ACCELER8OR

Sep 09 2012

Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine: Build Your Own Portal to Inner Visions

photo by Charles Gatewood

The Dream Machine is a device for altering the brainwave frequency of the user and putting it into an alpha state, at which point it begins generating waking, sober hallucinations and internal “movies,” on demand.

The machine is simple: it’s a rotating cylinder with slats in the sides and a light placed inside, that creates a flicker pattern as it spins. The user of the Dream Machine sits in front of it with eyes closed, and allows the precisely-calibrated flicker pattern to play over their face, creating a strobe effect in the darkness behind their eyelids. After a short period of adjustment, the user begins to experience eidetic imagery, in the same way that one does just as passing over the threshold between wakefulness and sleep. (Due to its cylindrical nature and ability to generate internal movies, one might call it the original YouTube.)

This remarkable and overlooked object was invented in the late 1950s by artistic Renaissance man Brion Gysin and the electronics technician Ian Sommerville. Gysin was expelled from the Surrealist Group by André Breton at the age of 19; with the Dream Machine, he surpassed their previous techniques for image generation. (An example of a prior method is Salvador Dalí’s Paranoiac-Critical exercise, in which the artist would fall asleep in an armchair while holding a rock in his hand and, upon his fingers relaxing and the rock crashing to the ground and waking him, would immediately record what he had just seen.) The Dream Machine allowed for a convenient and immediate way to get at eidetic imagery without having to go to sleep or take chemicals.

Gysin had been inspired by both childhood and adult experiences with the effects of flicker, by historical accounts of its use (Nostradamus was alleged to have received his visions by closing his eyes, facing towards the sun and flickering his fingers in front of his eyes) as well as by research into medical reports of its effects. At the infamous Beat Hotel in Paris where he lived with Sommerville and Burroughs (along with Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, the vicious crime writer Derek Raymond and others) he constructed the first prototype. (The same 78rpm record player version for which DIY instructions are freely available on the net)  It quickly became a source of fascination for the Beats.

Burroughs wrote about Dream Machines extensively in his novels, where he depicted them as a weapon for the freedom of consciousness in the eternal war against Control. The author spoke highly of his friends’ invention, saying: “Subjects report dazzling lights of unearthly brilliance and color… Elaborate geometric constructions of incredible intricacy build up from multidimensional mosaic into living fireballs like the mandalas of Eastern mysticism or resolve momentarily into apparently individual images and powerfully dramatic scenes like brightly colored dreams.”

The machine was officially unveiled in 1962, at the Louvre’s Museé des Arts Decoratifs, to a fascinated public and press—but Gysin, unsatisfied with a small art audience, dreamed of mass production. Along with the cut-up method of text composition he had honed with Burroughs, Gysin considered the Dream Machine his magical message to the world.

He turned first to business magnate Helena Rubinstein, who was taken with the device and exhibited it in her shop windows, but then refused to pay for it. Next Gysin tried the Philips Corporation—a representative of the company, while visiting Gysin at the Beat Hotel, slipped on dogshit in the hall; the deal was cancelled. Later, Colombia Records wanted to market the Dream Machine as a lamp. Meeting with Colombia executives in 1965, Gysin (ever the magician) told them that vinyl records would soon be obsolete, replaced with optical discs that were read with a ray of light. He was not well received.

Gysin died in 1986, the cause of the Dream Machine having been taken up by his protégé Genesis P-Orridge and the loose occult and media subversion network the Temple ov Psychick Youth. TOPY both propagandized the Dream Machine and distributed information on how to make your own, using Gysin’s original plans.  Creating your own is not hard: All one needs is a large sheet of cardboard, an X-Acto blade to cut the slats out, a light bulb on a cord and a spare turntable. There are also web pages and programs that generate the same flicker effect . You can even get a free Dream Machine iPhone app.  (Your mileage may vary.)

Since the 90s, the Dream Machine has become a kind of elitist status symbol, often found in the possession of West Coast media types and young celebrities. Kurt Cobain bought one shortly before his death. David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Paul McCartney all used it. Other aficionados include Marilyn Manson, Floria Sigismondi, Bruce Labruce, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beck and DJ Spooky. You get your own fully crafted machine for $500 + $50 shipping . Of course, you can also build your own or download the app; with so many ways to experience it, perhaps now the Dream Machine will finally get the mass attention Gysin always believed it deserved as a simple, drug-free path to altered states of consciousness.

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Thee Psychick Bible, Ultraculture Journal and Generation Hex. He currently helms the group futurist blog Ultraculture. @jasonlouv

 

More resources:

John Geiger: Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin

Flicker: A Film by Nik Sheehan (A documentary about the Dream Machine.)

