The History of Brion Gysin

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Brion Gysin (1916 – 1986) was an artist, writer and inventor. He was born in the UK to Canadian parents and spent his childhood in Canada before being sent to school in Somerset aged 15.

Gysin studied at the Sorbonne, where he was introduced to Surrealist circles. He served in the Second World War, before moving to Morocco where he met American novelist and artist William S. Burroughs. The two become lifelong friends and collaborators.

Gysin and Burroughs experimented with the cut-up technique, in which words and phrases were literally cut-up and rearranged to reveal new meanings. It culminated in The Third Mind, a manifesto on the practice. Gysin transferred this technique to tape-recorded poems altered using a computer algorithm, making him one of the earliest artists to use computers in creating his art.

In 1959 Gysin developed the Dreamachine. The creation saw a cylinder with slits fixed around a suspended lightbulb was placed on a record turntable. As it rotated it projected light at a frequency that corresponds to waves present in the brain during relaxation, creating a kaleidoscopic, technicolour experience inside the mind of the viewer. Designed to be the ‘first artwork to be experienced with your eyes closed’, Gysin had a vision for his invention to replace the TV in every home in America. Instead of passive consumers of mass-produced media, viewers of the Dreamachine would create their own cinematic experiences.

The Dreamachine was the culmination of Gysin’s research. It was unveiled in 1962 at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s Gysin would inspire and mentor a range of artists, poets and musicians including David Bowie and Patti Smith.

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