Gysin Dream Machine app

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Brion Gysin, one of my favorite artists and influences, was a pioneer of sound poetry and multimedia collage, as well as a painter, calligraphist, artist, and apparently the only man that William S. Burroughs says he "respected." In 1958, Gysin experienced a hallucination caused by the sun flickering through trees and was inspired to develop the Dream Machine, a device meant to induce a dreamlike state though strobing light. According to Gysin, it was the "the first art object to be seen with the eyes closed." (Above left, me with one of Gysin's devices in Paris.) New York City's New Museum recently hosted the world's largest major retrospective of Gysin's work. I'm deeply bummed I missed the show, but the exhibition catalog, Brion Gysin: Dream Machine, is phenomenal. Also, the New Museum released a free Dream Machine iPhone app for a mobile flicker experience. Brion Gysin: Dream Machine app (via Rhizome, thanks Xeni!)


  1. Back in the late 80’s I bought this thing from a hippy head shop I think was called “The Day Tripper” It was a cylindrical plastic mask-type thing you put over your face. The face end of the cylinder was shaped to fit snugly around your face. There was a small tube at the bottom of the cylinder that lined up with your mouth for blowing air into. The air would make a disk with two holes spin around and sync with the holes at the outer, flat end of the cylinder. The instructions said to face the sun, but close your eyes and blow in to the mouth tube. The strobe effect created would cause amazing and intensely vibrant patterns to appear inside your eyelids! I loved it until I dropped it one day and the inner disk dislodged and it no longer worked. :-(
    I’ve never been able to find another one and can not seem to find it with Google…. any help?

    1. solstone:

      I read your description of the “Day tripper” hallucination mask after searching and searching the web for information about it. Your post did help because I couldn’t remember the name of the gadget. I was so pleased to discover another person who knows what I’m talking about. It’s sounds nuts when trying to describe it to friends and many are skeptical when I tell how it induces hallucinations. I want to purchase one, but don’t know where on earth to find one. if you have any more information about that gadget.

      Thank you kindly,

  2. This is an awesome idea, but the app suffers from a severe lack of attention to detail.

    Just look at that white status bar in the screenshot, its horrible and out of place, and disrespects the work the app is based on.

    All it takes is one line of code to set the appropriate black status bar. Heck, it can be done with NO CODE and one line of config in the info.plist.

    *shakes haed slowly*

  3. “In 1958, Gysin experienced a hallucination caused by the sun flickering through trees”

    Some people would call this photosensitive epilepsy.

    1. bt24: A chair is just a chair, unless you are a magickal being…in which case it can be anything.

      I recall constructing my first dream machine from thee TOPY plans which were being circulated at thee time…published by Temple Press. Thee long search ov finding a 78rpm turntable…thee even longer search for thee proper paper – not too thick, not too thin. Then, thee careful cutting ov thee shapes..the tricky bit ov finding thee proper way to hang thee bulb. Finally, adorning thee cylinder with various glyphs and symbols ov intent & desire. And now, alas. And now it’s an iApp. Better than no-thing, I suppose.

  4. Finally! When I first saw the photo referenced in the post on Boing Boing, I went hunting for a Dream Machine app for the iPhone, but came up disappointed. But now….yay!

  5. Did anyone ever get anything out of these things? I tried a few times as a student and never got anywhere with them.

    1. please excuse 2 comments in a row.

      I experienced much from mine. At first, it was just flashing lights. Eventually, though, as I learned to relax & let go…bits of images began to manifest out of the flashing chaos I saw inside my mind’s eye. At first, just a little bit..then the rational mind would take control and the image would revert to mere flashing lights..however, with time..and repeated sessions, soon entire scenes & landscapes & realities began to take over along with greater and greater shifts into an accompanying emotional response to the images & scenes I saw. Often I would “snap” awake after seeing particularly strong visions…much like waking suddenly from a powerful daydream. It was a curious thing indeed. Of course, with a few micrograms of this or that in my system…it was instant take-off as soon as my eyes were closed.

      The plans are still on the ‘net and I encourage anyone interested to take the time to construct one. fwiw: The material for the cylinder can easily and freely be acquired from shops which sell large sized art paper. Just the right thickness of the proper cardboard-like material is used to protect the ends of the packages (of art paper) during shipping. Artmedia, in downtown Portland, Oregon is one such place.

      1. Yes, I built one of those as well – 78 rpms and all.
        Probably needed to wait for longer.

    2. Yes. It’s relaxing and caused no after effects. I have multitracked music while hunched before mine, and liked the results.

      I wrote a crude Dreamachine for Windows about 10 years ago using C++, but the monitor just wasn’t bright enough to produce an effect.

  6. I saw this thing at the new museum… was AMAZING! The guy also did some really cool painting and drawings, as well as some weird word play stuff… definitely check out if/when there is a next time.

  7. So we’re all on the same page here, these are “Purkinje patterns.”

    The following is from :

    According to Dominic ffytche of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and author of ‘The Hodology of Hallucinations,’ a study recently published in an issue of Cortex, “Fifty years on we are able to answer Gysin’s question.” Gysin’s hallucinations were quite similar to what Jan Purkinje (1787-1869), the father of contemporary neuroscience, experienced as a child.

    “I stand in the bright sunlight with closed eyes and face the sun. Then I move my outstretched, somewhat separated, fingers up and down in front of the eyes, so that they are alternately illuminated and shaded. In addition to the uniform yellow-red that one expects with closed eyes, there appear beautiful regular figures that are initially difficult to define but slowly become clearer. When we continue to move the fingers, the figure becomes more complex and fills the whole visual field.” (Purkinje, 1819)

    When Purkinje moved his fingers, he simulated an effect similar to that of Gysin’s Dreamachine.

  8. The effect is called “photic driving,” and is basically a way of altering brain wave states using flickering lights. The same effect is commonly used in “light/sound” entrainment devices that have been on the market since about 1985.

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