WARNING: this video has strobing imagery.

A homage to the original Dreamachine, a device created by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs and Ian Sommerville in 1961.

Back in 2019 artists Siobhan Coen and Haroon Mirza began work on an installation responding to an experimental stroboscopic device developed by artist Brion Gysin, legendary Beat writer and visual artist William S. Burroughs and electronics technician and programmer Ian Sommerville in 1961.

In its original iteration, this Dreamachine consisted of a cylinder with shapes cut out at regular intervals along its sides. The cylinder was than positioned on a turntable with a light bulb suspended in its centre. When the turntable was rotating at either 45 or 78 RPM, the spinning motion of the cylinder resulted in pulses of light emanating from the holes at a frequency that corresponds to the electrical oscillations present in the human brain during states of relaxation. Looking at the pulsation through closed eyelids is said to induce an alpha wave mental state and result in shifting mandala visuals.

It was during Siobhan Coen’s residency at hrm199, Haroon Mirza’s studio platform, that the artists began talking about updating the Dreamachine by using computer-driven LED lights and incorporating sounds at frequencies that correspond to the brain’s electrical activity. After consulting with neuroscientists at Imperial College, London, the artists collaborated in the conception of Dreamachine 2.0, an audiovisual update of the original device in which, as Coen describes it, “constantly changing frequencies of light and sound waves produce increasingly complex images in the viewers mind.”

Dreamachine 1/0 is an online adaptation of that work, featuring electronics from Ben Barwise and audio reproduction by Jack Jelfs. The film is best viewed in a darkened room with the lights dimmed and the sound on. By reconfiguring the pulses of electronic light and sound waves for a digital space, Coen & Mirza recontextualize their adaptation of this historical art experiment for contemporary times.

For more information about Siobhan Coen and her work you can visit her website and follow her on Instagram.

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