THE BUREAU: Part Eleven, "Your Supervisor Disintegrates" — with a Gysin Dream Machine, an Altman Brain Machine, and Other Hallucinatory Hardware

THE BUREAU by Ethan Persoff

Week Eleven for The Bureau has you returning back to the office. The HR Video Terminal has a few exit questions, as this will be your last day. While you're completing that, be sure to plug on a Brain Machine and get the Gysin DM spinning.

Aloha, Office Participant! This is the second to last installment of the Bureau series. Today has you pondering life's meaning.

Meditation is a helpful way to consider our role in the world and find deeper connections and ideas. Regrettably, the modern world is very loud and tangentially distracting, particularly with notification-driven devices. A long attention span to properly meditate can be very difficult to achieve.

Let's begin by pressing play to enjoy some kaleidoscopic peace of mind:

Here at The Bureau, we recommend not fighting these electronic influences (we have to live in the time we live in) but instead suggest embracing technology with mind-expanding functions.

A benefit of these tools is the occasional lucid dream or unexpected hallucination. (Or a desired hallucination) – And once you train your mind to be receptive to these tools you can dial up a mental state as easily as you do with an episode of TV on a streaming service.

The idea of using technology to induce meditative states is, of course, not new. Some suggest drumming was first implemented for its trance-inducing qualities. The use of stroboscopic sound was discussed in Bureau #9 with SBaGEN and binaural audio. Here is a follow-up to that post, expanding your tools into hardware.

1) The Buddha Machine

The Buddha Machine is a small plastic box, resembling a transistor radio, that plays meditative music and other looping phrases. It's this basic simplicity that provides a relaxing comfortable mood. (Throbbing Gristle has a customized edition, as does Philip Glass) It's recently been reissued:

I love this mix of Buddha Machine music:


David has discussed these great boxes a few times here.

If you like these kinds of sound-inducing tools, I also recommend two wonderful iOS apps by Henry Lowengard: Droneo and SrutiBox.

2) Brion Gysin's Dreamachine (or Dream Machine)

Gysin's original notes:
Instructions: Print out a template

Easily the one piece of trance hardware that has the most devoted following and cult of recognition is Gysin's rotating cardboard-based strobe tool, "The Dreamachine" — Its origins are quite beautiful, however, describing a moment of strobing light from trees as Gysin road in a bus in 1958:

Had a transcendental storm of colour visions today in the bus going to Marseilles. We ran through a long avenue of trees and I closed my eyes against the setting sun. An overwhelming flood of intensely bright colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time. I was out in a world of infinite number. The vision stopped abruptly as we left the trees. Was that a vision? What happened to me?

Extract from the diary of
Brion Gysin, December 21, 1958

Make your own Dream Machine

To create a Dream Machine, you just need a large printout of this useful PDF file. If you have access to an Opaque Projector (many high schools and colleges have these for you to borrow if you're affiliated), this can be even easier, as you can project the template onto cardstock to trace it out.

To make the Dream Machine spin, you need a suspended lightbulb and a 78rpm turntable. This is easier to find today with the current resurgence of record players, but be sure to check if yours plays 78rpm (not just 45rpm or 33rpm) – I've used a Vestax Handy Trax to great effect.

(Avoid a fire: Be careful with placement of an incandescent lightbulb to not be in contact with the paper, and be mindful that the paper might change orientation or tilt into the bulb while spinning, or use an LED bulb)

Our modern age has a few excellent Dream Machine emulators which you can view and customize directly on your web browser:

Dream Machine Emulator #1
Dream Machine Emulator #2

Much can be found about Dream Machines from previous Boing Boing posts. — Regards again to David for those.

3) Mitch Altman's Brain Machine

On the other spectrum of this kind of hardware is more aggressive pieces that feel more like a component for future Body-Computer Interfaces or something left out of Statik Institution of Retention. (GREAT game, btw) – My favorite aggressive piece of hallucination hardware is a kit called The Brain Machine, created by Mitch Altman.

The Brain Machine (which was included in a how-to in Make Magazine in 2008 and is still available for sale as a kit from Adafruit) is a pre-programmed 15 minute 'experience' of LED patterns that pulse in front of your eyes, synced to a binaural sequence played in attached headphones. Both the LED pulses and the binaural tones are very strong, making this a very dialed to eleven sort of experience. It's an extremely satisfying experience, though, with colors, shapes, and pulsating visions all very attainable and relaxing.

(Note: I first found reference to the Brain Machine here on Boing Boing, via Mark – Thank you Mark – Including this advanced follow-up)

I met Mitch briefly one year at SXSW here in Austin and he's an awesome person, encouraging everyone to experiment with these kits. The Brain Machine is an easy build and was the first thing I'd ever soldered, leading to much to-do with modular electronics, so I'd like to thank Mitch for beginning a more immersive path into electronic music.

Here is your Bureau playlist for this week:

The Bureau will conclude next with Part Twelve.

View all Bureau installments