A dreamachine is little more than a perforated tube of paper placed on a spinning platter with a light bulb positioned in the tube. Holes are cut from the tube according to a specific pattern. You sit in front of the dreamachine at eye-level with the bulb, with your eyes closed. If constructed correctly the dreamachine should emit a pulse of light between 8-13 Hz, which is the precise rhythm of alpha-waves in the brain. Alpha-waves are dominant during the "alpha state," which occurs during deep meditation or the early stages of sleep. Alpha-waves are associated with a healthy mind and a stress-free life. For those of us with mentally taxing jobs and stressful lives, the dreamachine can restore order and relaxation, with the bonus of some interesting visual effects.
The first dreamachine was imagined and constructed by Brion Gysin sometime in the early 1960's with the aid of mathematician Ian Sommerville. Gysin, an occultist, artist and writer living in Paris, was a close friend of William S. Burroughs (who often receives credit for the invention). Burroughs and Gysin experimented with the dreamachine extensively. Both men were familiar with British neuroscientist W. Gray Walter's discovery that flashing lights quickly altered brain activity and not only the visual cortex, but the whole mind.
Aside from relaxation and increased mental abilities, dreamachine users report seeing otherworldly colors, swirling intricate patterns and dream-like images.
Subjects report dazzling lights of unearthly brilliance and color. ...Elaborate geometric constructions of incredible intricacy build up from multidimensional mosaic into living fireballs like the mandalas of Eastern mysticism or resolve momentarily into apparently individual images and powerfully dramatic scenes like brightly colored dreams. - William S. Burroughs
You could achieve the same "alpha state" after learning and practicing meditation, or by training yourself with bio-feedback machines, however the dreamachine offers you a fantastic light show and relatively quick alpha-wave production. People find that dreamachine therapy and other alpha-wave related therapy lead to decreased anxiety, overall calmness, increases IQ scores, increases in brain hemisphere coordination and overall intellectual function. All this without drugs!
I built my own dreamachine following plans which you can obtain for free from the links at the end of this article. I bought a $5 turntable at a garage sale, a 24" x 48" sheet of heavy white paper and some tape. Using a marker, ruler and razor I cut the paper according to the directions and bent it into the shape of the tube. After ripping the tone arm off the record player I glued the tube to the platter and dropped a drop-light down through the middle of the tube. With the light turned on, the room lights turned off and the turn table set to 78rpm, I sat in front of it with my eyes closed. At first I was restless, expecting an immediate effect. Within minute or so I was rewarded with soft geometric patterns, like a swirling storm of pink, white, yellow and green cherry blossom petals. These visions also appeared as if I had full 360 degree vision - as I was seeing with my mind and not my eyes. I relaxed and enjoyed the images. It was like dreaming - while I was awake.
I'm not going to claim that the dreamachine works for everyone, although it should. If you do decide to build one, I recommend mellow instrumental electronic music to augment the experience. I also must caution epileptics not to use the dreamachine, as the flickering lights may trigger a seizure, not unlike a strobe light or TV. Otherwise try it: it's a cheap thrill for less than ten dollars and it looks cool sitting in the corner of your dorm room.
Mega Brain Power by Michael Hutchison, Hyperion Books
Dreamachine Links: http://www.inter-zone.org/interzone/inter-zone/index-e.htm
Dreamachine Plans: http://www.interpc.fr/mapage/westernlands/dreamachine.html