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Posted on May 26, 2017 | 0 comments


“The poets are supposed to liberate the words – not chain them in phrases. Who told the poets they were supposed to think? Poets are meant to sing and to make words sing. Writers don’t own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody? ‘Your very own words,’ indeed! And who are you?”

“I enjoy inventing things out of fun. After all, life is a game, not a career.”



“The resulting texts always took a narrative term, enigmatic at first but ultimately explicit and often premonitory. The semantic distribution of these basic elements diverted them from their original meaning, thus revealing their real significance. Henceforth, every form of writing will consist of an operation of decoding, of contamination, and of sense perversion. All this because all language is essentially mystification, and everything is fiction.”


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Documentary film from 1997 on Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine.

Directed by Nic Sheehan.



The Idea Machine: Brion Gysin

PAINTER, PERFORMER, POET, WRITER AND MYSTIC BRION GYSIN (1916-86) was an early prophet of our age. He was a pioneer of the cut-up method, a technique that in many ways anticipated the internet’s impact on the way that we break down information and ascribe meaning to symbols and words.

His innovations include early sound poetry and a scientifically-researched device known as the Dreamachine. Despite forging a creative practice that would influence some of the twentieth century’s most important artists, from the Beat Generation to Bowie, Gysin has slipped into relative obscurity. His anonymity is in stark contrast to his lifelong friend and collaborator William S. Burroughs, whose Naked Lunch became a countercultural bible and must-read for any teenage recluse.

Gysin was born in England to Canadian parents in 1916. He was introduced into Surrealist circles while studying at the Sorbonne, and after the war accompanied Paul Bowles to Morocco. It was there that Gysin met Burroughs. The two ended up back in Paris together in 1958 at the infamous Beat Hotel. Their experiments with the cut-up technique, in which words and phrases are literally cut up into pieces and rearranged to disassociate them from their received meanings and reveal new ones, culminated in Burroughs and Gysin’s The Third Mind, a book-length collage manifesto on the possibilities of the practice.

From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Gysin’s style manifested itself in a series of calligraphic paintings and drawings that he produced in Morocco. Fluent in written Japanese and Arabic, Gysin’s script-like canvases represent an attempt to fuse writing and painting into a single complex system of mark-making. He used a grid formation, making marks from top to bottom as well as right to left, to create a dense pattern of abstract language.


Circa 1960, Gysin collaborated with Ian Sommerville, a mathematician and budding computer scientist studying at Oxford. He and Sommerville were attempting to computerise the shift and change of words and sounds, naming these experiments with printed words and magnetic tape Permutations. Works like ‘Pistol Poem’, comprised solely of pistol shots recorded at varying distances, and the poem ‘I Am That I Am’ made him a pioneer of sound poetry. Embracing magnetic tape and computer technology, at a time when such practice was the preserve of scientists, Gysin equated his Permutations with those of a machine. He went on to perform these works around Europe, accompanied by music and handmade slide projections.

Gysin believed that his Dreamachine would eclipse television

In 1961, Gysin and Sommerville developed the Dreamachine. A cylinder with slits cut in the sides and a suspended light bulb at its centre is placed on a record turntable and rotated at seventy-eight revolutions per minute; the rotation speed projects light at a constant frequency of eight to thirteen pulses per second, which corresponds to alpha waves present in the human brain during wakeful relaxation. The flickering light creates a trance-like hallucinatory state. For Gysin, the Dreamachine was the culmination of his research. With it, images were freed completely from representation. He believed that the future of painting was the mind, which could be an inexhaustible source of artistic revelation with the help of the Dreamachine. The piece was officially unveiled in March 1962 at an exhibition titled The Object at the Museé des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. It did in fact prove to be a source of artistic inspiration, though not to the degree Gysin hoped – he believed that his Dreamachine would eclipse television. Burroughs even thought it could be used to ‘storm the citadels of enlightenment.’

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At the exhibition Brion Gysin: Dream Machine, the New Museum in New York invited viewers to experience a Dreamachine alongside notebooks and drafts for The Third Mind, letters between Gysin and Burroughs and videos of Gysin’s friends and collaborators. The exhibition also comprised Gysin’s calligraphic paintings, drawings, films and personal notebooks – all providing a platform for a rethinking of Gysin as an artist in his own right.

I met New Museum curator Laura Hoptman to discuss the show and the dynamic relationship between Gysin and Burroughs.





Razvan – M.A.E




I met William Burroughs in 1971. I got his address through a magazine and went to London to spend time with him. Right away I asked about Brion Gysin. Gysin would always be in the dedications or introductions to Burroughs’s books, but he was a mysterious character, who got little attention from the public and the people I knew. I wondered who he was and about his past in terms of the bigger picture of Burroughs’s experiments, particularly with tape recorders and cut-ups.

Burroughs wrote me a letter of introduction and I contacted Gysin in Paris. When I met him, I felt I knew why he was kept hidden away. He was an amazingly charming man with a powerful energy and kaleidoscopic knowledge. Once you had met him, everyone else seemed a little dull.

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My first clear idea of him as an important contemporary artist and writer was through The Third Mind. Even now, I would recommend that as a very powerful manual on contemporary culture and how to explore it. I think it’s the bible of experimentalism of the past 50 years.

Gysin trivialised his application of cut-ups, saying that he accidentally cut through newspapers, assembled the pieces and was amused by what he read across the page. But it was obvious he had lived in Paris through the key moments of the art movements of the 20th century, particularly Dada and surrealism, and that he was very aware of the Tristan Tzara tradition of throwing words into a hat, pulling them out and reading a poem.

Gysin was more methodical than he pretended. He understood more than anyone else at that point in culture that, just as we can take apart particles until there’s a mystery, so we can do the same with culture, with words, language and image. Everything can be sliced and diced and reassembled, with no limit to the possible combinations.

I spent six years trying to persuade Burroughs to release an album of the tape-recorder experiments he and Gysin had made. The implications of the cut-ups, the technology and tape experiments and the Dreamachine are powerful and far reaching. There’s an amazing piece of tape from the 1950s, featuring Gregory Corso, Burroughs, Gysin and a couple other Beats, on which you can actually hear William cutting up a letter and saying: “Let’s see what it really says.”

These mythological moments affected not just the careers of the protagonists, but our whole attitude to sampling, tape loops and new ways of organising popular music that would not have happened otherwise. These tape-recorder experiments in Paris are absolutely the root of industrial music. There’s a very specific lineage of experimentation.




Brion Gysin Teaching



I would place Gysin at the junction of the old way of perceiving the world and the new – a kind of Leonardo da Vinci of the last century. It’s no accident that the atom got split and gave us particle physics at the time LSD was doing the same with consciousness and Gysin and Burroughs were doing it with culture.

Though Gysin was outwardly rather sceptical, in private he was very mystical and interested in the tradition of the artist-healer. If one didn’t look at the very nature of how we build and describe our world, he thought, we get into very dangerous places. Once you believe things are permanent, you’re trapped in a world without doors. Gysin constructed a room with infinite doors for us to walk through.

What amazed me about Gysin’s work was how it could be applied to behaviour: there were techniques to free oneself through the equivalent of cutting up and reassembling words. If we confound and break up the proposed unfolding the world impresses upon us, we can give ourselves the space to consider what we want to be as a species.


I first saw Gysin’s calligraphic works as abstract paintings. Gysin told me they were paintings of light and, once I saw they were depictions of light striking things, I began to see people, trees, landscapes, all kinds of vistas that were realities I hadn’t seen before. He basically paints portals that shift our perception as we look, changing the way we see things.

The Dreamachine was the first artwork to be looked at with the eyes closed. Gysin’s art illustrates the way the eye and the brain decode information. If you work with a dreamachine you go through various stages that relate to Gysin’s paintings and drawings, which actually documented the images that seem to occur when you are fed pure light by flicker.

More interesting is that a lot of them were done as magical, functional paintings. He would take words, break them down into hieroglyphics, then turn the paper and do it again and again until the magical square was filled with words. Gysin worked with the idea of painting as magic, to change the perception of people and to reprogramme the human nervous system.

The original motives for what we now call art were the functional techniques of the shaman to make things happen (for a hunt to be successful, for example), to explore dimensions of consciousness that would otherwise be inaccessible, much like the Dreamachine. Gysin used any medium, working with it to find a way to demonstrate that reality could be turned into a jigsaw: then we could make the pictures we wanted from it rather than inheriting them from other people.

His last painting, Caligraffiti of Fire, was a beautiful work hung on all four walls of a room so that you had to spin round to see it. Instead of the Dreamachine spinning and the viewer being static with their eyes closed, the viewer stands in the centre of the room and spins with eyes open. People are tricked by it into doing a dervish dance. I’d imagine, in the perfect situation, Gysin would have liked the viewer to spin round until they fell over, and then see what happened.

I made an agreement with Gysin before his death that I would try to champion and vindicate his work and legacy. He was living opposite the Beaubourg in Paris, and any time I had spare money I would go to see him. I’d get up and go to his apartment at around 11am, make mint tea, then sit down at his table by the new flower arrangement – he liked to have fresh flowers – and start talking. And then it would be 11 at night and I’d go back to where I was staying and come back the next morning. In a way, he was my university. I’m glad to have been a student.

· Genesis P Orridge was talking to Tim Cumming.



The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome – Kenneth Anger





John Perreault’s art diary


Lift the bandstand!

                                                              —Thelonious Monk to Steve Lacy.

                                                                                                   Lift the grandstand!

                                                                                        — Artopian motto.


Master of All Trades


Brion Gysin (1916-1986) was a restaurateur, a raconteur, a provocateur, an entrepreneur. A novelist, journalist, promoter, poet, painter, magician. These are only some of the strands in the braid of his life

His multiple talents and multiple roles is what gave and — alas, judging by the weirdly cautious reviews of the New Museum retrospective (“Brion Gysin: Dream Machine,” to Oct. 3) — continues to give the categorists so much trouble.

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Categorists: Our enemies trapped inside the categories they themselves have created or perpetuated, who can “see” only by using categories; who control themselves and others through categories.

Classification is pacification.

Playing more than one role is not allowed — emphasis, of course, on “playing.” Playing is not serious. Now that we are living longer, we are free to be many different people in one lifetime. Stockbroker, father, poet. Doctor, poet. Housewife, sculptor. Cartoonist, painter. Restaurateur, novelist, poet, literary agent, dogcatcher.


But simultaneously?

