The enigmatic Dreamachine is the culmination of artist Brion Gysin’s investigations into the visionary potential of light. While travelling on a coach through Marseille in December 1958, Gysin experienced what he felt at the time was a transcendental vision, brought on by sunlight flickering through the trees which lined the streets, and onto his closed eyelids as he relaxed:
“An overwhelming flood of intensely bright patterns in supernatural colours exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time.”
Obsessed by his profound experience, and encouraged by his friend and collaborator William Burroughs, Gysin joined forces with mathematician Ian Sommerville, to investigate further.
On reading William Grey Walters book, The Living Brain (1953), which describes his experiments with alpha waves and stroboscopic light, it became clear Gysin had in fact experienced a neurological phenomenon, induced by heightened activity of the alpha rhythms of the brain. Inspired, Somerville set out to create a device that could stimulate the alpha waves, in order to explore more deeply, with Gysin, the mystical effects of flicker.
The Dreamachine, designed to be viewed with the eyes closed, is the result of Somerville’s toil. His simple design consists of a cylinder with slits cut into the side, which is rotated by a turntable at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute, with a 100-watt bulb suspended down the centre. As this kinetic sculpture begins to spin, light escapes through the holes, producing a flicker effect at the alpha wave frequency.
At these rates the flashing light synchronises with alpha brain waves, stimulating the optic nerve, altering the viewers state of consciousness to produce relaxing visions of patterns, symbols and colours. This initial imagery can intensify until the viewer feels surrounded by vivid visual hallucinations, akin to lucid dreaming. To end the experience, you simply open your eyes.
WARNING: The Dreamachine may be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders.