Gysin first began thinking about the Dreamachine during a bus trip to Marseilles in 1958. Gysin was resting against the window and the light from the sun flicking through a line of tress created a strange pulsating effect behind Gysin's closed eyes. Gysin wrote of the experience in his diary:
"An overwhelming flood of intensely bright colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time"
Constructed in 1960 by Brion Gysin and mathematician friend Ian Sommerville, the Dreamachine is a simple yet brilliantly effective object. The original prototype for the Dreamachine was a cardboard cylinder with slits which sat on a spinning 78rpm turntable. Inside the cylinder hung the light source, a 100W bulb. For Gysin, the Dreamachine was the ultimate "drugless high", and he had hoped it would bring nothing less than a revolution in human consciousness.
|Brion Gysin and William Burroughs experience the Dreamachine|
Sadly the Dreamachine never caught on. Gysin came close to doing a deal with Philips to produce a line of Dreamachines but the plan fell through. The strange story of the Dreamachine is thoroughly explored in the documentary, alongside an excellent overview of Gysin's life - his years in Tangier, where he introduced Western listeners to the drone music of the Master Musicians of Joujouka, his years at the Beat Hotel in Paris, his residency in London (in view of MI5's headquarters much to Gysin's amusement) and his lifelong friendship with William Burroughs, both of whom collaborated on the 1977 book The Third Mind, which further explored the Cut-Up technique. Gysin's other art is featured as well - his beautiful grid paintings, and his series of artworks based on Japanese calligraphy. Gysin's sound poetry is also heard in the film, like his 1960 spoken word cut-up "I Am That I Am".
|Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and the Dreamachine|
Sheehan's film includes a diverse and interesting cast of musicians, writers and film makers, including Genesis P-Orridge, Kenneth Anger, Iggy Pop, Lee Ranaldo, Ira Cohen and DJ Spooky. P-Orridge, who has done much to champion Gysin's work since his death in 1986, takes us on a tour of what's remaining of his personal archive (P-Orridge's London home was famously raided in 1992 while he was abroad, his belongings were seized by Scotland Yard investigating the activities of his organisation Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth), while Iggy Pop is joined on stage by the Dreamachine during a Stooges show in Paris. Sheehan also opens up the film to a wider discussion on the meaning of art and the role of the artist, and despite the film's esoteric subject, FLicKer makes for intelligent and bad pun aside, illuminating viewing.
FLicKer is available on DVD in the US on the Alive Mind label. The DVD features a very pleasing 1.66 transfer - the interview footage Sheehan filmed for the documentary is very clean with strong vibrant colors, while the archive footage is a little rougher but otherwise in good shape. Sound is fine too, and the score sounds very robust. The DVD features no extras except for trailers for two other films on the Alive Mind label. Alternatively, you can view the entire film here.
UbuWeb hosts an excellent archive of Brion Gysin's sound art albums, all available to stream or download as good quality mp3s. Also the official Brion Gysin website is an excellent and comprehensive resource of Gysin art, images, articles and interviews