The Dreamachine was conceived by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ “systems advisor” Ian Sommerville, after reading William Grey Walter’s book The Living Brain. Composed of a cylinder with slits cut in the sides, rotating at 45rpm around a light bulb suspended in the middle, light is emitted through the slits at a frequency between 8 and 13 pulses per minute. The frequency of the pulses corresponds with alpha waves, electrical signals present in the brain during states of relaxation.
The purpose of the Dreamachine is to stimulate the optic nerve, altering the brain’s normal electrical oscillations, inducing a state similar to the onset of sleep. The user faces the Dreamachine with closed eyes, causing vivid patterns of color to appear behind their closed eyelids, mimicking the visuals of a drug experience without the use of drugs. (For a more detailed analysis of Gysin’s theory behind the Dreamachine, head over to Reality Studio.)
Over the years, scores of visitors to the Beat Museum have suggested we ought to have a Dreamachine as part of our exhibition, offering to build one, acquire one, send us plans to build one, etc. None of these ever materialized—until now.
The working Dreamachine model seen here, now on display at the Beat Museum, is one of several replicas built by postmodernist writer and composer David Woodard, based on Gysin and Sommerville’s original plans, it consists of a paperboard cylinder atop a motorized base (based on a phonograph player) encased in a wooden box. This model also features a nautical star painted atop the base, inside the cylinder.
The Dreamachine was provided to the Beat Museum courtesy of Raymond E. André, III, on September 9th, 2021.