“The Dreamachine is a selfless creation intended to be used as a vehicle,” writes the Hafler Trio‘s Andrew McKenzie in one of his three essays included in the ninety-two-page book that supplements this archival release. “It reveals and then rends away the veil that keeps us where we are,” he continues, establishing at once the narrative of this unique creation in the history of interactive art.
Brion Gysin (1916–1986) was a storied artist, writer, and performer who developed the initial idea for his Dreamachine in 1958. He was struck by the patterns formed by alternating light and shadows, formed by trees along a road he was traveling on in France. Upon closing his eyes, he noted, “a multi-dimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space,” and looked to reproduce this effect in a more studied environment, and thus was born the initial Dreamachine concept.
If you’ve never encountered a Dreamachine before, know that it is a cylindrical device, formed with cutout patterns designed to s(t)imulate one’s alpha waves when played on a 78 RPM record player, with a light emanating from its center point. Many variations on the exact pattern and size of device exist (including downloadable templates to create your own), but what Soleilmoon and McKenzie have done with this package is supply you with a Dreamachine that was devised and approved by Gysin himself.
The device included in the triangular shipping container is made of flexible vinyl material, which is sturdy enough to withstand being spun around a turntable at high speeds for extended periods of time. Admittedly, it is not quite as impressive to behold while it is not performing its designed task, but it definitely works as advertised when it is set up and operational.
The distinctive cutout patterns on the Dreamachine produce a flickering effect that, as mentioned, purport to directly affect one’s alpha waves, which operate in the frequencies between 7.5–12.5 Hz. This can only be “seen” when one closes one’s eyes and allows the light frequencies to hit their eyelids, resulting in kaleidoscopic patterns that vary in intensity and overall effect, which are in turn based on numerous factors (i.e. proximity to the light source, as well as one’s individual alpha peak frequency).
Much criticism mistakenly likens the experience to a drug-free trip, but as McKenzie details in an informative lecture included on the accompanying DVD, the involvement is more akin to trance induction as opposed to a drug-based experience. McKenzie gave the lecture in Denmark after a screening of FLicKeR—a 2008 documentary on the Dreamachine directed by Nik Sheehan. Footage is also included of the audience trying out prototypes of the device included in this package.
The DVD also contains a forty-five-minute 1988 pirate television program that features interviews with Gysin, as broadcast by Rabotnik TV in Amsterdam. Originally released by Staalplaat on VHS in 1990, it also includes music by Master Musicians of Jajouka, who Gysin was particularly fond of pairing to his Dreamachine sessions.
Sound accompaniment plays a large part in the overall experience, and McKenzie here has included three twenty-five-minute pieces on the DVD in both Dolby and DTS 5.1 surround sound. The pieces are very much drone-based, with a distinctly intense, dynamic nature to their overall sound. The frequencies included are unquestionably designed to harmonize with one’s alpha waves, although on a completely different scale. The pace of the acoustic patterns matches the pace of the visual patterns emanating from the machine, and the effect is definitely hypnotizing and engulfing. Detailed notes on the production of these pieces are included in the book, which are endlessly fascinating.
This truly is selfless art, as the mission of the creators was to develop a device and atmosphere whereby the final result could only be what the end-user is open to. To this end, Gysin and McKenzie have succeeded in producing doors that open to an experience like no other.
As a historic document, this release is vital for those interested in Gysin’s art and overall mindset. Much of his spirit comes through this package, with an abundance of reading and audio-visual material to dive into, along with this strange machine which holds many a key for those looking to unlock their own magic within.
01) Pirate TV (45 min)
02) Aorta (12 min)
03) Lecture (24 min)
04) Labyrinth (3 x 25 min)