If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to be Doctor Strange falling through the multiverse then this might just give you the answer. This state-funded immersive experience, one of 10 national projects in Unboxed UK, is most likely the closest you can get to tripping balls without any hallucinogens involved. In Cardiff, where the experience is currently running until Sat 18 June, the Dreamachine is housed in the Temple Of Peace, which Sir Thomas Percy designed in the wake of World War I to further international peace efforts.
Experience the power of just your mind in a technique that was first introduced in the 60s by Brion Gysin. He came up with the concept after finding himself lost in a transcendental state while travelling on a bus; the gentle flickering of light from the trees swaying in the low-slung sun led to him discovering that being exposed to only a flashing white light when your eyes are closed can produce intense, colourful visual hallucinations. This light, flickering between eight and 13 flashes per second, synchronises harmoniously with the brain’s alpha waves to conjure up this fascinating trip.
There is a great feeling of mystery and apprehension before walking into the Dreamachine. After filling out the forms, you are reminded about the loud audio and how the bright flickering lights can be unpleasant and intense. The space itself is dark – reminiscent of those areas in the museum where as a kid one might have learned about outer space – with a circular, recliner sofa and a luminous ceiling. A surround-sound score composed by Jon Hopkins is also piped in.
After popping your belongings, shoes and all, into a locker you are given a soft blanket and an eye mask, to be donned should you wish to remove yourself from the experience at any time. You’re told to “leave the world outside” before taking your seat in the space designed by Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble. In the course of around 20 minutes, you become lost in a kaleidoscope swirl of colour and sound; after the experience, you are taken to the ‘reflection room’. Here, you are free to discuss what you saw and how you felt, whether that be in the form of talking, writing or even drawing.
After some breathing exercises and a taster session, the experience begins… I was welcomed by a crimson burning sun, almost like witnessing a solar flare erupting in the void. This sun would reappear several more times throughout my experience, in a somewhat comforting manner. The pulsing soundtrack gets increasingly louder; the lights start to change at a more rapid rate. It becomes more abstract with layers of intricate patterns and colours starting to overlap each other in the most beautiful, chaotic way. Large faces would soon appear, although I couldn’t quite recognise who they were. The lights would slow down every now and then, washes of blue and green drowning out the detailed illusions. Outlines of dolphins swimming through the ocean and a feeling of floating in the cosmos cloaked my whole vision.
Dreamachine is what I’d imagine would happen if you died and your soul was travelling to the next experience. You lose almost all sense of your body: towards the end, when a soft-toned voice greeted me back to the room, it felt somewhat strange to wiggle my fingers and familiarise myself back to reality.
Each participant will step into their own inner universe, experiencing something unique and revealing about themselves. A transcendental and enjoyable ride, if you let go and relax – I can’t wait to do it again.
Temple Of Peace, Cardiff, Sun 5 June
Dreammachine is on until Sat 18 June. Tickets: free (participants must complete a pre-booking form). Info: here
words JOHN EVANS
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