Feb 26 2012

Rub Out The Words: The Letters Of William S. Burroughs (1959 – 1974)

Edited and Introduced by Bill Morgan

Dear Brion,

Enclosed please find money I don’t necessarily need to be bequeathing other nabors but anyway human philanthropy is illusion or so says the Artificial Organism Society.  Erections stimulated when electroencephalography waves aimed directly at the hypothalamus are apparently lesser productions than those in your pants fun and games what.

Speaking of, some young thing I paid for sex recently asked if I were schizophrenic to which I countered who Nellie the Disconnecter or Lady Sutton Smith?  Was My Creative Energy Really Abducted For Years By Methods Of Cutting Up? In Which Event Let’s Make Paper Money Collages Where Queens And Presidents Are Replaced By Hassan-i Sabbah Slaying All The Bad Book Editors (Maurice Girodias?) With E-Meters Shooting Sperm And The Slogan “The Human Body Is But A Gimmick Out Of Date”

Still I wish myself above taking censorship personally, particularly in regard to Scientologists:: in seeking that second religiousness as the colonial liver Keroauc called it:: my mother that hideous rank of matriach Inc. could certainly benefit from a good audit of the rusty dusty:: Whole areas of neurosis mapped and eradicated in mass therapy, hallucinations removed by direct brain intervention … the addicts vs. the viruses and the time machines …  then to all out war between officers of poetry and the perfect curse ie women:: infra sound social structures molded by guerilla tactics:: revolutionaries the most pigheaded people on earth.

Suppose one could call me a transhumanist.  Sex boxes that cure cancer Wilhelm Reich?  Augmented realities by docu-photographing every which way beneath programmed soundtracks streaming on an ecological consciousness, cityscapes looped for all the family beside the simultaneous absorption of reading arguments and counter arguments like a newspaper that keeps you locked in time and word?  Art as nonstatistical quality material and a way out to Space?  Regrets not to have shared a multilingual intersection with Arthur C. Clarke?  WRITE.  SHOCK.  EMBARRASS.  BUSY STAYS THE PSYCHOLOGICAL WOES.  EFFICIENCY.  DUPING?  BUT NO WRITER CAN BE MEMBER TO AN ORGANIZATION… 1965 STILL A DEPENDENT BUT LOOK MA.  SORRY MA.  HOW’S THE GRANDSON.  WRITE.  SHOCK.  OPEN FIRE.  BAD NEWS.  DEFENESTRATION, TRICHINOSIS, CRIPPLED DOW JONES, METAL SICKNESS.  And oh the wretched idiot inhabitants of our benighted planet and criminal politics and at least I try to encourage my progeny though equally blighted by literary calling.  Word for stupid ugly word.

Dream machine’s been fed new pet monkeys called APOMORPHINE .  Did I mention it’s previous employment for the treatment of erectile dysfunction and homosexuality?  Hummmmmmmmmm Well scripts tend to write themselves.  Ask Terry Southern.  Despite disappointing Turkish bath dreams in alien landscapes I find I like storyboarding gay porn, only mushrooms don’t compare to mescaline and mon dieu Tim Leary’s fat family and I want to write a children’s book.  See if you can tell how I employ iteration in letters to alternate recipients.  So much quicker to read colors than words.

Oh, and after 25 uh years of playing the uh spurned nomad outerspace citizen, I seem to have found myself uh famous in America. Even the interior manufacturing, distributing, and collecting on a book prior to advent of skype and other e-dig about as fun as lips on a female soft machine. I think I’d have liked to Tweet, on the first few trips anyway.  Underground methods better press.  Then look at Libya.  But when tape recorders occupy slithers of humanic brain (per Gerald Heard) can I still lay Jeff Hawkes in 2D?  Are 2D lunches at all fabulous postulates Izzy?

Remember both homo and heterorealities are illusion.  All alpha waves and reactive minds and contradictory commands.  Although I find I prefer straight narrative now, as straight as a tea and critic hazzled fag can expunge.  Find out who your friends are (Allen Ginsberg) and who they aren’t (Mickey/Michael/Darling Portman at least in a few incarnations) though he never claimed my parasitic hypothalamus as you do Mr. Gysin. Brion Burroughs.  Baby Daddy.

Etranger qui JAMAIS passait,

William S. Burroughs (s.m.)


Dec 18 2011

Conjurations in the Element of Flesh: Balancing the Transhuman and the Transpersonal

What are the critical disciplines by which 21st century humanity will initiate itself? How will those who wish to move from reality’s spectator seats to the middle of the ring do so?

How has humanity done so in the past?

The ancients represented the hall of initiation into the Mysteries as being flanked by two columns — one black, the other white. The tradition survives in Freemasonry, ceremonial magick and the High Priestess card of the Tarot, where Isis as initiatrix into the Mysteries sits between the pillars, reconciling them.