It is as if we were all born with one and only one suit of clothes, one pair of shoes. Oh, please. The reality is that we are multiple. That still puzzles the packagers and the academics. Both deal in sound-bite identities; the latter defending their totems and their turf to the death — of art.

Leonardo da Vinci is celebrated as a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, geologist, cartographer, botanist; Michelangelo as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and, besting Leonardo, a poet. And then it was all downhill, as art became the arts, as creativity was divided into seminars and seminaries and cemeteries, each policed.

I am not saying that Gysin is our Leonardo or our Michelangelo; far from it. But he should now be reckoned with. As we go about rewriting the recent past — which, given our current, evidently end-game predicament, is increasingly necessary — Gysin will have to be included. Why he has until now been neglected, and what he stands for, once understood, could point the way to one possible future for art, or two, possibly three. New futures for art is what we need right now.





Route 8 – The sunrise in her eyes [Lobster Theremin]





Gysin: Autoportrait, 1935

La Vie Boheme?

First of all, let’s get this straight. Brion Gysin is not a fictional character made up by his buddy William Burroughs. On the contrary, he was invented out of whole cloth by John Clifford Brian Gysin, born 1916 in Buckinghamshire, England. Raised in Alberta by his Canadian mother but sent to secondary school at Downside Catholic College in England. Dad was Swiss and missing in action during the First World War.

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By the age of 19, deft at languages, tall and handsome, Brion is a Parisian and a Surrealist, introduced to the cult by Leonor Fini or, depending on whom you read, his older, art-critic lover Nicholas Calas. Yes, the same Nicholas Calas who later wrote so perceptively about Rauschenberg and Johns and who now and then still managed to wave the Surrealist flag in America, even in the ’50s and ’60s. Yes, the Nicholas Calas who in 1951 praises his ex, a would-be Rimbaud to his would-be Verlaine, as “The most promising painter of his generation.”

But in 1935, young Brion is quickly excommunicated from the Surrealist fold — for making fun of Pope André Breton or because he was unashamedly gay. Perhaps both. His works are yanked from a Surrealist exhibition by none other than poet Paul Éluard by order of Breton himself. Brion is crushed. But only temporarily.


Back in the New World, shape-shifter Gysin investigates the Harlem Renaissance. Compromising his poète maudit pedigree, he is, during this most shocking period in his life, the costume assistant for seven Broadway musicals. But his reputation is saved. He becomes a wartime welder in Bayonne, New Jersey, simultaneously continuing artmaking, sharing a studio in New York with the Surrealist Matta. Then, good at languages, courtesy of the U.S. Army, as fate would have it, he studies Japanese and Japanese calligraphy, the latter later important to his art, as we shall see.

During his doughboy downtime he becomes an erstwhile contributor to black history by finding the memoirs of the model for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and writing and publishing the real history of the real Uncle Tom — a book called To Master: A Long Goodnight, The True Story of Uncle Tom …. which he then tries to turn into a Broadway musical, modeled after Show Boat.



Invocation of my Demon Brother (KENNETH ANGER, 1969)



Postwar Warlocks

After World War II, Gysin is one of the first Fulbright scholars. Then, hired as translator, he tours North Africa with composer/novelist Paul Bowles. They discover the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

Gysin thinks the purpose of Jajouka music is to preserve the balance of male and female forces. Because it is the music he “wants to hear all the time,” he, of course, starts a jet-set, expat restaurant in Tangier featuring these obscure and rarified but spectacularly joyous Muslim musicians.

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He is convinced they are actually perpetuating pre-Muslim evocations of Pan. Is this true? According to the Jajouka musicians themselves, their baraka or spiritual power comes from the Muslim saint Sidi Ahmed Sehikh (who left Persia c.800 AD).

Bachir Attar & The Master Musicians Of Jajouka – Hanging Out In Jajouka

Gysin’s restaurant, called 1001 Nights — advertised in the Tangier Gazette: as “1001 Arabian nights food, music, dancing. Floor Show 10:30-11:30” — also features dancing boys and at least one movie-star wedding (Corinne Calvet); yet when super-rich Barbara Hutton, temporarily ensconced in naughty Tangier, goes on a diet and fails to show up for supper, profits take a dive.

Either through some derring-do by a pair of rich Scientologists (John and Mary Cooke) or a Moroccan curse put into effect by a bundle of trinkets and mysterious inscriptions hidden in a wall by a musician, dancer, or Moroccan boyfriend, the legendary nite-spot closes. Not insignificantly, Tangier is no longer an International Zone but part of Morocco, which is now independent. You can no longer easily stoke your hash pipe. You can no longer “rent a hunk” with equanimity. The land of André Gide is perhaps no more.




Tissu – Ground Loop [Mörk]




A Life That’s Spliced



                   There was something dangerous about what he was doing.

                                                                       — William Burroughs.

Back in Gay Paree, Gysin eventually becomes the pioneer of the literary cut-up. Although adding-machine scion and ex-junkie William Burroughs (whom Gysin meets by chance in the street) has the provocative insight that writing preceded speaking, our antihero, more grounded, understands that writing, nevertheless, is 50 years behind painting. To remedy this he proposes to apply the painters’ techniques to writing.

He pulls the cut-up out of Tristan Tzara’s Dada hat and creates something new in the world. His close friend (not his lover, by the way) Burroughs runs with the ball, while Allen Ginsberg stands behind and worries. And then the Beatles and the Stones use the method in their lyrics and sound-collage. Others think the cut-up is old hat. Actually, it came from a different place: outer space.


Here is an early Gysin example:

       It is impossible to estimate the damage. anything put out up to now is like pulling a figure out of the air.

       Six distinguished British women said to us later, indicating the crowd of chic young women who were fingering samples, “If our prices weren’t as food or better, they wouldn’t come. Eve is eternal.”

       (I’m going right back to the Sheraton Carlton and call the Milwaukee Braves.)

       Miss Hannah Pugh the slim model — a member of the Diners’ Club, the American Express Credit cards, etc. — drew from a piggy bank a talent which is the very quintessence of the British Female sex.

       “People aren’t crazy,” she said. “Now that hazard has banished my timidity I feel that I, too, can live on streams in the area where people are urged to be watchful.”

       A huge wave rolled in from the wake of Hurricane Gracie and bowled a married couple off a jetty. The wife’s body was found — the husband was missing, presumed drowned.

       Tomorrow the moon will be 228,400 miles from the earth and the sun almost 93,000,000 miles away.

                             — from “First Cut-Ups” (September 1959);


And a cut-up made from a cut-up screed:



Ears behind paintings; use to writing: things or montage. Cut right into . . . lengthwise. Put them together are sage. Do it for your to you. Take your own words of anyone. Words don’t belong to own and you or anybody aims to set the words to spin. The words of a potent ripple of meanings whin (sic) they were struck and posed to liberate.

                                               – from “Cut-ups Self-Explained.”

Gysin and Burroughs thought the spell of language could be broken by slicing, dicing, and splicing. Were they right? Yes, language is a prison. In Artopia we say your own words are the biggest prison of all. The things you tell yourself and the things you write are how you write yourself. These are the first words that need to be unspelled.

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Burroughs claimed the cut-up method sometimes results in vaticination. But what should we call cut-up prophesy? I go through a glossary of divination, from alomancy (table salt) to tiromancy (cheese), and the closest I can find for cut-up precognition is, not psychography, a form of mysterious writing perhaps suited to Gysin’s calligraphic paintings, but (1.) stichomancy, which involves opening a book at random and, better, (2.) rhapsodomancy, wherein the book must be a book of poetry. The latter is not, as you may have thought, the use of arcane forms of sodomy.

On the other hand, what novels of the period compare to Gysin’s The Process or Burroughs’ Naked Lunch? Nabokov’s Lolita? Lady Chatterley’s Lover, weak Lawrence belatedly published? Probably only On the Road.




Kenneth Anger – Lucifer Rising (Original track by Acqua Lazúli)




And then, when the boys started being cut- ups themselves, leading to The Third Mind, pages of which fill the center of the New Museum show …well, no one has caught up yet.

Isn’t it time we dump Philip Roth, John Updike and the lot? Continual middlebrow praise for these turkeys is why novels are no longer part of the intellectual or artistic discourse.

The cut-up, like the found poem, may now be the cliché of creative writing classes, but because of this you can find excellent, digitalized cut-up “machines” online. You no longer need an X-Acto or Stanley knife, which is what Gysin used, and a can of rubber cement. My favorite is  because it has complicated options** but is easy to use.

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Here is one result:

He cut-up is even more doors to apply the old hat. Actually. But your own pulls the cut up, runs with what there is of the all: the, the spell of what you write. To remedy this, it came from new in the and Burroughs thought to be unspelled. Door. He cut-up is even more doors, to apply the old hat. Actually. But your own pulls the cut-up Burroughs. runs with there is the all: the, the spell of you write. You writing preceded speaking. New piles of shredded. A different place: it and splicing biggest prison of outer space.


Poems work even better, as in the following mix of the Artopia text and a fragment from a long poem of mine called Emily:


turning weather I see

what’s left slicing behind

and worries are

the bridegroom

and enflame place

it came from that writing.

To remedy this

a creature of writing

preceded speaking

has the not like algebra

even more doors.

To remedy this

painters’ techniques to wool,

to disown the road

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so unlike that pioneer.

you write.

You sound the rail;

 DreamMachine 10Hz Alpha Waves

Gysin yourself; the with it. Were tell

he showing

this one sign:

of harbors or door, words are me

was damp prayer

or where were

faucets minding. I pack up

into a relocate the kinsman.

                    John Perreault, 2010


Obviously using your own writings results in different outcomes and “prophesies” than from using newspapers, breaking other kinds of spells. Then too, read-outs are what you read into write-ups, aren’t they? And just as anything can be a score for music — see: “Christian Marclay: Festival” at the Whitney — anything can trigger prophecy.

Money That Dreams Can Buy

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                               He is the only man I have ever respected

 –William Burroughs



Baltra – No Regrets




AND Gysin becomes the failed promoter of the Dreamachine, a flicker lamp for inducing psychedelic patterns behind closed eyelids. The New Museum has a Dreamachine room for use. With the forewarning that in some it might induce seizures. Here, if you must, is a version of the Dreamachine you can experience online:

AND Gysin becomes the sarcastic saint of the legendary Beat Hotel in Paris, eventually writing an enormous memoir/novel about this literary flophouse, The Last Museum (apparently heavily edited when published and, unlike The Process, no longer in print).

