Dreamachine // Dream Machine

The dreamachine (or dream machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs's "systems adviser" Ian Sommerville created the dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter's book, The Living Brain.[1][2]


In its original form, a dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record 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.[2]

The Dreamachine is the subject of the National Film Board of Canada 2008 feature documentary film FLicKeR by Nik Sheehan.[3]


A dreamachine is "viewed" with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optical nerve and alters the brain's electrical oscillations. Users experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of color behind their closed eyelids. The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the user feels surrounded by colors. It is claimed that using a dreamachine allows one to enter a hypnagogic state.[4] This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one's eyes.[1]

A dreamachine may be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. It is thought that one out of 10,000 adults will experience a seizure while viewing the device; about twice as many children will have a similar ill effect.[5]


Cecil, Paul (March 2000). "Everything is Permuted". Flickers of the Dreamachine.
Century, Dan (December 2000). "Brion Gysin and his Wonderful Dreamachine". Legends Magazine.
Kerekes, David (2003). Headpress 25: William Burroughs & the Flicker Machine. Headpress. p. 13. ISBN 1-900486-26-1.
Allen, Mark (2005-01-20). "Décor by Timothy Leary". The New York Times.


Cecil, Paul. (2000). Flickers Of The Dreamachine. ISBN 1-899598-03-0

Further reading

McKenzie, Andrew M. (1989). "The Hafler Trio & Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth - Present Brion Gysin's Dreamachine". Belgium: KK records.

Cecil, Paul (1996). Flickers of the Dreamachine. ISBN 1-899598-03-0.
Geiger, John (2003). The Chapel of Extreme Experience: A Short History of Stroboscopic Light and the Dream Machine. ISBN 1-932360-01-8.

Vale, V (1982). Re-Search: William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Throbbing Gristle. ISBN 0-940642-05-0.
Gysin, Brion (1992). Dreamachine Plans. ISBN 1-871744-50-4.    

External links

Dreamachine exhibition at Cabaret Voltaire (birthplace of Dada), Zürich.

Dreamachine exhibition at Freud's Dreams Museum, St. Petersburg (Russia) .
Subtleart Dr.Benways Simulacrum, Dreamachine Replica, Audiovisual installation, Collaborative project: Subtleart, New World Revolution and Kito, 2009.
(French) Interzone: Dreamachine - Machine à rêver.

FLicKeR Film Review .

JavaScript Dreamachine.
A mobile friendly Dreamachine App.
Brion Gysin's website
Brion Gysin & William Burroughs


Excerpt from BRION GYSIN'S DREAMACHINE video processed by The Hafler Trio & Radio Rabotnik TV. [1990]

Online Dream Machine with adjustable flicker rate and color

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.

Plans & Materials

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.

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.

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.

Sweet Dreams: Building a DIY Dream Machine

Tristan Gulliford

Dreaming is scientifically thought to occur when Alpha brain waves are dominant and the brain enters a deep state of relaxation or meditative rest. In the early 1960's the Parisian artist Brion Gysin, with the help of his friend the mathematician Ian Sommerville, invented a type of stroboscopic machine, popularly known as the Dreamachine. Designed to be viewed with the eyes closed, it sends pulses of light into the brain that match the rhythm of alpha wave cycles, at a rate between 8-13 hertz, which is about 78 RPM on a turntable.

The device was created partly based on British neuroscientist W. Gray Walter's earlier investigations into what he termed the flicker phenomenon. In his experiments Walter found that pulses of light could induce trance states and alter brain wave activity. Although Joseph Plateau of Belgium is credited with the invention of the stroboscope in 1832, ancient scientists may also have investigated this strobing phenomenon, such as the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. Modern, mass-produced versions of the device are personalized and high-tech, designed to be used in the home, featuring goggles, LED displays, digital sound, and programmable controls to customize the experience. The electroencephalogram, a medical instrument that reads alpha waves by emitting beams of light, is similar to the Dreamachine. These devices may also be used in other contexts, such as when the psychedelic rock band The Mars Volta has been known to use their own version of the Dreamachine during their live shows, which is placed behind the drummer.

The reported effects of Gysin's brain machines are somewhat astounding, including visual sensations that are something like complex multi-layered geometries of patterns, vivid and otherworldly colors, and dream-like holographic imagery all moving in a rhythmic pulse. Fans of psychotropic drugs may notice how similar these descriptions are to what people experience during a trip. Fans of lucid dreaming may notice how similar these effects are to some of the unusual physical and mental states that accompany lucid dreaming. After using a dream machine, participants often feel relaxed and energized as if they had just come out of a meditation. Machines of this type have sometimes been used for therapy, and are often used in conjunction with ambient music or biurnal beats, meditative breathing exercises, and other methods of self-hypnosis. Use of a dream machine is safe for most people, except people with epilepsy who may be sensitive to flashes of light.

The Beat writer William S. Burroughs, who was a friend of Gysin and frequently experimented with the Dreamachine, wrote: ?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."

A low-tech version of the dream machine can be made with a turntable, some opaque cardboard which is fashioned into a rotating cylinder, some glue, and scissors, and a light bulb. Details for building this version are here.

Make magazine recently posted a video podcast where Mitch Altman and Bre Pettis show you how to make a brain machine based on Altman's idea using microcontrollers and open source software.

Or, for those not into the DIY thing, you can buy one of the machines currently on the market at the following websites.

[ PDF ]

Please note: This can cause Photosensitive epilepsy in some people, depending on the frequency chosen.

More info about Dreamachines

You can try a dreamachine right here in your browser:

For a proper effect sit rather close to the monitor, and remember to close your eyes.

Monitors are not as bright as light bulbs, so turning off the room lights, and making the monitor the only light can help too.

How to Build a Dream Machine

Lamp with rotating shade

Publication date    Jan 29, 2013
Inventor : John-Mark Leonard

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