Dreamachine

Brion Gysin

The Dreamachine is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’s ‘systems adviser’ Ian Sommerville created the device after reading neurophysiologist and robotician William Grey Walter’s 1963 book, ‘The Living Brain.’ In its original form, a Dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a turntable and rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. A light bulb is suspended in the center of the cylinder and the rotation speed allows the light to come out from the holes at a constant frequency of between 8 and 13 pulses per second.

This frequency range corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing. A Dreamachine is ‘viewed’ with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optic nerve and thus alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. Users experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of color, which become shapes and symbols, swirling around. It is claimed that by using a Dreamachine one may enter a hypnagogic state (the dreamlike transfer from wakefulness to sleep). This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes.

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