AND Gysin invents tape poems, sound poems, some of which can be heard on the Ubu archive. I particularly like the 2-part Pistol Poem. There are interviews too.

AND Gysin invents permutation poems: Here is part of a particularly scary permutation poem:

I Am That I Am











The Dream Machine








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                   etc ….

                                           — 1959, from Back In No Time.


Budding poets can make their own permutation  poems online.


Writing Writ Large

His tone and style are untrammeled and varied; his atmosphere and flavor sudden as lightning. His conception was formulated before his brush was used, so that when the painting was finished the conception was present. Thus he completed its spiritual breath.

  —  Chang Yen-yuan (c. 847 AD) on the brushstrokes of Ku K’ai-chi.(c. 345-406)


Calligraphy and painting are, in fact, a single thing.

                                –– Chao Hsi-ku (c. 1195-1242)

When the retired scholar was in the mountains, he was not preoccupied with any single thing, and thus his spirit communed with all things, and his knowledge encompassed all the arts.

                                 — Su Shih (1035-1101)


There is surely a single principle in literature, calligraphy, and painting.

                                 — Wang Ch’in-ch’en (11th century).





Floria Sigismondi Reel



AND Gysin makes works on paper and canvas using a grid created by rolling a brayer across the surfaces and/or by superimposing abstract versions of vertical Japanese calligraphy with abstract versions of horizontal Arabic calligraphy.

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There is a tradition of pseudo-calligraphy in China and Japan, particularly in ceramics, where it is used as decoration. But because Arabic is the written as well as the spoken word of G-d, abstract-calligraphy is blasphemous under Islam. His various costumes notwithstanding, Gysin never became a Muslim. If anything he was blatantly pre-Abrahamic or prematurely post-Abrahamic.

Out of necessity, Gysin mostly worked in what I call “bedroom scale.” Only at the last minute, as it were, did a patron appear to provide him with a full-blown studio, allowing him to produce his final masterpiece: the 10-panel, makemono format Calligraffiti (sic) of Fire, at nearly 70, the year before he succumbed to cancer. Makemono is the Japanese accordion-like book format. This is a work that, like Jay DeFeo’s The Rose, can stand alone. Everything else led up to it. Surely it is pertinent to quote Gysin here: “I Am the Artist When I Am Open. When I am closed I am Brion Gysin.”

Unfortunately, at the New Museum Calligraffiti is stuck in the hallway in front of the elevator doors on the 2nd floor — another ghastly space in this highly praised, nearly unworkable building. Here is a picture:


“Man Is a Bad Animal”

Man is a bad animal because he kills not only his own kind but any and all other animals, wantonly….Man is the only animal who destroys his own nest…..No fish ever polluted the sea. No bird every polluted the air. No other animal ever takes slaves and wages war.

                                                                               — Bryon Gysin                            





Jupiter Jax – Never Again [Neo Violence]





AND Gysin was friendly with photographer Carl Van Vechten, who took that campy picture of him in Sufi drag (cribbed from the MGM getup of hippie Scientologist John Cooke); Alice B. Toklas, to whom he provides the famous recipe for hashish fudge for her best-selling cookbook; crazy Jane Bowles, Paul’s talented wife; Charles Henri Ford, actress Ruth Ford’s literary brother and publisher of View magazine; jazz-great Steve Lacy, who writes the music for Gysin’s lyrics “Nowhere Street.” And then on to Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, poet John Giorno (a Gysin ex) and Keith Haring. But there was Princess This and Princess That; and, oh, Felicity Mason  (not the new Felicity Mason, but Cafe Society’s “Anne Cumming,” who considered Gysin her “adoptive brother”),various Rothschilds and various Gettys. See how quickly anything about a namedropper turns into gossip and name-dropping. 

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And in a sense he had always depended upon the kindness of rich ladies. Unlike Burroughs he had no monthly checks from Mom. Nasty Burroughs proclaimed him a confirmed misogynist, causing Gysin to respond: “Don’t go calling me a misogynist…a mere misogynist. I am a monumental misanthropist. Man is a bad animal…. Me, I AM a compromise, a compromise between the sexes in a dualistic universe.

Some might have considered Gysin the most annoying man who ever lived. After speeding through John Geiger’s Nothing Is True Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin and the complicated book of interviews by Terry Wilson, Here to Go, we are glad not to have met him, the better to appreciate him. Distance, as with all true love, makes the heart grow profounder.

Binaural Beat Mind Machine Deep Hypnosis 10 Minute Meditation


If you built a novel or a film around a character like Gysin, who would swallow it? But to use 21st-century logic, the more unlikely something seems, the more likely it’s true. Same for persons.


Entering Gysin’s life and entering his art is in itself a series of choices. There is a door in Canada and one in Paris and one in New York and one in Tangier. Both the Paris and the Tangier doors yield rooms with even more doors. The Paris door opens to a Surrealist door, a dream-machine door, a William Burroughs door, non-referential calligraphy and piles of shredded paper. The Tangier door offers doors labeled the Sahara; or Pan. Both offer doors through space and time. At a certain point you wonder if Gysin ever really existed.

On paper he sounds fine, in real life I probably would have run screaming out the door. He had a million ideas, some of them brilliant. He somehow had the Quixotic notion that he should live from his writings and his art. I can find no evidence of gainful employment after World War II. What did he live on? Scraps from the table. And advances here and there. He lived on dreams and schemes.


To His Reward


                                 All religions must be taxed out of existence.


                                                                                                     — Bryon Gysin






Floria Sigismondi MomoVisual



larger[2]  larger[1]larger[1]


delafex – black orchid





Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, John Hopkins, Ira Cohen
Although Paul Bowles was loathe to be considered a Beat writer and not particularly an admirer of the Beats’ writings, he did inspire several of the major Beat Generation writers including Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs to go to Morocco. Writer Iain Finlayson explains this point in his 1992 book Tangier: City of the Dream: “Especially bothersome is the insistence of some literary critics, reviewers and gossips who identify him as the ‘cult author of the Beat Generation’, as though he gave birth to Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gysin, Corso and the others. The latest such description had occurred in the May 1987 issue of the French magazine Actuel. He takes trouble to limit the implications. ‘It’s wrong,’ Bowles declares. Image result for DREAMACHINE GIF‘I was never a Beat writer. To describe me as a Beat writer is purely ignorant.'” Nor is it truly correct to lump Paul Bowles with the Beat Generation of writers; Bowles preceded them by years: he had first visited Tangier in 1931, moved there in 1947, and he lived a total of 52 years in Tangier. In comparison, Burroughs only lived in Tangier for 4 years, from late 1953 to 1958. In any case, Bowles was never a Beat writer, and none of his writings are even vaguely similar to their writings.In late 1953, William S. Burroughs arrived in Tangier, a city he would later dubb “Interzone” in his novel Naked Lunch. Bill Burroughs saw Paul Bowles regularly during the two-year period from 1955 to 1956, but apparently not Jane. Regarding her, Burroughs wrote in one of his letters: “Yes I know Jane Bowles but she is not exactly one of my fans. Not on bad terms you understand, just don’t click exactly.” (See: The Letters of William S. Burroughs: Volume I: 1945–1959.) In 1957, Jack Kerouac arrived in Tangier to visit with Burroughs and help him type various manuscripts, but he stayed only one month. He was soon followed by Allen Ginsberg, who accompanied by his friend Peter Orlovsky (Ginsberg was also snubbed by Jane Bowles) and finally Alan Ansen. In June 1961, Gregory Corso, another important Beat Generation figure arrived in Tangier. Corso, along with William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, stayed at the Villa Muniria, a guesthouse with a small garden and a terrace with beach views, not far from the Boulevard Pasteur.The painter and writer Brion Gysin first met Jane Bowles and later Paul Bowles in Paris in 1938, when they were on their honeymoon. They became reacquainted with Gysin again in Paris during the spring of 1950, and the Bowleses invited Gysin to visit them in Tangier. He arrived in Tangier in July 1950, staying for several months as a houseguest of Paul and Jane Bowles in their small house in the upper medina. Also shown here are photographs of the writers and novelists Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, John Hopkins, and Robin Maugham, who were definitely not “Beats”; and the Beat poet, writer and photographer Ira Cohen (February 3, 1935―April 25, 2011), and his son Raphael Aladdin Cohen.




MAC COSMETICS / cherry / floria sigismondi



Brion Gysin

(This photograph of Brian Gysin from the early 1970s, is copyright © and owned by producer Joel Rubiner. It may not be copied, used, altered or transmitted without his advance written permission.)

Brion Gysin was born on January 19, 1916, in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England. Gysin’s father died when Brion was only eight months old, and his Canadian-born mother returned to Canada and settled in Edmonton, Alberta, where Brion Gysin first attended school. After Gysin’s graduation at age 15 they returned to England and he continued his studies in Brighton. In 1934, Gysin moved to Paris to study La Civilisation Française, an open course given at the Sorbonne where he made literary and artistic contacts. Gysin became a painter and writer who first met Jane Bowles and later Paul Bowles in 1938 in Paris, where the Bowleses had spent some time during their lengthy honeymoon travels. Jane and Paul Bowles encountered Gysin again in Paris in the spring of 1950, when Paul Bowles invited Gysin to visit them in Morocco.

In July 1950, Brion Gysin arrived in Tangier, staying as a houseguest for several months in Jane and Paul Bowles’ tiny house near Place Amrah in the upper medina. Paul Bowles introduced Brion Gysin to Mohamed Hamri in 1950, when the 18-year-old had been travelling back and forth on the train from Ksar-el-Kebir to Tangier. Hamri was then making drawings but wanted to learn to paint. Gysin decided to encourage Hamri’s painting, and he bought Hamri his first oil paints and taught him painting techniques. Hamri and Gysin immediately became inseparable friends and shared a room on the second floor at Jane and Paul Bowles’ tiny house in the upper Medina. While Bowles was away on a trip Hamri took some of Bowles’ personal belongings, including the suit he wore at his wedding to Jane, all of which ended up in a Tangier flea market. The last straw for Bowles occurred when Hamri “borrowed” an expensive new radio. This caused a rift between Bowles and Gysin and they did not speak with each other for several months. Finally, when Bowles’ chauffeur Mohammed Temsamany and the artist Ahmed Yacoubi confronted Hamri directly, Gysin abruptly moved to a cottage on the Marshan. Within a few months, Gysin and Bowles had a reconciliation and they remained friends for many years thereafter. Writer Michelle Green wrote a book on Tangier which describes this period in some detail. In 1950, Gysin suggested to Bowles that he could easily afford to buy a car after the great success of his first novel The Sheltering Sky, and Bowles took his advice and bought a black Jaguar convertible and hired a chauffeur, Mohammed Temsamany, who was given a suitable uniform. Soon afterwards, in the winter of 1951, Bowles, Gysin and Temsamany set off on a lengthy trip to the far south of Morocco and the Sahara.


