The Dreamachine, a stroboscopic device created by Brion Gysin, was immortalised in Nik Sheedan’s film FLicKeR, which has recently been shown at the MoMA and The New Museum in New York.
The Dreamachine, a device that encourages aesthetic hallucinations /
“The vision stopped abruptly as we left the trees. Was that a vision? What happened to me?”
Brion Gysin on his experience with the Dreamachine
The Dreamachine is a stroboscopic device created by Brion Gysin while he attempted to recreate the spontaneous hallucination he had during a bus ride to Marseille. Gysin declared he’d closed his eyes while the bus was going through a long street surrounded by trees at sunset when he saw innumerable brilliant colours exploding behind his eyelids, as if he was seeing a kaleidoscope. An event that on a smaller or greater degree has been experienced by all of us as we rub our eyes in the sun or, like Gysin, when we close our eyes as we travel down a street where the light is cut by the trees.
The device is a cylinder with cut-outs on its sides. If the cylinder is placed on a platform that turns at 78 or 45 rpm (for example a turntable)with a light bulb in the centre, this produces a light frequency that corresponds to alpha waves, which are usually present when the human brain is relaxed or meditating.
The Dreamachine is the first object to have ever been designed with the purpose of being seen with closed eyes. It explores the different possibilities of perception—as Gysin puts it— “for our thoughts to function beyond any control”. The blinking light stimulates the optical nerve and the nervous oscillations of the brain, producing visions of fast, bright movements and geometrical patterns. A prolonged session before the machine can take the experience that one step further, altering our perception of time and space, leading to a dream-like state. In an interview with John Savage, Gysin pointed out:
I have seen in it practically everything that I have ever seen—that is, all imagery. All the images of established religions, for example, appear— crosses appear, to begin with; eyes of Isis float by, and many of the other symbols like that appear as if they were the Jungian symbols that he considered were common to all mankind.
During the Fifties and Sixties, Gysin met Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs in Paris, and spent some time living with them in what was known as the “Beat Hotel”. Burroughs once mentioned that Gysin was the only man he had ever respected, and used the machine’s intermittent technique in his writing.
The Dreamachine was immortalised in Nik Sheedan’s film FLicKeR, which has recently been shown at the MoMA and The New Museum in New York. On Gysin’s official website you can find the instructions to build your own machine or you can buy one online.Tagged: Dreamachine, Brion Gysin, inspiration Credits: Image (Charles Gatewood, London, 1972)