Dreamachine Plans of Brion Gysin
"Had a transcendental storm of colour visions today in the bus going to Marseilles. We ran through a long avenue of trees and I closed my eyes against the setting sun. An overwhelming flood of intensely bright colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time. I was out in a world of infinite number. The vision stopped abruptly as we left the trees. Was that a vision? What happened to me?"
Extract from the diary of Brion Gysin December 21, 1958
Brion Gysin found the explanation for this unusual experience a few years later when William S. Burroughs lent him a copy of The Living Brain by Dr. W. Grey Walter. Dr. Walter was a neurophysiologist and an early researcher into the nature of brain waves and corresponding brain function. Ian Sommerville, a friend of Gysin and Burroughs, had also read the book. Sommerville decided to build a machine to reproduce the flickering effect that Gysin had described. On February 15, 1959 Sommerville wrote to Gysin from Cambridge,
"I have made a simple flicker machine. You look at it with your eyes shut and the flicker plays over your eyelids. Visions start with a kaleidoscope of colors on a plane in front of the eyes and gradually become more complex and beautiful, breaking like surf on a shore until whole patterns of color are pounding to get in. After awhile the visions were permanently behind my eyelids and I was in the middle of the whole scene with limitless patterns being generated around me. There was an almost unbearable feeling of spatial movement for a while but It was well worth getting through for I found that when it stopped I was high above the earth in a universal blaze of glory. Afterwards I found that my perception of the world around me had increased very notably. All conceptions of being dragged or tired had dropped away..."
From Sommerville's description of the flicker machine Brion Gysin built the Dreamachine in the early 1960's in the Beat Hotel on the rue Gît-le-Cœur, Paris. Gysin obtained a patent in 1961. The results of the experiments were published in the arts periodical of Olympia, Number 2, January 1962.
The Dreamachine consists of a cylinder with holes in it attached to a record-player turntable. In the middle of the cylinder sits a light bulb. The turntable is set to spin at 78 RPM. Subjects sit in front of the cylinder and close their eyes. The light shines through the holes in the spinning cylinder and flickers on the eyelids. The light flickers at a frequency of about 20 Hz which is similar to the frequency of Alpha brain waves which are associated with a non-aroused brain.
- 34"x32" piece of heavy paper or cardboard for the Dreamachine light-shade. You should use a material that is stiff, but flexible enough to be rolled into a tube with the ends glued together.
- 16"x12" piece of heavy paper or cardboard for making templates. This will be cut into five 8"x4" cards for making templates.
- 78 RPM record-player turntable.
- A bare hanging light bulb. Wattage will vary depending on how bright a light you prefer. Try 15 to 50 watts.
- Photocopy the five templates (A, B, C, D, and E) and then paste the copies onto 8"x4" cards cut from the heavy template card stock. Then cut out and discard the designs to form the template cards.
- Divide the light-shade paper into a 2-inch grid as shown on the overall plan.
- Trace the template designs onto the light-shade paper following the grid sequence from the overall plan.
- Cut out and discard the designs from the light-shade paper. These form the slots that the light will shine through.
- Cut and trim the two long ends of the light-shade paper to form the glue tabs as seen in the overall plan. Note that the pattern length should be just under 34 inches. When the pattern is rolled into a tube its circumference should be 32 inches since the tabs overlap.
- Roll the light-shade paper into a tube and overlap the glue tabs. The tabs should be positioned on the inside of the tube, rather than the outside. Glue the tabs to the inside surface of the tube.
- Place the Dreamachine light-shade on a 78 RPM turntable.
- Suspend the light bulb 1/3 to 1/2 down the inside of the light-shade. The light should be in the center of the tube and not touch the edges.
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Using the Dreamachine
Turn on the light bulb and set the light-shade tube in motion. Dim the normal room lights so that most of the ambient light comes from the Dreamachine. Sit comfortably with your face close to the center of the tube. Now close your eyes. You should be able to see the light from the Dreamachine flickering through your eyelids. Gradually you will begin to see visions of flickering colors, amorphous shapes, and fields and waves of color. After a time the colors begin to form patterns similar to mosaics and kaleidoscopes. Eventually you will see complex and symbolic shapes; perhaps people or animals.
Notes and Variations
This device will produce a flicker frequency of 20.8 Hz when rotated at 78 RPM. This device may be hazardous to people with epilepsy or other nervous disorders.
If you have trouble getting an old 78 RPM. turntable then you can make use of a 45 RPM. turntable by adding 12 extra columns of slots. This makes the pattern 24 inches longer and will result in a tube diameter of 17 inches. This is bigger than the platter of most turntables. You can either scale the entire pattern down by half or you can try placing an 18-inch disk on the turntable for the tube to rest on. The wider tube will produce a flicker frequency of 21 Hz when rotated at 45 RPM.
Dreamachine built by João Baião of Portugal
Dreamachine built by Peter Foti of MIT
I always see it spelled "dreamachine" (one 'm') not "dreammachine" (two 'm's) or "dream machine".