For the ancients, the black pillar represented, among other things, the path of ego calcination; the white, the path of ego dissolution. These more abstract principles. or “ways to do life,” if you will, have ended up in the common parlance as “white and black magic” and have become divorced from their original meaning and taken on new and largely inappropriate baggage.

Restored to their original symbolic association, however, the Pillars of the Temple of Solomon can offer critical suggestions about the modes of transcendence that 21st century humanity is beginning to explore.

For the young psychonaut, I draw clear the lines:

The Left-Hand Path: The Transhuman

Transhumanism is the augmentation, and therefore reinforcement, of the self. It is the current edge of the “project of Western civilization” that is concerned, and always has been concerned, with the extension of the individual will into physical, manifest reality. It is the directed use of technology to amplify the human experience — and technology can easily mean nonphysical means or techniques as well.

Here I place the increasing inseparability of humans and advanced communication technology; actual augmentation of the body with wetware, body modification, nanotech, etc., but also body change techniques like hatha yoga, martial arts, plastic surgery; the work of Wilhelm Reich; energy medicine, EFT/EMDR; the contributions of the Human Potential Movement and the increasingly clever and byzantine supplement industry. We can add modern and ancient brain-change techniques like NeuroLinguistic Programming, the Leary/Wilson Eight Circuit Model, Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, radionics, tantra, chaos magick and the rest of the never-ending occult and New Age corpus. All of these and more can be used to change, warp, clean out, amp up, empower, manicure and otherwise “make cooler” the thing you call “I.”

Access to these technologies is increasingly wide-spread and I believe their use and refinement will likely produce some admirable customizations of the human experience as well as increasingly grotesque ego distortions as once-normal human beings mutate themselves into what might only be described as “creatures” comprised of a multiplicity of shattered and exaggerated ego shards rather than anything resembling a healthy, grounded, integrated identity.

The Right-Hand Path: The Transpersonal

If transhumanity can be seen as a continuing quest for dominance over the physical body and physical world, the transpersonal offers a much more direct (if perhaps even more dangerous) path — that of breaking down the barriers which separate the small-s self from the wider world itself. This is what might more vaguely be called the “spiritual path” — the path of the dissolution of the ego by uniting it with something larger than itself.

Under the heading of transpersonal we must place the many branches of mysticism: Gnosticism, Sufism, Qabalah, Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, the higher Yogas, true Tantra, shamanism, depth psychology and the activities that stem from the accelerated empathy that these practices can produce: namely activism, human rights work, ecology work, directed work on the problems of the human race and other such forms of “doing the world’s dishes.”

Leaving questions of actual higher spiritual perception or “cosmic consciousness” aside for the moment, and grounding the spiritual directly into the material world, I believe we can find the highest expression of the transpersonal path in the growing field of ecopsychology: a psychological model which proposes, broadly, that individual problems are in fact manifestations of the problems of the world itself, and that it becomes impossible to talk about healing a patient without healing the world they live in. Self and world are ultimately indistinguishable. There was never a separation to begin with.

Between the Gates

It’s easy to see how these two paths may overlap and blur at their higher reaches. Push the self to the limits of its expansion, for instance, and you may well break it in the process, allowing the “greater reality” to flood in. Similarly, the depth insights that arise from transpersonal work can and should become more greatly actualized in the physical world through the strengthening and empowerment of the “individual” who experiences them — there comes a time when you may have to lift your scarecrow-like, malnourished body from the meditation mat, do some pushups, put on a suit and start communicating what you’ve learned within the marketplace.

You can also see how these two paths can be intensely antagonistic.

Have no illusions about it: transhumanism arises from the same dominator impulse that gave us empires, Satanic mills, nuclear and biological warfare, technological slavery, the rape and degradation of the physical world, and so on. To the expanded awareness of the transpersonal, the products of Western culture and the calcified, soulless ego-worship of the transhumanists can feel as comfortable as splinters under fingernails.

Alternately, it’s questionable how much effect the insights of mystics actually produce — whether their “higher visions” are actually accurate new views into the human equation or just so much hallucinatory navel gazing. The most lasting contributions of the walkers of the transpersonal way are inner insights that, once expressed, can produce massive shifts in how cultures think — but these insights get turned into bureaucratic dominator religions overnight as soon as the original mystic is (all too often) conveniently disposed of… Godfather-style.

What Are We Left With?

Two paths. The black: Change the self as something separate from the world. The white: Delete the self and erase all separation from the world. Both provide a “beyond human” experience.

Followed exclusively, the transpersonal results in ineffectuality; take the transhuman alone, and end up a soulless machine in a world of soulless machines.

Or step between the pillars, and find something new — with no promises — for those who pass through these pillars step through and onto a yet-unlit road where only few have passed before, and where none has yet seen the destination.

Step mindfully.

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible. www.jasonlouv.com