Murrayfield Ice Rink
[Note: This is part of Edinburgh International Festival and not EdFringe directly]
Writing an objective review of Dreamachine is an impossible task, as each person will experience it in different ways. Entirely dependent on perception, the outcome could even change to great extents for the same subject trying it multiple times. Hence, all I can tell you is my personal account of my first time inside the Dreamachine.
Having surrealism at its heart, this device has been developed following the footsteps of Canadian-born artist, writer and inventor Brion Gysin and his ground-breaking vision of an artwork that could be enjoyed with closed eyes. Gysin even imagined it to replace television, providing instead an entirely bespoke cinematic product. As part of a scientific research, Collective Act arereprising the experiment in different cities across the UK. Their aim is to observe what happens when the mind of an individual is stimulated with sequences of white pulsating light.
In Edinburgh, the Dreamachine is located inside the Murrayfield Ice Rink. From outside it looks like a large blue pod. Once inside, there is an upholstered ring of soft material around the wall, on which we are invited to sit back and relax. The body position is semi-horizontal, with our head between two sound speakers carved into the cushion. The ceiling has a gentle violet glow and is surrounded by the lights that produce the strobing effect. Shoeless, we all get a blanket to ensure comfort and an eye mask in case we wish to interrupt the experience at any point.
At the beginning, a facilitator guides us through some breathing exercises – the same technique is used again at the end to gradually bring us back to reality. A minute-long taster of what to expect is followed by facilitators checking with each of us whether we’ve felt any discomfort or wish to continue.
As the room becomes darker and the white lights start throbbing, a soundtrack of minimal music imposes a rapid tempo to my thoughts and perceptions; it immediately feels like a state of trance. I see red grids flickering against my closed eyelids. Occasionally, some small yellow dots appear where vertical and horizontal lines meet. Other times, the grids are formed by white triangles with blue edges, rapidly expanding like fireworks in the sky. Only once, my whole field of vision becomes purple.
Meanwhile, a thousand different thoughts rush through me. Snippets of ideas, things I need to do, flashbacks, an outpouring into my consciousness, as if the floodgates of my subconscious has been smashed; each topic only lingers for a few seconds, chased by a new one. An Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response sends my body into a constant state of tingling euphoria. I feel completely disembodied, levitating just above myself.
When the light flashes subside and the lit circle on the ceiling reverts to the violet hue, I am reluctant to open my eyes, eager to extend those sensations a little longer – I can’t tell how long I’ve been there. I am immersed in a hypnotic sense of relaxation and the anxieties that have been haunting me in previous weeks are a distant memory.
My group is escorted to a space where one can learn more about the project and report, both verbally and visually, what they’ve just experienced. Most bewildering, as soon as I’m there, I can hardly remember the kaleidoscopic patterns and the actual ideas I’ve had – the same way one would struggle to remember a dream, no matter how vivid it was. “Mesmerising” doesn’t even scratch the surface of what this otherworldly journey inside the mind feels like.
Created by: Collective Act
DIrected by: Jennifer Crook
Produced by: UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK in partnership with Edinburgh Science
Dreamachine plays at Murrayfield Ice Rink until 25 September. Further information and bookings here.