Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dream Machine

Binary art takes shape in experiments like Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine (circa 1960). The Dreamachine is a cylindrical modulating light that rapidly flickers through a perforated pattern and causes one to enter a dream-like hallucinogenic state.

“Dreamachine visions usually begin by the meteorically rapid transit of infinite series of abstract elements. These may be followed in time by clear perception of faces, figures and the apparent entractment of highly colored serial pseudo-events. In other words, dreams in color.”

The shape of Gysin’s design is similiar to Fillippo Dell’Orto’s elongated Hal 9003, which combines solid form with transparency and illumination, creating radical a form that pleases both the eyes and the senses.

The Dreamachine was invented by Beat generation members Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville in 1959.

In its original form, the Dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record turntable and rotated at 78 RPM or 45 RPM. 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, situated 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 "viewed" with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optical nerve and alters the brain's electrical oscillations. The "viewer" experiences increasingly bright, complex patterns of color behind their closed eyelids. The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the "viewer" feels surrounded by colors. It is claimed that viewing 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.

It should be noted that the 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. Also, others report that viewing a Dreamachine can become addictive, and moderation is encouraged when using the device.

Brion Gysin's Dreamachine is the subject of the upcoming documentary film entitled "FLicKeR" by Nik Sheehan.

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