In the summer of 1950, Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles made a memorable trip to a moussem (festival) that was held on the Atlantic coast at Sidi Kacem, several miles south of Tangier. It was in Sidi Kacem with Paul Bowles, not in the village of Jajouka, where Brion Gysin first heard the music which fascinated him. In a collection of Gysin’s writings, Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader, edited by Jason Weiss (Wesleyan University Press, 2002), Gysin declared: “I turned to Paul Bowles who had taken me there and said: ‘I want to hear that music every day of my life!'” Soon thereafter, Gysin learned from his friend Mohamed Hamri, who soon became Gysin’s artistic protégé, that these musicians were from a small mountain village called Jajouka. Gysin eagerly went to Jajouka with Hamri to hear this music. Hamri’s mother was born in Jajouka, but she later moved to nearby Ksar-el-Kebir. Hamri was born in Ksar-el-Kebir (according to his obituary in The Independent newspaper published on October 19, 2000), but as a child he spent much time visiting relatives in Jajouka, and later in life he divided his time between an apartment in Tangier and a house in Jajouka.

In Gysin’s book The Process (New York: Doubleday, 1969), Hamri was made into a real-life character named Hamid. With the help and translation from Maghribi Arabic or darija into English by his American-born wife Blanca Nyland, Hamri’s stories were initially published as a limited-edition of 50 copies and entitled Tales of Joujouka, edited by Édouard Roditi (Santa Barbara, California: Capra Press, 1975; reprinted later in Tangier: Black Eagle Press, 2003). This book contains eight stories about the legends, folkore, Sufi origins, myths and rituals of the Ahl Srif tribe in the foothills of the southern Rif Mountains near Ksar-el-Kebir, Morocco, whose Master Musicians fascinated and even obsessed Gysin.

Although Gysin at first spelled the name of the village as “Joujouka”, which is how his friend Mohamed Hamri had pronounced it, Gysin consistently used in his later writings, references, correspondence and letters the spelling of Jajouka for both the Master Musicians and the village itself. Likewise, although William S. Burroughs had used and published articles about the Master Musicians of Joujouka, he later used the spelling of Jajouka. Perhaps this confusion in spelling first began because Hamri pronounced the village as Jou-jou-ka, but the most commonly used spelling in English now seems to be Jajouka. Hamri eventually became an accomplished and prolific Moroccan artist (his personal calling card proclaimed “Hamri, The Painter of Morocco”). During his lifetime numerous exhibitions of his paintings were held in Morocco and in other countries. Mohamed Hamri died in Jajouka on August 29, 2000, at the age of sixty-eight.

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In December 1954, Brion Gysin opened a new restaurant in Tangier named 1001 Nights, located in a narrow wing of the Menebhi Palace. The 1001 Nights was a restaurant, not a café, and it was not located in the Kasbah but rather on the Marshan, as at least one travel guide book and several travel articles on Tangier have inaccurately placed it. News spread quickly throughout Tangier about this restaurant, and it soon became fashionable and attracted well-heeled Europeans and Americans resident in Tangier, and tourists. Customers included Cecil Beaton, Barbara Hutton, William Burroughs, Christopher Isherwood (when he visited Tangier in November 1955), and Jane and Paul Bowles. Gysin’s friend Hamri was the cook, and Gysin hired the Master Musicians of Jajouka, who performed regularly, and dancing boys also provided entertainment. Hamri proved to be such an excellent cook that Gysin wrote “Hamri’s Hands” as a preface for an intended cookbook of Hamri’s recipes, but the book was never published. After Moroccan Independence in 1956, business at the restaurant dropped off dramatically. When two rich Americans named John and Mary Cooke, originally from Hawaii, arrived in Tangier, they became the major financial backers of the restaurant. Later, Gysin visited the Cookes when they moved on to Algeria. It is said that Gysin cried when Mary Cooke abruptly fired him from his job at the restaurant, and 1001 Nights closed permanently in January 1958―never again to reopen. Gysin’s dream in Tangier had come to an end, and soon thereafter he left Morocco and travelled first to London and shortly thereafter he settled in Paris.

In the spring of 1958, Gysin moved into a cheap, unnamed, 42-room hotel in Paris, at 9, rue Git-le Coeur on the Left Bank or Latin Quarter. The hotel had been frequented by writers and artists and later was referred to as the “Beat Hotel”. The rooms were dimly lit and without telephones or carpets, and Gysin lived there for several years. Gysin continued his painting while living in Paris. He introduced Burroughs to the cut-up method of writing, and Gysin and Burroughs collaborated on the technique for four years. Gysin also worked with Gregory Corso. In 1961, Gysin and mathematician Ian Sommerville co-invented and constructed the first “Dreamachine”.

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In the 1980s Gysin developed both emphysema and lung cancer, and while suffering, he died from a heart attack in Paris on July, 13, 1986, at the age of 70. Gysin’s body was cremated in Paris on July 22, and during a post-cremation memorial given by Matilda, Duchess of Argyll, music of the Master Musicians of Jajouka was played (see: Nothing Is True, Everything is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin by John Geiger; New York, The Disinformation Company, Ltd., 2005, page 317). The urn containing Gysin’s ashes was brought to Morocco by François de Palaminy, and on Gysin’s birthday, January 19, 1987, de Palaminy, Paul Bowles, Felicity Mason (Anne Cumming), Salah, Hamri, Joe McPhillips, Mohamed Choukri, Udo Breger, Marguerite McBey and other friends gathered on a cliff near the Caves of Hercules outside Tangier. When they each took a portion of the ashes to scatter into the Atlantic, sudden gusts of winds blew Gysin’s ashes back into their faces.




Hamatsuki – Autumn



 The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin
William S. Burroughs

At a surrealist rally in the 1920s Tristan Tzara the man from nowhere proposed to create a poem on the spot by pulling words out of a hat. A riot ensued wrecked the theater. André Breton expelled Tristan Tzara from the movement and grounded the cut-ups on the Freudian couch.

In the summer of 1959 Brion Gysin painter and writer cut newspaper articles into sections and rearranged the sections at random. Minutes to Go resulted from this initial cut-up experiment. Minutes to Go contains unedited unchanged cut ups emerging as quite coherent and meaningful prose. The cut-up method brings to writers the collage, which has been used by painters for fifty years. And used by the moving and still camera. In fact all street shots from movie or still cameras are by the unpredictable factors of passers by and juxtaposition cut-ups. And photographers will tell you that often their best shots are accidents . . . writers will tell you the same. The best writing seems to be done almost by accident but writers until the cut-up method was made explicit— all writing is in fact cut ups. I will return to this point—had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. You can not will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.

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The method is simple. Here is one way to do it. Take a page. Like this page. Now cut down the middle and cross the middle. You have four sections: 1 2 3 4 . . . one two three four. Now rearrange the sections placing section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page. Sometimes it says much the same thing. Sometimes something quite different—cutting up political speeches is an interesting exercise—in any case you will find that it says something and something quite definite. Take any poet or writer you fancy. Here, say, or poems you have read over many times. The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition. Now take the poem and type out selected passages. Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem. As many poems as you like. As many Shakespeare Rimbaud poems as you like. Tristan Tzara said: “Poetry is for everyone.” And André Breton called him a cop and expelled him from the movement. Say it again: “Poetry is for everyone.” Poetry is a place and it is free to all cut up Rimbaud and you are in Rimbaude is a Rimbaud poem cut up.

Visit of memories. Only your dance and your voice house. On the suburban air improbable desertions … all harmonic pine for strife.

The great skies are open. Candor of vapor and tent spitting blood laugh and drunken penance.

Promenade of wine perfume opens slow bottle.

The great skies are open. Supreme bugle burning flesh children to mist.

Cut-ups are for everyone. Anybody can make cut ups. It is experimental in the sense of being something to do. Right here write now. Not something to talk and argue about. Greek philosophers assumed logically that an object twice as heavy as another object would fall twice as fast. It did not occur to them to push the two objects off the table and see how they fall. Cut the words and see how they fall.

Shakespeare Rimbaud live in their words. Cut the word lines and you will hear their voices. Cut-ups often come through as code messages with special meaning for the cutter. Table tapping? Perhaps. Certainly an improvement on the usual deplorable performance of contacted poets through a medium. Rimbaud announces himself, to be followed by some excruciatingly bad poetry. Cutting Rimbaud and you are assured of good poetry at least if not personal appearance.

All writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overhead. What else? Use of scissors renders the process explicit and subject to extension and variation. Clear classical prose can be composed entirely of rearranged cut-ups. Cutting and rearranging a page of written words introduces a new dimension into writing enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variation. Images shift sense under the scissors smell images to sound sight to sound sound to kinesthetic. This is where Rimbaud was going with his color of vowels. And his “systematic derangement of the senses.” The place of mescaline hallucination: seeing colors tasting sounds smelling forms.

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The cut-ups can be applied to other fields than writing. Dr Neumann in his Theory of Games and Economic Behavior introduces the cut-up method of random action into game and military strategy: assume that the worst has happened and act accordingly. If your strategy is at some point determined . . . by random factor your opponent will gain no advantage from knowing your strategy since he can not predict the move. The cut-up method could be used to advantage in processing scientific data. How many discoveries have been made by accident? We can not produce accidents to order. The cut-ups could add new dimension to films. Cut gambling scene in with a thousand gambling scenes all times and places. Cut back. Cut streets of the world. Cut and rearrange the word and image in films. There is no reason to accept a second-rate product when you can have the best. And the best is there for all. “Poetry is for everyone” . . .

Now here are the preceding two paragraphs cut into four sections and rearranged:







Floria Sigismondi – Postmortem Bliss



The Unknown Loved by the Knowns

The artist Brion Gysin with his Dreamachine. Credit Chapman/The Image Works

“IF you want to disappear … come around for private lessons,” the artist Brion Gysin once offered in a prose poem. And during a period in Paris in the late 1950s, when he and the novelist William S. Burroughs were experimenting with crystal balls, mirrors and other contraptions of the occult, a mutual friend swore that he saw Gysin exercise the powers of dematerialization, perhaps with help from the various narcotics that always seemed to be lying around for the taking.

