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
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.
The Dreamachine is the subject of the National Film Board of
Canada 2008 feature documentary film FLicKeR by Nik Sheehan.
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. This
experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it,
one needs only to open one's eyes.
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.
Cecil, Paul (March 2000). "Everything is Permuted". Flickers of
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
Cecil, Paul. (2000). Flickers Of The Dreamachine. ISBN
McKenzie, Andrew M. (1989). "The Hafler Trio & Thee Temple Ov
Psychick Youth - Present Brion Gysin's Dreamachine". Belgium: KK
Cecil, Paul (1996). Flickers of the Dreamachine. ISBN
Geiger, John (2003). The Chapel of Extreme Experience: A Short
History of Stroboscopic Light and the Dream Machine. ISBN
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.
Dreamachine exhibition at Cabaret Voltaire (birthplace of Dada),
Dreamachine exhibition at Freud's Dreams Museum, St. Petersburg
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 .
A mobile friendly Dreamachine App.
Brion Gysin's website
Brion Gysin & William Burroughs
BRION GYSIN'S DREAMACHINE
Excerpt from BRION GYSIN'S DREAMACHINE video processed by The
Hafler Trio & Radio Rabotnik TV. 
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
Divide the light-shade paper into a 2-inch grid as shown on the
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
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
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
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.
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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