Thursday, February 11, 2016

Brion Gysin | Dream Machine

Brion Gysin
Dream Machine, 2012
18cm x 18cm x 66cm
Edition of 500

The "first artwork designed to be seen with your eyes closed" was conceived on a bus ride
by Brion Gysin in 1958.

"[I] had a transcendental storm of colour visions today in the bus going to Marseilles," wrote the artist/author, in a diary entry from December 21st, 1958. "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?"

Gysin was born in England to Canadian parents and grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. He is best known for his "discovery" of the cut-up method of writing popularized by his close friend William S. Burroughs, who employed the technique in books such as Naked Lunch and Interzone. The Beat author once remarked "Brion Gysin was the only man I ever respected."

When Gysin wrote him about his unusual experience, Burroughs replied "We must storm the citadels of enlightenment, the means are at hand". He also sent Gysin a copy of the The Living Brain by Dr. W. Grey Walter, a neurophysiologist, which described the effect of flickering light on the brain. A shared friend, Ian Sommerville, had also read the book and wrote to Gysin in 1959 announcing that he had produced a protoype of the machine based on Gysin's descriptions:

"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, Gysin built the Dreamachine in early 1960 in the Beat Hotel in Paris, and obtained a patent the following year.

The Dreamachine consists of a lightbulb inside a cylinder on a 78 RPM turntable. Subjects face the cylinder with their eyes closed and light flickers on the eyelids at a frequency of about 20 Hz, stimulating the optic nerve and altering the brain's electrical oscillations. Users are said to experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of colour behind their closed eyelids.

Aldous Huxley remarked: “The Dreamachine is an aid to visionary experience.” According to, who has produced this new version in an edition of 500 copies, other proponents of the device include David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Laurie Anderson, Steve Lacy, Keith Haring, Allen Ginsberg, Iggy Pop, Bruce Labruce, Marianne Faithfull, Kenneth Anger, Beck and Floria Sigismondi. The site features testimonials by John Giorno, Dj Spooky, Genesis P-Orridge and many others.

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