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

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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.



Be sure to close your eyes, and try to make the monitor the only light source in the room.
For those interested in experiencing lucid dreaming, here are a few simple training methods, including:

Step 1) Develop dream recall -

Have you ever thought that you didn’t dream on given nights, or perhaps not at all? If I were to track your REM sleep, as I have mine on even “dreamless” nights, you quickly realize that this isn’t the case. Undeveloped recall is to blame.

Put a pad of paper next to your bed and record your dream immediately upon waking. Immediately means immediately. If you get dressed first, or even stare at the ceiling for a minute, dream recollection will be nil. Expect that you might not get more than a few lines for the first week or so, but also expect to get to multi-page recall ability within 2-3 weeks. This alone will make you look forward to going to bed.

Step 2) Identify dream cues and/or do reality checks -

Some people, like Mark, can use their dream log to identify common dream elements that recur from night to night. Water seems to be particularly common. These elements are then used for “reality checks”: asking yourself if you’re dreaming when you see these cues during waking hours, and then testing.

Testing entails doing something like trying to fly (not recommended) or looking at your environment for clear indications of dream state. The latter is my preference, and I typically skip the dream log and default to a few simple tests at set action (every time I check the time or walk through a door, for example).

Since working memory can only hold around 7 +/- 2 bits of information, and you are constantly creating your dreamscape in real-time, there are a few things that change if you look away and then look back at them:

a. Text (e.g., written signs)
b. Digital clocks/watches. Fascinatingly, analog clocks appear to keep accurate dream time, which, in my case, also corresponds to real time passing.
c. Complex patterns

For the last category, I like to look at wall brickwork or floor patterns, look away, and look back to see if their orientation (e.g. horizontal vs. vertical) or tile/block size has changed, asking “am I dreaming?” If there are changes, guess what? You are either on some strong hallucinogens or you are dreaming. If you’re dreaming and answer in the affirmative, it is at this point that you will become lucid.

Step 3) Induce lucidity –


There are a number of techniques that help induce lucidity. One such technique tested by LaBerge, referred to as Mnemonic-Induction of Lucid Dreaming (MILD), involved — in my case — waking up in the middle of the night, setting the intention to lucid dream for 10-15 minutes, then going back to bed. I have found this to work best when I wake 5 hours or so after going to sleep (not just to bed). Here is a longer description from LaBerge’s FAQ.

I have also found duration of sleep to be an important variable. It will often be easiest for novices to achieve lucidity if they sleep to excess — more than 9 hours (think Saturday or Sunday mornings) — and then use the snooze button to wake every 10-15 minutes for another hour. This juxtaposition of waking and sleep blurs the lines and seems to make the lucid state easier to achieve.

Ancillary Drugs

Three drugs, in my experience, also seems to assist with induction: huperzine-A (200-400 mcg), melatonin (3 mg), and nicotine (standard patch). I don’t suggest combining them.

Huperzine-A is an acetyl-cholinesterase inhibitor, tested in Chinese clinical trials for treating Alzheimer’s, and will increase the half-life of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at the synapse. This is my preferred tool if I’m using chemical assistance. Melatonin is involved with setting circadian rhythm and its release is controlled by the pineal gland and suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). Dreams on melatonin tend to be more colorful and more chaotic, as is also the case with nicotine. Nicotine is my last choice, as it is addictive and can cause total insomnia if you don’t time it properly. If you happen to be quitting smoking and will be using the patch regardless, be sure to put it on immediately prior to bed so the blood nicotine levels (and stimulant effects) peak well after you’ve fallen asleep. Mistime it and you’ll be one grumpy bastard the next morning.

Step 4) Extend lucidity duration

This is where things get a little strange, or even cooler.

The first few times you achieve lucidity, you will likely be so excited that you will wake yourself up. Two effective techniques for extending lucidity are spinning (a la a piroutte in place) and looking at your hands. Both techniques, I believe, originated with Carlos Castaneda, but LaBerge was the first to test them and quantify the effectiveness of spinning vs. hand rubbing:

…the odds in favor of continuing the lucid dream were about 22 to 1 after spinning, 13 to 1 after hand rubbing (another technique designed to prevent awakening), and 1 to 2 after “going with the flow” (a “control” task). That makes the relative odds favoring spinning over going with the flow 48 to 1, and for rubbing over going with the flow, 27 to 1.

Source: Lucidity Institute

Step 5) Once you’ve flown all over and had sex with every hottie you can think of…

Try to explore memory and performance. Indulge in the flying and sex binge, as all newbies do — no reason to rush that phase, of course — but then expand your carnal horizons in other directions.

Have fun and sweet dreams…
Reminds me of the Mind Machine

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Imagine a world of pure, jewel-like color illuminating your visual and mental fields. Amazing visual effects can be produced, including the illusion of complex, shifting geometrical imagery. This imagery can be so compelling that the mind clears of extraneous thoughts and distractions and other stresses of daily life. In this way the Procyon experience is a form of mediation.

Its state of the art color synthesis elements can modulate smoothly between fields of pure color (ganzfeld), through subtle shimmering effects, to full-on flicker with a frequency range up to 75Hz. Each color channel (red, green, and blue) is independently programmable, allowing up to three simultaneous frequencies at once. The internally synthesized, high quality isochronic tones and binaural beats are in perfect sync with the ganzfeld effect visuals.

Quote: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.

Impressive if true.
In for research
You really can control your dreams though


I am especially partial to the flying shit.
yeah. I can lucid dream too.. it's quite interesting.
I just get rapey LI style when I lucid dream.
the worst part is when you're lucid dreaming and you're about to eat some good food.. you tend to wake up right before you munch down! horrible

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
LOL That's one of my nicknames...
I did try the online version but it did nothing for me. Even though the idea is supposed to be that you don't need to be under the influence of anything else to get the effect, I couldn't help but wonder how much more effective it might have been if I was.
have you heard of binaural beats prof? supposedly you can get drug like effects by listening to them.
(03-25-2014 09:35 PM)EVILYOSHIDA Wrote: [ -> ]have you heard of binaural beats prof? supposedly you can get drug like effects by listening to them.

Yes, i've experimented quite a bit with various recordings.

There is one known as Hemi-Sync, which definitely creates a notable effect.


One night I was listening to it on my iPod and fell asleep whilst it played for hours, I had the most intense nightmare, very realistic. When I woke up, the stuff was still playing in my ears.

I like the Binaural beat sounds that they create, but there is a voiceover guy in the Hemi-Sync version who really annoys me. I would prefer to just hear the sounds and create my own trip, rather than have some tour guide trying to tell me what I should be seeing.
I'm going to try this again today, I might add some binaural music, and see what happens.
Hmmm, I just had a 20 minute session, in a darkened room and with a 30 inch TV screen. I also found a binaural beat clip on youtube and played it at the same time. I set the dream machine to 13 khz and the color red, relaxed in a chair with my eyes closed, and tried to relax.

After a couple of minutes I did feel relaxed, and I could feel the flickering of the light gently pounding on my eyelids. After a few minutes my eyes were flickering like crazy and it felt very much like it was simulating REM. This passed after a few more minutes, and I felt like my mind was focused on some sort of point of light, a dull orange color. I just relaxed like this for a while but I didnt see any visions, or have any great revelations. It definitely did something though, and warrants more experimentation.
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