“Brion disappeared before my eyes, for periods of 10 or 15 or 20 minutes,” the friend, Roger Knoebber, told an interviewer.

But during a ferociously productive, wildly eclectic career in painting, writing and performance that lasted half a century, it often seemed as if Gysin, who died in poverty in 1986, had too great a facility for disappearance, at least as far as his reputation in the art world was concerned. Despite a longing for recognition, he was generally known less for his own work than for his associations with a prodigious number of more famous artists for whom he was, by turns, a teacher, friend and all-around guru: Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Max Ernst, Alice B. Toklas, Keith Haring, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, among others.

Brion Gysin, right, with William S. Burroughs. Credit Charles Gatewood

As death approached, Gysin feared that his peripatetic life had been only an adventure, “leading nowhere” except through a procession of illustrious homes like Tangier, the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan and the poet’s bunkhouse in Paris known as the Beat Hotel, where he spent several of his most productive years. “You should hammer one nail all your life, and I didn’t do that,” he wrote in a lament cited by his biographer, John Geiger. “I hammered on a lot of nails like a xylophone.”




iar – control



But now the New Museum of Contemporary Art has gathered the widely scattered pieces of Gysin’s strange, necromantic career and is working to haul him up from the underground once and for all with “Dream Machine,” the first retrospective of his art in the United States. The show, which opens July 7, will include more than 300 paintings, drawings, photo-collages and films, along with an original version of the Dreamachine, the spinning, light-emitting, trance-inducing kinetic sculpture that Gysin helped design with a computer programmer, Ian Sommerville, in 1960 that has become his most famous work. (The exhibition’s catalog includes a paper foldout and instructions to build your own Dreamachine, provided you can locate your old turntable.)

The show is the first devoted to a dead artist by the New Museum since it moved into its sleek new home on the Bowery in 2007. The institution’s programming there has generally reflected its name, showcasing recent art by those still working, many of them young. But Laura Hoptman, the museum’s senior curator and the organizer of the show, said the departure in Gysin’s case made perfect sense because his work remains largely unknown to the American public and his influence — the kind that eluded him during his lifetime — now seems to be everywhere in the contemporary art world.

“I knew about him, and then six or seven years ago it felt like I started hearing his name from everyone,” Ms. Hoptman said. “I kept trying to figure out all the ways they had arrived at Gysin.”

“The Third Mind,” by Gysin and Burroughs. Credit Los Angeles County Museum of Art

As she learned more about his life, she said, she quickly realized that her challenge would be to try to extricate Gysin from that life, from the reputation that he was a scene maker first, a temperamental and eccentric one — “an exquisite, to use a good old-fashioned term” — and an artist only second, a second-rate one at that.

“But I wasn’t interested in the personality of Brion Gysin,” she said. “A lot of people loved him, and a lot of people loathed him, and I wanted this show to be about his art.”

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Gysin’s lack of mainstream success can be attributed in part to the nature of his work, which was always about finding ways — as a gay, irreligious, stateless artist — to escape the controls of conventional society and of the conscious mind. He pursued this mission with vast amounts of kif (a blend of tobacco and marijuana) and with psilocybin pills, supplied by none other than Timothy Leary. In the show’s catalog the poet John Giorno, one of Gysin’s lovers, recalls descending into the New York City subway with him one day in 1965, lugging a suitcase-size tape recorder to create one of Gysin’s sound poems.

“It was very exciting,” Mr. Giorno wrote. “We were stoned, of course, sweating from the heat and seeing with great clarity.”

An untitled Gysin collage from 1977. Credit The New Museum




 Jean-Jacques Lebel-A film

 Jean-Jacques Lebel-Mr

Jean-Jacques Lebel: Beat Generation / Allen Ginsberg – LuMu BUD,





Just Say NO to Family Values


Up Close with John Giorno



Timothy Leary on William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Bou Saada

Timothy Leary interview, Pataphysics, October 17, 1989

From INTO-GAL, 2006, Editors: Leo Edelstein, Judith Elliston

We heard this tape of you with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Robert Anton Wilson.

Oh yeah, that was a recording from the Nova Convention. I’m a great admirer of William Burroughs, who’s one of my real heroes.

When did you first meet him?


I met him in June of 1961, in Tangier, Morocco. And we became friends and we’ve been friends ever since.

What brought you to Morocco?

I came there to meet William Burroughs.

And you were interested in the experiments Burroughs was doing?

Yes, I was very interested in the experiments he was doing with Brion Gysin. You’ve read Burroughs?

Yeah, The Soft Machine and the earlier work. I’m also interested in the later work — Cities of the Red Night

Oh, I love Cities of the Red Night, that’s his last trilogy — Cities of the Red Night and The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands. I think that’s his finest work.

It’s interesting how his technique has developed — the cut-up style has now become almost polished. 

Yeah, well, he’s mellowed out.

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Have you spoken with him recently?

Yeah, he just wrote the introduction to a reissue of my book, Flashbacks.

He’s painting now.

Yeah, he doesn’t even want to write anymore — he likes to paint.

Do you think that’s the influence of Gysin?

Well, he and Gysin were very close friends. Gysin was a very strong personality and I think he influenced Burroughs tremendously, Burroughs says that too. Gysin was a very profound thinker and a prophetic guy. It was Brion Gysin who said that writing is fifty years behind modern painting — because modern painting, from expressionism and cubism and surrealism, smashed through all of the representational structures, whereas writers were still trapped in the grammatical form. That was a very profound statement that Gysin made. He was one of these very seminal figures. Gysin’s Dream Machine is a very early, wonderfully creative and primitive psychedelic machine.

Gysin spoke of the Dream Machine making immaterial artworks inside the viewer’s mind. And with the cut-ups there was the idea of escaping this time-frame by breaking up the conscious flow of language. Did you have any interest in that at the time?

Leary and Burroughs

During my research at Harvard we were running psychedelic sessions, and we were interested in describing them. We were experimenting with various forms of video, and cellular movement and overlaps and sensory overload and multiple energy interactions to try to duplicate in a rather feeble way the experiences that you have in a visionary trance. Burroughs was actually in exile from America in the late ’50s. As a matter of fact, I was the one who brought Burroughs back to America after maybe six or eight years out of the country. I invited him to come to Harvard, and he is a Harvard graduate, so he was very glad to accept the chance to come back into the country.





Rhadoo – Souled



Was he interested in what you were doing at Harvard when he came back?

He thought we were a bunch of dumb bozos running around and trying to save the world with these drugs and he was very uh, rightfully cynical about what we were doing. He’s a very scientific person. The only psychedelic he likes is marijuana. He never really liked other psychedelic drugs. Burroughs has forgotten more about drugs in his life than I’ve learned. Burroughs is in charge of his life, he knows what he’s doing. I think heroin is probably the best anesthetic there is. I’ve taken heroin maybe ten or fifteen times in my life, just for curiosity. It’s not a social drug at all. You take it to go within. The same thing’s true of ketamine. Ketamine is another anesthetic that gives you very powerful inner experiences, but you’re not very social, you can’t even carry out a conversation so it’s not my kind of drug. But Burroughs, he’s not the guy that goes around with a grin on his face saying peace and love. He’s a very crusty, introverted guy with a very deep sense of humor. He’s one of the funniest persons alive — it’s a very laid-back kind of humor, and that’s the way he is, and he’s magnificent [pause] yah.

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Did you ever meet Genet?

I was supposed to meet Genet — I was supposed to meet him at Amman, Jordan, in September of 1970. I was in exile in Algeria and I’d been running around about people who said I should go to Amman to meet Jean Genet. But on the way there I was intercepted — the Americans located me in Beirut, and there was such a big stink that the people who were protecting me at the time, the Arabs, said you better get your ass back to Algeria because there’s too much heat. I was also traveling on a false passport, so I went back from Beirut to Egypt and then to Algeria. I never did get to meet him — my appointment with Genet in Jordan fell through, which I regretted.

Were you taking psychedelics at that time?

Well, I had a lot of, yeah, a lot Afghani hash around — it didn’t help! Eat a little of that and I’d get very paranoid, and all my paranoias were right, unfortunately. I did go take psychedelics in Algeria, went out into the desert with my wife and had some very powerful experiences in the Sahara Desert, which is of course the kind of place to get into other levels.

There’s the book by Aleister Crowley out there in the desert —

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As a matter of fact, yes, I’m glad you brought that up. There’s a place outside Algeria — you go up the Rif Mountains and you come down to the desert, there’s a place called Bou Saada, which is known as the City of Happiness, and that’s where Aleister Crowley had one of his great mystical experiences, wandering around there — freaking out or getting some vision, I don’t know what it was. It’s a very sacred city. I didn’t realize that at the time. It’s a very logical place, if you’re in Algiers, and you go over the mountain, the first town of Bou Saada was an oasis town, and all the caravans for thousands of years have come, winding their way up through the Sahara, and that would be the first populated place. It’s a big center of interacting cultures — a very magical place. And there were oases outside of Bou Saada which had been used in many movies. I also met some good magicians there. I had a guide, and I kept telling the guide what I wanted. I wanted a place — I wanted to find someone that knew a place where I could go into the desert and meditate — amazing, cab drivers all over the world want to hustle girls and boys or whatever, but this guy finally got on to what I was saying and he put me in touch with some old Arab guy, who went out with me and showed me where to go. That’s kind of interesting, because you couldn’t find a cab driver in the city, like saying yeah, I want to find a place where I can go out and meditate. But that’s part of the special quality of Bou Saada…

This interview was conducted 17 October 1989, first published in Pataphysics, 1990, and was reproduced in INTO-GAL, 2006. Pataphysics is edited by Leo Edelstein and Judith Elliston. Pataphysics is available from Printed Matter web site. Reproduced with permission by RealityStudio on 9 March 2009.



