Brion Gysin, ‘Dreamachine’ (1960). Installation view ‘Brion Gysin: Dreamachine’, 2010, Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes. © Blaise Adilon
The ‘Dreamachine’ is a mechanical apparatus invented by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville in 1960. It consists of a cylinder perforated by numerous patterned slits, mounted upon a record player turntable, with a light bulb hanging in the middle of the cylinder. As the cylinder spins upon the record player, light emerges through the slits at a rate of 8 to 13 flashes per second. This creates the possibility for the viewer of an illusory visual experience induced by stimulating the brain’s alpha waves. With its connection to music through the use of the record player, and the staccato rhythm of the flickering light, the ‘Dreamachine’ is a proto-light art device. It is best experienced with the eyes closed, and is considered to be the first artwork made to be ‘viewed’ this way.
Brion Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in England and raised in Edmonton, Canada. He is perhaps best known for his ‘discovery’ or ‘re-discovery’ of the cut-up technique, used by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. Gysin travelled widely living in Vancouver, Tangier, New York and Paris. British electronics technician and computer programmer Ian Sommerville is primarily known through his association with Burroughs’s circle of ‘Beat Generation’ figures.