MAKING GHOSTS WALK IN PUBLIC: the role of Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine in the consciousness exploration of the ’60s, by John Geiger (Arthur, 2003)

Making Ghosts Walk In Public

Explained: the role of the legendary stroboscopic Dream Machine in the consciousness exploration of the ‘60s. 

by John Geiger

Excerpted from: Chapel of Extreme Experience: A Short History of Stroboscopic Light, Flicker and the Dream Machine. Copyright © 2003 John Geiger. Published by Soft Skull Press. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.  This excerpt published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov., 2003)

On December 21, 1958 Brion Gysin, a painter and writer, and at the time a resident of Beat Hotel in Paris, momentarily and unexpectedly entered the place where, in Aldous Huxley’s words, “the visual merges with the visionary.” 

Gysin was traveling by bus from Paris to an artists’ colony on the Mediterranean. As the bus passed through a long avenue of trees Gysin, closing his eyes against the setting sun, encountered “a transcendental storm of color visions.” He recorded the experience in his journal: “An overwhelming flood of intensely bright patterns in supernatural colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multi-dimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time.” The phenomenon ended abruptly as the bus left the trees. “Was that a vision? What happened to me?” asked Gysin. The flicker experience recalled the first films he had seen as a child in Alberta in the 1920s, films using the often explosive silver halide base which gave a “magic light to the film, a flickering shimmer cut stroboscopically by the frames of each image.” Gysin immediately wrote William S. Burroughs, a close artistic collaborator, with an account of his fall out of rational space. Burroughs replied portentiously: “We must storm the citadels of enlightenment. The means are at hand.” The means, Gysin determined, would be to develop a machine to harness the visionary potential of flicker, a device that would make illusory experience available at the flick of a switch: a Dream Machine.

Once he understood the scientific explanation for his random encounter with flicker (an explanation provided in physiologist W. Grey Walter’s 1953 book The Living Brain), Gysin determined to find a way to mechanically reproduce the effect in a manner that could be mass produced. He saw in flicker the potential for human advancement. Gysin discussed it with Ian Sommerville, a mathematics student at Cambridge University and young boyhood friend of Burroughs’. Somerville had a genius for electrical improvisation, and indeed had a unique relationship with the electrical current: his thin blonde hair often stood up as if a charge ran through it, he was not fond of water and found rain oddly menacing. Gysin wanted to find a way, he said, to “make the ghosts walk in public.” 

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ECSTATIC UPHEAVAL: A conversation with artist David Chaim Smith (Arthur, 2013)

Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)….


Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH say yes—but there’s a price.
by Jay Babcock

I first encountered David Chaim Smith’s remarkable, bewildering work through Pam Grossman’s Phantasmaphile newsletter, a daily email bulletin spotlighting a contemporary or historic personage up to something witchy and beautiful, usually in the visual arts. Smith’s work was particularly striking in its unusual combination of diagrammatic composition, simple media (pencil!?!) and unapologetically rarefied Kabbalistic-Gnostic content. Generally that would be more than enough to warrant further investigation, but it was the work’s difficult-to-grok provenance that intrigued me the most: these pieces looked like plates that could have been included in Alexander Roob’s Taschen compendium of dazzling Medieval alchemical artwork, The Hermetic Museum (alternative title, courtesy of Adam Egypt Mortimer: The Original Face Melter Times A Thousand). They seemed like the kind of work that’s usually brought to light by accident, decades after the a recluse’s death or disappearance (or committal to a mental ward): strange, highly charged devotional work rescued from a trashbin, the details of its artist’s life and practice gone to dust, Iain Sinclair on the case.


And yet, the author of these stupefying drawings is alive and well—David Chaim Smith [above] is a contemporary New York artist with an MFA, a publisher and (until recently) a gallery. Despite living a semi-monastic life, Smith seems eager to engage with a curious public. He has a website. He’s on Facebook. Dig a little and you’ll find a few occultist-oriented podcast interviews and accounts of public talks he’s given in the last few years around the publication of his two books—2010’s esoteric exegesis The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3 (Daat Press) and 2012’s massive art/text collection The Sacrificial Universe (Fulgur)—and a 2010 gallery show. And now, here he is on the other end of the telephone line in late January, just days after completing his new book, Blazing Dew of Stars, set for publication this springOctober 23, 2013 by Fulgur. A surprisingly garrulous fellow, Smith spoke frankly about who he is, where he comes from and how his day-to-day life and spiritual practice generates such artwork. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.

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LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS by Bruce Conner (1967)

From The Sound of Eye:

Looking for Mushrooms
Director: Bruce Conner
Year: 1967
Time: 13 mins
Music: Terry Riley
Expecting a nuclear disaster, Conner moved down to Mexico in 1962, where he spent his time looking for mushrooms with Timothy Leary. Later, Conner added footage of similar hunts in Frisco and in 1997 he decided to set it against a 1968 Terry Riley soundtrack. The result is a strange combination of typical ’60s psychedelic editing with what might appear to be a road movie interested in exotic landscapes. A classic of American avant film.

Download available from The Sound of Eye

'TOTEM PILL' by Marc Ngui


Really digging this animation sent over by Marc Ngui (music is “The Grand Elixir” by Ocote Soul Sounds).  Read more about the ideas and inspiration at Marc’s site:

Totem Pill is inspired by Robert Anton Wilson’s description of Timothy Leary’s Eight Circuit Model of Human Consciousness.