Brain Damage (from films of Ira Cohen



Brion Gysin quotes (showing 1-9 of 9)

“The poets are supposed to liberate the words – not chain them in phrases. Who told the poets they were supposed to think? Poets are meant to sing and to make words sing. Writers don’t own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody? ‘Your very own words,’ indeed! And who are you?”
Brion Gysin, Brion Gysin Let the Mice In

“I enjoy inventing things out of fun. After all, life is a game, not a career.”
Brion Gysin

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“Man is a bad animal….”
Brion Gysin, Here to Go: Planet R-101

“As no two people see the world the same way, all trips from here to there are imaginary; all truth is a tale I am telling myself.”
Brion Gysin, The Process

“Writers don’t own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody. “Your very own words,” indeed ! And who are you?”
Brion Gysin, Brion Gysin Let the Mice In

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“some trillions of years ago a sloppy, dirty giant flicked grease from his fingers. One of those gobs of grease is our universe on its way to the floor. Splat!”
Brion Gysin

“The resulting texts always took a narrative term, enigmatic at first but ultimately explicit and often premonitory. The semantic distribution of these basic elements diverted them from their original meaning, thus revealing their real significance. Henceforth, every form of writing will consist of an operation of decoding, of contamination, and of sense perversion. All this because all language is essentially mystification, and everything is fiction.”
Brion Gysin

“I could easily blast so much keef night and day I become a bouhali; a real-gone crazy, a holy untouchable madman unto whom everything is permitted, nothing is true.”
Brion Gysin, The Process

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– Brion Gysin, Guerrilla Conditions, nd.”
Brion Gysin




Patraulea – 9 pasi la stanga


 The Process

by Brion Gysin


Ulys O. Hanson, an African-American professor of the History of Slavery, who is in North Africa on a mysterious foundation grant, sets off across the Sahara on a series of wild adventures. He first meets Hamid, a mad Moroccan who turns him on, takes him over and teaches him to pass as a Moor. Mya, the richest woman in creation, and her seventh husband, the hereditary Bisho Ulys O. Hanson, an African-American professor of the History of Slavery, who is in North Africa on a mysterious foundation grant, sets off across the Sahara on a series of wild adventures. He first meets Hamid, a mad Moroccan who turns him on, takes him over and teaches him to pass as a Moor. Mya, the richest woman in creation, and her seventh husband, the hereditary Bishop of the Farout Islands, also cross his path with their plans to steal the Sahara and make the stoned professor the puppet Emperor of Africa. GOODREADS



Ira Cohen – Ai date: 02-08-99




Brion Gysin

New Museum, New York, USA

Brion Gysin, Dreammachine, 1961/79. Perforated metal, electronic motor and lamp. Installation view at the New Museum. <br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

Brion Gysin, Dreammachine, 1961/79. Perforated metal, electronic motor and lamp. Installation view at the New Museum.

In 1935, 19-year-old Brion Gysin looked set to be recognized as a major artist. Invited to contribute to a group show of Surrealist drawings in Paris, his work was to be exhibited alongside that of Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Pablo Picasso. But on the afternoon of the opening he arrived at the Galerie Aux Quatres Chemins to find the poet Paul Éluard removing his pictures. Éluard was acting on the orders of André Breton, who objected to Gysin’s homosexuality, and had perceived a satirical resemblance to himself in an image of a calf’s head on a poster the young painter had pasted on a wall on the Rue Fontaine. Gysin’s chance was cruelly snatched away and, for the rest of his life, he harboured the lingering sense that he’d botched his career. On the strength of the New Museum’s retrospective, ‘Dream Machine’, curated by Laura Hoptman, it’s clear that Gysin’s contribution to the 20th-century avant-garde has indeed been undervalued. His output is wildly uneven and spread across painting, drawing, film, sound poetry, fiction and performance. Despite this, he emerges as a substantial figure, not merely a satellite of William Burroughs and the other denizens of the Beat Hotel.

Gysin’s early involvement with Surrealism was noted in the exhibition, then passed over to concentrate on his great creative period of the 1950s and ’60s, after he accepted his friend Paul Bowles’ invitation to stay in Tangier. In Morocco he encountered the rigorous, mathematical abstractions of Islamic art, developing a kind of proto-calligraphy, tessellating sheets of paper with marks that appear to exist somewhere just short of language. Often these drawings become palimpsests, running vertically as well as horizontally, in a manner suggestive of Japanese as well as Arabic writing. This work isn’t merely decorative or Orientalist: Gysin connected the notion of a grid to Kabbalistic magic, and other forms of the storage and representation of knowledge, notably the punch-card arrays of early computers. In the films Towers Open Fire and The Cut-Ups (both 1963), made in collaboration with Burroughs and Anthony Balch, the Modernist grids of shop shutters and International Style façades are montaged with the pixellated white noise of television screens and the stroboscopic patterns of the definitive Gysinian artefact, the Dreamachine (1961), a trance-inducing device constructed from a light source housed in a perforated cylinder rotating on a turntable.

A reconstructed Dreamachine formed the literal and metaphorical centrepiece of the New Museum show, placed in a kind of black box shrine, strewn with cushions. As audio accompaniment, the visitor was offered iPods with a choice of Throbbing Gristle or the Master Musicians of Joujouka, whom Gysin ‘discovered’, taking Brian Jones to the Rif mountains for the famous 1968 field recordings. The Dreamachine is experienced with closed eyes at a distance of a few inches. It produces intense flickering patterns, which have a grid-like or pixellated appearance, and are particularly vivid when under the influence of hallucinogens. Gysin’s interest in trance, and his concentration on the unmediated production of sensory effects almost guaranteed his marginalization by a western art world that has historically promoted an abstracted, Apollonian visual culture over the Dionysian derangement of the senses.

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Gysin’s grids, eventually produced on a large scale using a modified paint-roller, gave way to the famous cut-ups, which were essentially an extension of the aleatory writing techniques of Dada and Surrealism. The Third Mind (1965), his major collaboration with Burroughs, was a long cut-up text, incorporating elements of collage. Burroughs believed that cut-up had subversive potential as a kind of psychic reprogramming, though Gysin appears to have been less certain, retreating in later life to his beloved hallucinatory symbolic arrays, now delivered in the form of collage and photo-montage. FRIEZE


Suie Paparude – vine peste tine








Psychic TV – Godstar



Genesis P-Orridge about Control, Fear, Drugs, Unity, Love




Iggy Pop – Lust For Life



The Passenger – Iggy Pop and The Stooges 70’s


Iggy Pop – Wild One – 1986



Here To Go & Back Again: The Lives & Arts of Brion Gysin

If Brion Gysin had not existed, it probably would have been necessary to invent him, as the saying goes. Pre-eminent multimedia psychedelic shaman of the latter-half of the Twentieth Century, Gysin was something of a jack-of-all-trades: Artist, Calligrapher, Entrepreneur, Kinetic Sculptor, Novelist, Performance Artist, Photographer, Poet, Raconteur, Restaurateur, and Traveller in This-and-Other Worlds. Brion did it All. And even a brief list of the names he crossed paths with sounds like a veritable Who’s Who: Laurie Anderson, Francis Bacon, David Bowie, Paul Bowles, Ira Cohen, Ornette Coleman, Max Ernst, Marianne Faithfull, Leonor Fini, Jean Genet, Keith Haring, Billie Holliday, Brian Jones, Timothy Leary, Iggy Pop, Genesis P-Orridge, Patti Smith, Gore Vidal – and, of course, his long-term friend and collaborator, William Burroughs – are among the friends, fellow-travellers and sometimes collaborators that have spoken of their admiration for the Man and his Work. As his biographer, John Geiger, wrote:

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“Brion Gysin may be the most influential cultural figure of the Twentieth Century that most people have never heard of.”

‘Brion Gysin’ was originally John Clifford Brian Gysin, born 19th January, 1916 in Taplow, Buckinghamshire. He never knew his English-born father, who had emigrated to Canada, just in time to marry and father a child, before joining up and getting sent back to Europe to die in the First World War. After moving back to Edmonton in Canada with his young widowed mother, Gysin always preferred to stress his Swiss ancestry via his paternal grandfather, but even then he would complain later in life concerning the ‘delivery’ of his birth:

“Wrong address! Wrong address! There’s been a mistake in the mail. Send me back. Wherever you got me, return me. Wrong time, wrong place, wrong color.”

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The young Gysin wanted to “have adventures and see visions” and figured that Paris was the place. Moving there at 18, his career as a painter should have got off to a spectacular start: a chance encounter with Marie-Beth Aurenche – then still the first Mrs. Max Ernst – gave access to the hottest scene in town, the Surrealists. Without formal Art Tuition, Gysin got some basic tips from the Argentinian spitfire, Leonor Fini, but the main lesson came from visiting Ernst’s studio and seeing that the objective was “to make the paint make the painting.” Barely 19, Gysin was soon invited to exhibit alongside Ernst, Fini, and Valentine Hugo – as well as Dali, Magritte and Picasso – but before the show’s Opening his work was taken down by poet Paul Eluard, on orders of the ‘Pope’ of Surrealism, André Breton. Gysin never really found out why, but he was sure the fact he had just Come Out as homosexual had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, it was a crushing blow.




Nocturn – Acid Symphony


Serving during World War II, Gysin became a Naturalized American, changing his name officially from ‘Brian’ to ‘Brion.’ In the Army, Gysin was sent on an 18-month course to learn Japanese, including Calligraphy, which would later have a major impact on his Art. He also met Tex Hanson, grandson of Josiah Hanson – inspiration and basis for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 bestselling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Through this friendship and the access it gave him to the world of Black Canadians, Gysin wrote To Master – A Long Goodnight, which was published in 1946 thanks to Eileen Garrett. This and the related text, A History of Slavery in Canada, won Gysin one of the first-ever Fullbright Scholarships. He used the money to travel to Tangier with his new friend, composer and novelist Paul Bowles. Together they would explore the Trance Music of the Ecstatic Brotherhoods, and one day in 1950, attending a festival on the beach outside Tangier, Gysin had what would be for him a decisive encounter:

“. . . it was the first time I’d seen large groups of people going into trance – [that in itself] was enough to have kept my attention, but beyond and above all of that I heard this funny little music, and I said: ‘Ah! That’s my music! – I just want to hear that music for the rest of my life. I wanna hear it every day all day.’”

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It turned out to be the music of the Master Musicians of Joujouka, a collective of Berber Sufi trance musicians originating from the small village of that name, south of Tangier in the foothills to the west of the Rif Mountains. As Gysin would later write in respect of his first encounter with the stirring, primal, hypnotic music of reeds, pipes, and goat-skin drums:

“Magic calls itself The Other Method for controlling matter and knowing space. In Morocco, magic is practiced more assiduously than hygiene though, indeed, ecstatic dancing to music of the brotherhoods may be called a form of psychic hygiene. You know your music when you hear it one day. You fall into line and dance until you pay the piper.”

