The dreamachine was a collaborative creation between Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, the classical collision and collusion of the artist and the scientist. Both men had read Grey Walter's The Living Brain and were corresponding on the subject in early 1960. It was Sommerville who came up with the plans for the original flicker machine mounted on a 78rpm record player. Gysin, residing by this time in the Beat Hotel in Paris, constructed his own version, replete with calligraphic art, and obsessively began to refine its design. By the middle of the year he had taken out a patent ((P.V. 868 281) and was hawking the idea around town. For all his later concern about the possible risk in commercial exploitation of a machine that opened up psychic centres, he was nonetheless open to mass-market production.
Despite Gysin's efforts at selling it, the dreamachine had a turbulent and markedly unsuccessful history. Gysin failed to get anyone to take it on commercially, though he did, in December 1961, succeed in exhibiting it in an exhibition entitled ‘L'Objet’ at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. He also loaned one to Helena Rubenstein, who at the time was a significant and lavish patron of the arts. She displayed the loaned dreamachine at various events, but no sales resulted and Brion was forced to collect the ‘sample’ unceremoniously from her shop window and try the new but no more fertile pastures of Peggy Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in Venice. Brion would later comment that the major electronics companies, another potential source of commercial revenue, bailed out when he told them the dreamachine made people ‘more awake’.
‘They lost interest,’ he said.
‘They were only interested in machines and drugs which made people go to sleep.’
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