The model addresses the question of how and why the mind evolved into an organ of consciousness. Beginning with a single celled organism, each system of consciousness is created as an emergent phenomenon of the previous system in an ever more complex networking process, leading towards a godlike state existing in all time-space with the possibility of engaging with other time spaces. The model is a creation myth, a cosmic blueprint, and fertile territory for the imagination.

"Musicians may never get quite that high again."


An edited version of this article appeared in the April 2003 edition of Mojo.

On the night of September 12th 1970, Dr Timothy Leary escaped from jail. He climbed a tree in the exercise yard, jumped onto the roof of the cellblock, and shimmied along a telephone wire until he was over the fence. Half way along the wire his glasses fell off, and a patrol car drove underneath him, yet somehow his escape went undetected. Within days he would be flying to Algeria, with a fake passport in the name of McNellis and a bald head as his disguise. The California Men’s Colony-West at San Luis Obispo was a minimum security prison, but it was still a brave and daring escape, especially for an ex-Harvard Professor of Psychology just a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday. The authorities were shocked to find him missing; he was in the minimum security prison because his psychological profile showed a docile man who was not an escape risk. But Leary had found it easy to trick the psychological tests, as he had written them himself many years before. He was embarking on a fugitive life that would be full of glamour, excitement and danger. And, although he could never have guessed it at the time, he was going to record one of the era’s strangest and most ambitious albums: Seven-Up, with Ash Ra Tempel.

Ash Ra Tempel were formed in Berlin in 1970, thanks in part to the impressive size of Pink Floyd’s old speakers. Schoolfriends Manuel Gottsching (guitar) and Hartmut Enke (bass) had been playing together since they were 14. They called themselves the Steeplechase Blues Band, and originally covered British bands like the Beatles, Small Faces or The Who. Before long their music would evolve and they would concentrate on improvised blues instrumentals.

The Berlin music scene was tiny at the time, so when it came time to get some new equipment, Enke set off for London. Here he found four massive speakers that had previously been owned by Pink Floyd. Somehow Enke managed to single-handedly load these huge cabinets into taxis, trains and a ferry, and get them back home. “From that moment on we had the biggest equipment in Berlin!”, Gottsching remembers with evident glee.

Klaus Schulze (drums) had recently left Tangerine Dream when he stumbled into Enke and G??ttsching’s rehearsal room. Upon seeing the size of their cabinets he immediately suggested that they form a band together. The three went straight to a pub and within half an hour Ash Ra Tempel was born. Schulze not only gave the trio their new name, but he introduced them to the co-owner of Ohr Recordings, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser.

“When we started there was no audience for German groups in Germany”, Kaiser told the International Times in 1974. “The business was controlled by British and American groups. In Germany it is illegal to be a group’s manager. After three weeks [of starting Ohr] I got asked to go to the government office and they said, ‘You do something which is not allowed. If you go on you have to pay 30,000 marks fine'”. The problem was that a manager tries to find work for his band, but in Germany only the Arbeitsamt, or labour exchange, is allowed to arrange work for people. Even today a manager can only operate with special permission from the Arbeitsamt. Kaiser managed to get around this problem by going into business with Peter Meisel, who then ran Germany’s biggest music publishing company.

But it wasn’t the lengths that Kaiser went to create a music industry that made him such a revolutionary figure in German music. It was the type of music that he signed. The German bands that did exist copied English and American rock. Kaiser believed that it was possible for German musicians to create an entirely new sound of their own. “In 1970 there were no German record companies interested in German music”, he explained, “We showed the German People that they can trust their own music”.

Ash Ra Tempel had dropped the blues influences from the Steeplechase Blues Band, but they had kept the love of improvisation and experiment. They signed to Ohr and released their first, self titled LP before Schulze left the band to start a successful solo career. Schulze was eager to leave the drum kit behind and experiment with the emerging technology of synthesisers. But he remained on good terms with Gottsching and Enke, and they would collaborate again many times in the future.

Wolfgang Mueller took over Schultze’s drumstool and the band recorded their second album, Schwingungen (‘vibrations’). By now it was clear that something special was happening. The music flowed from the blissful and serene to the urgent and dark. It seemed forward looking, concerned with a bright future rather than an ugly past, and it justified Kaiser’s belief in a new and original German music. English journalists would later group Ash Ra Tempel together with many varied and different German bands under the dismissive term ‘Krautrock’. But soon Kaiser found his own label for the new sound. This was Kosmische Musik, and it was the music of Paradise.

When it came to producing a follow up to Schwingungen, the band had the idea of collaborating with an American underground hero of theirs. “We wanted to make an album with Allen Ginsberg”, remembers Gottsching, “because we had some text by him on the sleeve of our first album. But Allen Ginsberg was nowhere to be found!”

Meanwhile, Leary had arrived in Switzerland, the birthplace of LSD. Switzerland is comprised of a number of semi-autonomous districts called Cantons, and as long as Leary kept moving from Canton to Canton, without staying in the one place for too long, he knew he would be safe from extradition to the United States.

To the outside world, it seemed that permanent exile in Europe could have appealed to Leary. “In Europe we have been contacted by several elitist, aristocratic, thoughtfully decadent drug taking groups of older people”, he told Oz magazine in 1972, “who follow traditions which trace back through French poets, German mystics, elegant hashishines, silk-satin opium adepts. It’s a deep, wise old continent and quite together at the moment”.

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