After managing to attend the Festival of Bou Jeloud up in Joujouka for the first time, Gysin recognised that:

“Their secret, guarded even from them, was that they were still performing the Rites of Pan under the ragged cloak of Islam.”

Gysin’s interpretation was that Bou Jeloud was an avatar of the Greek god Pan that had survived from pagan times, as had been put forward by the pioneering socio-biologist, Edvard Westermarck, in his 1933 study, Pagan Survivals in Mohammedan Civilization. So, the “magical music” of the Master Musicians was, quite literally, a manifestation of the Pipes of Pan.

In Tangier, Gysin would also meet the American writer William S. Burroughs – who would later become his greatest friend and collaborator – but at first neither made a particularly favourable impression. Burroughs was still in the throes of a full-on heroin addiction, and had not yet written the monstrous masterpiece, Naked Lunch, that would make his name. He dismissed Gysin as catering – quite literally – to Tangier’s expat community of “uppity queens” with his restaurant, The 1001 Nights. It boasted Arab dancing boys and an in-house residency by the Master Musicians of Joujouka, as well as Gysin’s friend Hamri – ‘The Painter of Morocco’ – was main cook. It all ended in tears, though. Brion would later tell how he he had been the target of a curse intended to oust him from his business:

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“. . . while getting the restaurant ready I found a magic object, which was an amulet of sorts, a rather elaborate one with seeds, pebbles, shards of broken mirror, seven of each, and a little package in which there was a  piece of writing, and the writing when deciphered by friends who didn’t even want to handle it, because of its magic qualities, which even educated Moroccans were not anxious to get in touch with, but it said something like, an appeal to one of the devils of fire, the devil of smoke – to take Brion away from this house: as the smoke leaves this chimney may Brion leave this house and never return . . .”



Nu Zau – Cum Bate Vantu




Relocating to Paris, after briefly enjoying the hospitality of the Princess Ruspoli, Gysin moved to completely the other end of the social spectrum, moving in to the nameless fleapit hotel at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin Quarter. It was here in Paris that Gysin would run into Burroughs again, and this time they hit it off. Burroughs would likewise move into the so-called ‘Beat Hotel’ and the two of them would embark on their own equivalent of the poet Rimbaud’s “sustained and systematic derangement of all the senses” – the psychic fusion they would come to refer to as “The Third Mind.” Gysin helped to steer his new friend through the emotional rapids of heroin withdrawal, and allowed him to watch him at work on his art. Burroughs was wide open without the safety blanket of junk, and Gysin felt vulnerable and exposed working in front of his new friend. He rarely if ever let people see him paint, saying it was a more private act than masturbation. It must have been an incredibly raw bonding indeed. It was as if the first cut-up that they created together, this “project for disastrous success” as they called it, was with their very souls: and it was out of this commingling that all their subsequent collaborations would proceed. The very notion of ‘The Third Mind’ was itself a kind of psychic cut-up, named for the idea in Napoleon Hill’s 1937 self-help book, Think and Grow Rich, that :

“No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”

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The atmosphere around Burroughs and Gysin in those early days at the Beat Hotel was steeped in the Occult, with daily experiments in mirror-gazing, scrying, trance and telepathy, all fuelled by a wide variety of mind-altering drugs. Scrying is the very old and almost universal practice of gazing into a crystal ball, mirror, or other reflective surface, so as to access a form of spirit vision, usually for the purpose of Divination. Brion conducted scrying marathons, sitting cross-legged in front of the mirrored armoire in his tiny room for up to 36 hours, tears streaming down his face from unblinking eyes, as friends passed the occasional cigarette, cup of coffee, or joint to help keep him going. He described how:

“. . . you see great galleries of characters, running through . . . scientists . . . in their sort of 19th century labs . . . whole events or whole scenes sort of frozen . . . And faces which never existed, and great chieftains of unknown races, and so forth and so on, going back and back further and further in time and history . . . after certainly more than 24 hours of staring . . . where there seemed it was a limited area that one could see only a certain distance into, uh, where everything was covered with a gently palpitating cloud of smoke which would be about waist-high . . . that was the end, there was nothing beyond that . . .”

From tales of Hassan-i Sabbāh, Old Man of the Mountain and Master of the Assassins, to magic and music in Morocco, Brion was a spellbinding storyteller. As psychedelic guru Timothy Leary would later write:

“Brion dispenses blessings, visions, communications, poetic sermons, and wicked gossip – the world of the occult is his planet. Gysin is one of the great hedonic mystic teachers.”

September 1959, and Brion Gysin was using a Stanley knife to cut through paper to make mounts for some drawings he was working on. In the process, Gysin had sliced into copies of the New York Herald Tribune spread out as a cutting mat. Seeing the various strips of paper and reading the chance combinations his blade had produced, he laughed so uproariously the neighbours were concerned for his sanity. When Burroughs returned, Gysin showed him the results – almost as an afterthought, “an amusing Surrealist diversion” – but Burroughs was immediately struck by the technique and its potential:

“The cut up method brings to writers the collage which has been used by painters for fifty years. And used by the moving and still camera . . . And photographers will tell you that often their best shots are accidents . . . writers will tell you the same. The best writing seems to be done almost by accident but writers until the cut up method . . . had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.”

Gysin himself felt that, ultimately, he was unable to make the cut-ups work for him the way they worked for Burroughs. Instead he focused more on Permutations: he would take short, simple phrases and run them through every conceivable combination and juxtaposition, producing hypnotic, mantra-like formulae, such as:

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“Come to free the words

To free the words come

Free the words to come

The words come to free

Words come to free thee!”



Mihai Pol – fluierica


On Brion Gysin, ‘Minutes to Go’

Pick up a book    any book     cut it up
slice down the middle    dice into sections
piece together a masterpiece    a week
use better materials        more highly charged words
there is no longer a need    to drum up a season of
the writing machine        is for everybody

This idea both precedes and inspired my own notion of “uncreative writing” by nearly half a century. Gysin’s notion of anti-genius still remains the most radical part of his statement, yet even he can’t dispose of that idea entirely, still insisting on the value of  creating a masterpiece. It’s hard to completely debunk our notion of genius. Even Pierre Menard, that great copyist, was an original genius albeit a one with tragically bad timing. Marjorie Perloff’s recent notion of “unoriginal genius” also holds that genius is still very much in play, it’s just an inverted notion of what we generally consider to be genius that is new.

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Can we really kill genius, the masterpiece, creativity and originality? In the twentieth century, any number of great artists tried to kill genius — Duchamp, Warhol, Cage, Mac Low — yet all did it in the most exquisitely personal way, killing it with the best of taste. A Mac Low poem, for example, is not bereft of personal choices — it’s just the opposite. His “writing machine” is imprinted with the way he chose to construct it (the set of rules that determine the poem’s outcome) as are the source texts that he selected to dump into that machine. The resultant product, although determined by chance, is entirely Mac Lowian and could not have been done by anyone else.



Cine va – Reveille



 Gysin couldn’t escape this either. Another section of Minutes to Go reads:

all words are taped        agents everywhere
marking down the live ones     to exterminate

Although the sources are unnamed (Gysin claims that they are from a variety of places, some found, some original), the vocabulary is immediately recognizable to anyone vaguely familiar works with produced in the Beat Hotel: “All words are taped” refers to the source material for recorded cut-ups; “agents everywhere” is taken from Gysin’s “Recalling All Active Agents,” (1960) a permutational sound work dealing with Cold War police states; and “to exterminate” appears throughout the writings of William S. Burroughs’s oeuvre, referring to both his own early stint as an insect exterminator as well as to nefarious criminal activities. Although Gysin advocates impersonal work, this is in fact a “classic,” a signature work of the period.

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Yet I’m guilty of the same problem. While I trumpet my work’s “valuelessness,” its “nutritionlessness,” its lack of creativity and originality, clearly the opposite is true. There may, in fact, be a lot of truth when my detractors claim that I’m not that radical, that my name is still on these objects, and all the machinic and “impersonal”  decisions I make in my works are in the service of upholding notions of my own genius. For an egoless project, there sure is a lot of investment in me here, leading Ron Silliman to acutely comment, “Kenny Goldsmith’s actual art project is the projection of Kenny Goldsmith.”

Perhaps it’s best to heed to words of Christian Bök, that constraint-based and performative genius, who proposes bypassing the human quotient entirely, claiming that “If we want to commit an act of poetic innovation in an era of formal exhaustion, we may have to consider this heretofore unimagined, but nevertheless prohibited, option: writing poetry for inhuman readers, who do not yet exist, because such aliens, clones, or robots have not yet evolved to read it.” [1] And yet there will still be some human programming those machines, resulting in the crown of genius being rewarded not to the best poet or the best machine, but to the best programmer, leading us back again to our (un)original quandary.

[1] Christian Bök, “The Piecemeal Bard Is Deconstructed: Notes Toward a Potential Robopoetics,” Object 10: Cyberpoetics (2002).



Madonna – Nothing really maters



Brion Gysin’s esoteric explorations, friendship and third mind collaboration with William Burroughs, influence and works including his painting, the Dreamachine, the cuts ups and his tape recorder experiments. Interviews with Gysin’s apprentice and collaborator Terry Wilson as well as his friend Kathelin Grey who is curating an upcoming exhibition of his works at the October Gallery this July.

The Life, Magic and Art of Brion Gysin


The Flux of the Beat (Universality of Re:Source)
Irodalmi Lépegető special, Tilos Radio, 2013.11.10.
Allen Ginsberg kiállítás: Ludwig Múzeum, 2013.11.09-2014.01.14.


November 10, 2013 Flux of the Beat


Melvins, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno, Ricardo Villalobos, The Flaming Lips and more.

Radio Cure for the Children of God Vol.1

“Poetry is the struggle to take back language”
• Michael Rothenberg
I stopped writing poetry a long time ago, it remains a powerful force but it has to remain somewhat unconscious. It can’t be framed by serious/precious gilt frames or touted as new stand-up comedy in the realm of slams. Slam gestures are inspired by advertising & gestures copped from sitcoms or rap. I’ve slammed slams before. It’s like buying a fancy [but still mass-produced] car like a Miata say, where the form, in this case poetry, is supposed to distinguish you from the masses but in the context of a mass consumptive gesture where you are forced to entertain consumers to survive. You’re buying yr individuality thru car/slam & then struggle foreverto come out from under its shadow by entertaining its indulgences. The writers included here are needless to say NOT slammers.


