When I was little I used to spend those last drowsy moments before sleep trying to consciously pixelate the darkness. When the effort to keep my eyes open got to be too much, I’d switch to marveling at the spidering bursts I’d see with them closed. That’s pretty much the point and effect of writer, artist and visionary Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine.
On display at the New Museum as part of a Gysin retrospective, the Dreamachine is a pierced rotating cylinder filled with light. In the Beat quest for any and all altering experiences, it’s designed to reproduce the alpha waves the brain emits immediately before sleep to achieve both relaxation and heightened awareness. Gysin developed the device with computer programmer, electronics technician and “systems adviser” to William S. Burroughs, Ian Sommerville.
Eager to recreate the spectacular flashes of my childhood game, I followed the instructions and sat six to eight inches away from the Dreamachine and closed my eyes. For a few minutes I saw the same spectacular and hypnotic flashes of color I remembered. But there’s no recreating a five-year-old’s marvel; ultimately all I saw were just flickers of the past.