have now started importing them into the UK. Owner Simon Tomkinson said he was selling them even before they arrived. "I was sent an early version by a friend last year. I thought they were cool, but I never thought we would end up selling thousands," he said. "Every time I get them in, I sell out the same afternoon. We took 280 orders in one day.

"The phenomenal thing is that people are buying half a dozen each because they come in different colours. I think people like them because they are lo-fi and a humorous take on the iPod."

Mike Schiller, who reviewed the machine for the online culture magazine Popmatters, says it is the "cheapest pre-loaded iPod you'll ever be able to buy. It even comes in a number of different colours, for the fashion-conscious experimental music aficionado. Mine's a very stylish magenta.

"Sure, the Buddha Machine is more than a little bit novelty. That's part of its charm. You can have a little pink or red or black box that plays music. You can display it openly. People will ask about it. It's an icebreaker.

"But what's truly special about it is what FM3 has done with a tiny bit of recording space on a little speaker. It's mesmerising. It's portable relaxation."

BMX Bandits' Duglas Stewart took his on tour. "Everyone else had their iPods and I had my Buddha Machine," he said. "Because iPods are everywhere, you could see them thinking: I want one of those.

"I have now bought one for a friend in Japan and have two more on order."

Stewart said the machines were originally marketed as a meditation tool, "but I just see it as a beautiful object that plays music".

"It reminds you of the transistor radios that you used to hide under the sheets and listen to Radio Luxembourg on when you were a kid."