Dreamachine

"We must storm the citadels of enlightenment, the means are at hand." William S. Burroughs, in a letter to Brion Gysin

I became familiar, at a distance, of Brion Gysin's Dreamachine mechanism when I first became interested in the Beats in high school. Unattainable, magickal, purportedly transformative.


Recently I again encountered the sensation of light filtering through trees and flickering as I drove a stretch of road. I was reminded of Gysin's fateful train voyage in Marseille where he first encountered the optical effect and illusions.


As a maker, I realized I now had the skills, capability, and tools to produce my own Dreamachine.

My Dreamachine.
Interior of shade with two inch grid visible.

Part of all magical process is the production of one’s own tools. This is as ancient a truth as the art itself. The dreamachine plans enable one to partake in just such a process – to make the dreamachine literally your own. 

Brion Gysin

The Shade

I used the Temple Press plans to construct the shade for my Dreamachine. I purchased a 32" x 40" piece of four-ply mat board at an art supply store, along with a 36" T-square. 


I used the plans and T-square to create a two inch grid on the white side of the mat board. 


I needed to resize the templates from the PDF for the five shapes to be two inches wide when I printed them on 8 1/2" x 11" paper.


  • A - 75%
  • B - 72%
  • C - 65%
  • D - 65%
  • E - 70%


The cut shapes were glued to manila paper to add rigidity. Following the plans, I marked the grid.

Two inch grid with the five shapes marked for removal.
Starting the cutting.
It took a few hours to cut all the shapes.
Dreamachine shade cut and bent into a cylinder.

Turntable Mechanism

The Dreamachine plans call for using a record player capable of 78 RPM. Since record players have become scarce and somewhat coveted, I felt that the project would be expedited if I adapted materials into a turntable that rotated as close to 78 RPM as I could manage.


I prototyped the turntable mechanism in LEGO bricks and an RCX programmable brick flashed with MicroWorlds EX Robotics firmware.


The RCX brick was programmed in Logo to set the motor power and to start the motor. As the design changed the program was modified to control two motors.

Flashing the firmware on the LEGO RCX brick.

I iterated through several LEGO turntable designs, testing various drive mechanisms and the strengths of each.

The first design ran too slowly but functioned well.
First iteration.
Swapping the pulleys made the turntable run too fast. The spindle was heightened to emerge through the top of the box containing the mechanism.
The third design used two motors.
LEGO WeDo and Scratch were used to help calculate the RPM of the LEGO RCX mechanism. This iteration ran too fast.
The belts slipped when put under load. A geared turntable was added and the motors were refitted with gears.
The geared turntable did not slip under load.
I used a large, heavy lid to trace and cut a mat board turntable to mount to the LEGO mechanism.
The large mat board turntable connected to the LEGO turntable wobbled, so LEGO wheels were added to stabilize its rotation.
Despite my best efforts I did not find the true center of the mat board turntable. The LEGO motors rotated it well.
The LEGO motors were incapable of rotating the shade.

I spent a few minutes thinking about the problem. I needed a motor that rotated close to 78 RPM. I needed the motor to be geared low enough that it did not strain under the weight of the shade. The motor needed to fit into a box that would sit under the shade.


Considering the design challenges, I retreated to my basement and emerged with an ice cream maker. Here was a motor that was designed to function under a load, was compact, and didn't spin too fast. 

I added another box to the interior of the housing to support the weight of the ice cream maker motor.
The motor rotated about 80 RPM. Eureka!
I modeled and 3D printed a replacement spindle for the motor.
A wood IKEA box made a better housing for the motor.
I modeled and 3D printed brackets that motor housing tabs could snap into. The brackets would be riveted to the interior of the box lid.
A jigsaw, a sheet of MDF, a clamp, and the paper template were used to make a more durable, less flexible turntable.
Cut turntable.
The 3D printed brackets were riveted to the interior of the box lid.
The motor clips into the brackets and is held suspended from the box lid inside the box.
I modeled and 3D printed four brackets to hold the shade upright on the turntable.
The brackets were riveted to the turntable.
The motor turned the wood turntable perfectly. The sound needed dampening.
Small pieces of adhesive backed felt were added to the interior and exterior portions of the turntable. Care was taken to place the pads out of the way of the rivets.
The completed Dreamachine is a magnificent sight.
A 3D printed bracket was added to the lid to help support a lamp.
Aluminum conduit was bent into a six inch arc.
A small hole was drilled so an extension cord, into which the motor and lamp can be plugged, could be routed through the side of the box.
A lamp kit provided the parts for the light. Using a 75 watt lightbulb instead of a 60 watt seems to bring on the visual hallucinations faster.

In the history of art, in the history of magic and science, in the history of the world, only one object has been made to view with the eyes closed: The Dreamachine.

Brion Gysin, in his introduction the Dreamachine plans.

Using my Dreamachine.
Looking into the Dreamachine. The experience is profoundly different if one meditates on it with her or his eyes closed.

Additional Media

Flicker, 1997.

This work and images copyright 2015 Josh Burker