In an attempt to recreate a spontaneous hallucination he had during a bus ride to Marseille, Brion Gysin created a stroboscopic device known as The Dreamachine. Gysin says that once, he closed his eyes while he was riding a bus as it was going down a long street surrounded by trees at sunset, suddenly, he began experiencing innumerable brilliant colours exploding behind his eyelids, as if he was staring into a kaleidoscope. This is probably an illusion we’ve all experienced as we rub our eyes while we’re facing the sun or, like Gysin, when we close our eyes as we travel down a street where the light is interrupted by trees.

The device is a cylinder with cut-outs on its sides. If the cylinder is placed on a platform that turns at 78 or 45 rpm (for example a turntable)with a light bulb in its centre, the intermittent flashes produce a frequency that corresponds to that of alpha waves, which immitate the natural waves that occur when the human brain is relaxed or meditating.

The Dreamachine is the first object to have been designed with the purpose of being seen with closed eyes. It explores the different possibilities of perception—as Gysin puts it— ‘for our thoughts to function beyond any control’. The blinking light stimulates the optical nerve and the nervous oscillations of the brain, producing visions of fast, bright movements and geometrical patterns…

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