17 February 2014

Dream Machine 2

I first discovered Ian Sommerville's Dream Machine in 1989 by personal recommendation of Genesis P- Orridge. In those days I used to frequent the Anarchist Book Fair held regularly in London's Conway Hall where the Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV frontman and all-round subversive would sell publications by the Temple ov Psychick Youth. The TOPY had put together a stapled A5 pamphlet costing £3.00 with seductively dark navy covers and a single rounded shape shown on the front. Each page featured a different shape to trace and cut out and the final page showed how the finished tube should look.

I had devoured William Burroughs' works as a teenager in the context of a general hunger for alternative cultural experiences and soon uncovered his connection with artist and poet Brion Gysin. When Burroughs left Tangier in 1959 he fled to Paris and the Beat Hotel, looking for a publisher for The Naked Lunch. His friend Brion Gysin was already experimenting with the cut up techniques that would radically reshape Burroughs' work. The Dream Machine was developed as a collaboration between Gysin, Burroughs, and a young computer programmer called Ian Sommerville.

Sommerville was a young Cambridge educated mathematician. Together they realised a perforated cylinder rotating at a constant speed with a light inside would produce flashes at between 8 and 13 pulses a second, the same frequency range as brain alpha waves. Facing this spinning stroboscopic cylinder with closed eyes would then simulate and elicit a hypnagogic brain state.

The real power of the Dream Machine was and is that you can make one with a sheet of cardboard, a 78rpm record player, and a naked light bulb. Making one is an essential part of experiencing it. Today you can download plans online in less than 3 seconds. In 1989 my A5 pamphlet felt like a secret treasure, a passport into a hidden world of altered states and radical poets. Over the subsequent years I've probably made ten or twenty Dream machines that have served as lampshades, sculptures, party lights, and hypnotic movies.

At FACT on 21 and 22 February we will help you make and personalise your own dream machine. All materials will be provided and the turntables will be spinning…

On 22 March Luciana Haill will host a performance lecture on Dream Machines and Brainwaves and EEG experimentation. It is completely free, with no booking required. It will take place in the Hybrid Lives Co-working Space in the FACT Atrium