Common steps and sub-activities

Using dream or mind machines

The dreamachine (or dream machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli.

Other variations on the same theme and a bit more complex in their operation are called ‘mind machines’, they  consist of glasses with different colored flashing LEDs on the inside, and headphones. The LEDs stimulate the visual channel, while the headphones stimulate the audio channel with similar or slightly different frequencies designed to produce a ‘certain mental state’…..

Mind machines combine two mechanisms in one – light and sound.  The way the machine works is no different from stroboscopic lights or candles in terms of the light and no different to infrasound or hemi-sync when it comes to sound.

They are also sometimes called ‘Meditation machines’ or Light and Sound machines.  They can be somewhat hyped up in the advertisements!!

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The frequency has an effect upon the type of experience, as such it is important that you purchase a machine with a clear rationale behind the way it works and a frequency dial – a method of altering the frequency.

Some of these machines could be classified as ‘low intensity’ others as ‘high intensity stimulation’, some have levels at which you can set light levels.  Always go for the very very low intensity.

Background

Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs's "systems adviser" Ian Sommerville created the original dreamachine on which many others have been based, after reading William Grey Walter's book, The Living Brain.

The original prototype was built by Ian Sommer­ville in Cambridge. The mathematics student constructed a simple but effect­ive flicker device using a turntable and a card tube cut with a number of slits; inside this tube was positioned a 100-watt bulb. When the record player was run at 78rpm, spinn­ing the tube, the slits in the cylinder created a flicker at the alpha wave frequency. Ian sat a few inches from the spinn­ing tube with his eyes closed, allowing the bright flicker to wash across his eyelids.

Early examples of the device in operation, were briefly shown in the short film Towers Open Fire directed by Antony Balch with the collab­oration of Gysin and Burroughs. The Dreamachine was first officially exhibited in Paris in 1962, at the group show L’Objet.  Gysin always positioned the Dreamachine as an alternative to drugs.  Throughout the rest of his life, he tried to find a commercial manufacturer to mass-produce Dreamachines, but in the end only a few were ever professionally made.

Renewed interest in the Dreamachine was generated in the late 1970s by musician, artist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, Genesis P-Orridge .  The first side of Throbbing Gristle’s Heathen Earth album was described by Gysin as an ideal soundtrack to accompany sessions, sitting before the device’s flickering light, while Psychic TV released numerous recordings that could facilitate Dreamachine use.

Additionally, the Temple Ov Psychic Youth  also disseminated information about the Dreamachine. Throughout the 1980s interest in the Dreamachine grew, with people making their own devices according to the plans published then by Temple Press. Since then more machines of different types have become available.

The instructions for manufacturing a Dreamachine are still available online and have been published in numerous books.

Both artists and writers have used the Dreamachine for inspiration in the creative process, including: David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, John Giorno, Laurie Anderson, Steve Lacy, Keith Haring, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles, Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithfull, Kenneth Anger, Beck, Nik Zinner, DJ Spooky, The Mars Volta, Genesis P-Orridge, Floria Sigismondi, William Burroughs, and many others.

Many of the observations I found from these groups were  of synaesthesia, which is about the lowest you can get on the spiritual ladder, but for an artist, such patterns and patterns can be useful and inspirational.  Ian Sommerville wrote of a “kaleidoscope of colours” which gradually became “more complex and beautiful”.

Sommerville went on to describe the effect of background music, noting that rhythmic music served to modul­ate the visions to the tempo of the sound – yet more proof that the machine was inducing synaesthesia.

Nik Sheehan’s documentary film FLicKeR (2008) examines the phenomenon of flicker and shows various cultural icons, artists, and musicians – including Iggy Pop, a close friend of Gysin – using the Dreamachine and discussing its effects. Sheenan was first made aware of the Dreamachine (like so many people) thanks to the San Francisco journal Re/Search, which published a special issue on Throbbing Gristle, Gysin, and Burroughs, and when offered the chance to make a film on the Dreamachine based on John Geiger’s book Chapel of Extreme Experience, Sheehan jumped at the opportunity.