Electronic musician Jon Hopkins has provided a 32-channel, 360º soundtrack to a new art installation and multimedia experience, Dreamachine.
Described by Hopkins as a "visual and emotional experience that you have with your eyes closed, that your own brain creates," the Dreamachine emits patterns of light that prompt the audience, who will have their eyes closed, to spontaneously generate dramatic and unpredictable perceptual hallucinations.
Dreamachine is inspired by the work of artist Brion Gysin, who is also known for pioneering the cut-up method (opens in new tab) later used by David Bowie and Radiohead to produce randomised lyrical phrases. Working in the '50s, Gysin developed a contraption that, by emitting bursts of flickering light, created vivid and colourful illusions in the mind's eye of the viewer. The Dreamachine operates using the same principle.
The Dreamachine takes advantage of the brain's natural tendency to produce hallucinations in response to specific sensory inputs. The New Scientist (opens in new tab) notes that "dreamlike hallucinations can be induced by lights flashing on closed eyelids at 8 to 12 hertz, the same frequency as the oscillations of “alpha” brainwaves when we are relaxed and wakeful with our eyes closed."
Hopkins' immersive soundtrack to the installation takes the form of a 32-channel composition written specifically for a 360º speaker array that completely surrounds the audience. Speaking about the writing process, Hopkins remarked (opens in new tab): "It's the first time I've composed something to be played in 360º dimensional sound. That's allowed me to do much, much more than I've ever done before. It's a bit like moving from black and white to colour."
This isn't the first time Jon Hopkins has explored altered states of consciousness through his music. His latest album, Music For Psychedelic Therapy, was designed for use in therapeutic psychedelic experiences, in which patients are given drugs such as ketamine and LSD.
Touring the UK as part of the Unboxed Festival, the Dreamachine is a collaboration between Hopkins, Turner Prize-winning art collective Assemble, and a team of neuroscientists and researchers. The experience is free to visit, and will be stopping off in London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh from July to September 2022. Find out more on the Unboxed Festival website.