Wreck Words 2m 1097

William S. Burroughs/Rasp Thorne; are these the worlds of the all powerful boards and syndicates of the Earth –
crab men – errand boys – Van Gogh’s sunflower’s writhing in pretentious – helpers of the day – the Doc is on the market – the body is established – the artist aims for a miracle – one rip in the fabric is all it takes for pandemonium to seep through – where they later made the atom bomb – evil was east west is good- fight tuberculosis folks – watching the doorway, overcoat unbuttoned – he smelled and then blared and Atlas shrugged – two severed human legs glitter in the knee backcase legs yech – the good loser always gives up – ya can’t do that without jewelry- you belong probably to the cucumbers – get out of the defensive position- I am am expensive ER – what’s inside – he turned – tapeworms intestinal parasites – eat it up and shit it out and eat it again – binoculars – even the – operational – carry these experiments further – are you assault – a good crossing as usual – 1961 – cowards all you miserable





Adi Szasz – Lizards At The Door


Dreamachine Plans
Brion Gysin


“Had a transcendental storm of colour visions today in the bus going to Marseilles. We ran through a long avenue of trees and I closed my eyes against the setting sun. An overwhelming flood of intensely bright colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time. I was out in a world of infinite number. The vision stopped abruptly as we left the trees. Was that a vision? What happened to me?”

Extract from the diary of
Brion Gysin
December 21, 1958

Brion Gysin found the explanation for this unusual experience a few years later when William S. Burroughs lent him a copy of The Living Brain by Dr. W. Grey Walter. Dr. Walter was a neurophysiologist and an early researcher into the nature of brain waves and corresponding brain function. Ian Sommerville, a friend of Gysin and Burroughs, had also read the book. Sommerville decided to build a machine to reproduce the flickering effect that Gysin had described. On February 15, 1959 Sommerville wrote to Gysin from Cambridge,

“I have made a simple flicker machine. You look at it with your eyes shut and the flicker plays over your eyelids. Visions start with a kaleidoscope of colors on a plane in front of the eyes and gradually become more complex and beautiful, breaking like surf on a shore until whole patterns of color are pounding to get in. After awhile the visions were permanently behind my eyelids and I was in the middle of the whole scene with limitless patterns being generated around me. There was an almost unbearable feeling of spatial movement for a while but It was well worth getting through for I found that when it stopped I was high above the earth in a universal blaze of glory. Afterwards I found that my perception of the world around me had increased very notably. All conceptions of being dragged or tired had dropped away…”

From Sommerville’s description of the flicker machine Brion Gysin built the Dreamachine in the early 1960’s in the Beat Hotel on the rue Gît-le-Cœur, Paris. Gysin obtained a patent in 1961. The results of the experiments were published in the arts periodical of Olympia, Number 2, January 1962.

The Dreamachine consists of a cylinder with holes in it attached to a record-player turntable. In the middle of the cylinder sits a light bulb. The turntable is set to spin at 78 RPM. Subjects sit in front of the cylinder and close their eyes. The light shines through the holes in the spinning cylinder and flickers on the eyelids. The light flickers at a frequency of about 20 Hz which is similar to the frequency of Alpha brain waves which are associated with a non-aroused brain.


Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.


  • 34″x32″ piece of heavy paper or cardboard for the Dreamachine light-shade. You should use a material that is stiff, but flexible enough to be rolled into a tube with the ends glued together.

  • 16″x12″ piece of heavy paper or cardboard for making templates. This will be cut into five 8″x4″ cards for making templates.

  • 78 RPM record-player turntable.

  • A bare hanging light bulb. Wattage will vary depending on how bright a light you prefer. Try 15 to 50 watts.


  1. Photocopy the five templates (A, B, C, D, and E) and then paste the copies onto 8″x4″ cards cut from the heavy template card stock. Then cut out and discard the designs to form the template cards.

  2. Divide the light-shade paper into a 2-inch grid as shown on the overall plan.

  3. Trace the template designs onto the light-shade paper following the grid sequence from the overall plan.

  4. Cut out and discard the designs from the light-shade paper. These form the slots that the light will shine through.

  5. Cut and trim the two long ends of the light-shade paper to form the glue tabs as seen in the overall plan. Note that the pattern length should be just under 34 inches. When the pattern is rolled into a tube its circumference should be 32 inches since the tabs overlap.

  6. Roll the light-shade paper into a tube and overlap the glue tabs. The tabs should be positioned on the inside of the tube, rather than the outside. Glue the tabs to the inside surface of the tube.

  7. Place the Dreamachine light-shade on a 78 RPM turntable.

  8. Suspend the light bulb 1/3 to 1/2 down the inside of the light-shade. The light should be in the center of the tube and not touch the edges.

Using the Dreamachine

Turn on the light bulb and set the light-shade tube in motion. Dim the normal room lights so that most of the ambient light comes from the Dreamachine. Sit comfortably with your face close to the center of the tube. Now close your eyes. You should be able to see the light from the Dreamachine flickering through your eyelids. Gradually you will begin to see visions of flickering colors, amorphous shapes, and fields and waves of color. After a time the colors begin to form patterns similar to mosaics and kaleidoscopes. Eventually you will see complex and symbolic shapes; perhaps people or animals.


This device will produce a flicker frequency of 20.8 Hz when rotated at 78 RPM. This device may be hazardous to people with epilepsy or other nervous disorders.

If you have trouble getting an old 78 RPM. turntable then you can make use of a 45 RPM. turntable by adding 12 extra columns of slots. This makes the pattern 24 inches longer and will result in a tube diameter of 17 inches. This is bigger than the platter of most turntables. You can either scale the entire pattern down by half or you can try placing an 18-inch disk on the turntable for the tube to rest on. The wider tube will produce a flicker frequency of 21 Hz when rotated at 45 RPM.





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Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine launched in the UK

Brion Gysin’s hypnagogic device the Dreamachine is being launched in London this weekend at an evening of talks, performance and film screenings. On the bill are a series of films on the Master Musicians Of Joujouka, including Tribe Ahl Serif shot in 1972, plus Aphex Twin & Stakker’s Westworld, Nik Sheehan’s Flicker and more. Performances include Robert Hampson’s three part Music For Dreammachines which will be performed for the first time, plus a DJ set by Fritz Catlin/Skintologists (ex 23 Skidoo), Akoustik Timbre Frekuency and UN.

Talks include Steve Finbow presenting “Gysin and Ginsberg: Sexual And Textual Politics In The Beat Hotel”, plus Ian MacFadyen on Gysin, Balch, Burroughs and the Beat Hotel, and Rikki Stein on his own experiences with The Master Musicians Of Joujouka.

The Dreamachine, a stroboscopic light which creates a pulsing light for optical stimulus is the first that will be available in large numbers (500 have been made) and built according to Gysin’s designs. The launch (24 November) forms part of London Apiary Studios’s Modern Panic III which runs 23 November–2 December. THE WIRE





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 The Last Museum by Brion Gysin

Of an older generation, Brion Gysin was a precursor to the Beats and a catalyst for them and for the bohemian generation that followed. His activities and interactions are the stuff of legend: he introduced Burroughs to the Dadaist “cut-up” method of writing; he worked as a multimedia artist, creating the “Dreamachine”, a stroboscopic device alleged to alter consciousness; he was proprietor of the “1001Nights” bistro in Tangier; he was artist in residence at the Beat Hotel in Paris; he submitted a recipe for hashish brownies to the Alice B. Toklas cookbook; he did avant-garde sound recordings and introduced the master musicians of Joujouka (his former house band) to Brian Jones.

But for all his accomplishments, Gysin ended his life in 1986 (succumbing to cancer) with a wistful regret for having not pursued specific disciplines more diligently. He was a catalyst for so many, but in his own career he was all over the place. His was a peripatetic existence, following whatever artistic whim took his fancy at any particular time (he might now be classified by heartless psychiatry as ADHD). There is perhaps a lack of rigor in his work, more than made up for by enthusiasm, and in the end he was more muse than artist (Burroughs describes him in the Introduction as “the only man I ever respected” and “regal without a trace of pretension”). Still his art is worth seeing, and as such he is currently the subject of a major retrospective at New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Arts. It goes without saying that he died poor.

The Last Museum is Gysin’s final novel, a loose and freewheeling remembrance of the famous Beat Hotel, told as postmortem adventure in the Bardo, the intermediate death state of Tibetan Buddhism. The work itself is, sadly, a truncated version of Gysin’s much longer unpublished text. There is a progression through the rooms of the Hotel, which is itself being removed piecemeal by the Interdead International Movers to a vast museum site on the San Andreas faultline (the west is the realm of the dead), where it will share space with the Sphinx, the Louvre, the Acropolis, and other detritus of human civilization. Anyone hoping for a simple and straightforward narrative will be disappointed; there are a dizzying number of shifts of name, gender, and sexual orientation, quite often within the same sentence. One of the pleasures of this book is in the anecdotes, the thinly disguised references to the Beats and their associates that we tease from the text. Gysin’s reimagining of his life as he travels the stygian stream of memory is scatological, raunchy, at times tedious, and at times hilarious. Apparently a life of Rabelaisian pansexuality was, in his last years, Gysin’s fondest recollection. He reveals himself – and I say this with no malice – as the pervert’s Dante.

And yet the revelry – or the summary memory of it, the blessed and profane recollection- hurtles toward an end. After 28 days in the Bardo, the soul becomes rank. It was not meant to be stationary, and our hero, our Little PG, our Gysin surrogate with all memory spent yearns for that state to which all good Buddhists aspire: release. Despite the comfort, or horror, of a vision of the interconnected totality of existence, the obligatory peek at that Great White Light, and a cameo appearance by the Devourer of Souls, he longs for that laminated Get Out of Jail card, he seeks to beat cheeks from this mortal coil and not look back. “There is no one in this world I want to see again.” Before this freedom, the freedom which comes from nonexistence, all others pale. But is the sensuality a sacrament or an impediment? Does the road of excess lead, to paraphrase Blake, to enlightenment? Can the story have a happy ending?

Brion Gysin died at the age of 70. Perhaps in the fullness of time he (or some constituent elements of him) will return to this plane of existence in yet another fleshy iteration and read his own text, and remember.

Note: Nothing Is True – Everything is Permitted is a biography of Brion Gysin written by John Geiger. I have not read it, but it seems to have elicited favorable reviews. MAKIFAT




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