The ’80s Dreamachine project. Andrew M. McKenzie Q&A part two

Andrew M. McKenzie is best known as the experimental / ambient sound artist The Hafler Trio (originally with Cabaret Voltaire’s Chris Watson). McKenzie met Brion Gysin and has been involved in many Gysin-related projects, including the release of the first kit Dreamachine in 1989. McKenzie spoke to CTS Ryan about meeting Gysin and the ’80s scene that his version of the Dreamachine emerged from. The cast of characters includes: William Burroughs, Genesis P-Orridge, David Tibet, Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth, John Gosling, Carl Laszlo and Z’ev.

This is the second part of a four part series. Part one is a Gysin-tinged Q&A, mostly about McKenzie’s life and work. Part two covers the Dreamachine kit, part three will focus on the Gysin book that McKenzie edited; His Name Was Master, and part four will further explore Gysin’s work and influence.

Dreamachine kit

Pictured: The re-released Dreamachine kit. The audio is also available as a download here.

When did you meet Brion Gysin?

It was the Final Academy in October 1982. The reason I can remember the date is because he signed a copy of the program. He and [William] Burroughs were in the same art gallery, the B2 Gallery in Wapping, and it was the day before the gallery was supposed to open. Burroughs actually put the date, October the 1st 1982.

I went with a few other people who wanted to go to see this Final Academy. It was a big thing for the little group of people who knew who Burroughs was and who were interested in Throbbing Gristle.

The first time I met him [Gysin] he was standing there, ironing a pair of pink trousers. No word of a lie.

I thought that’s “Brion Gysin isn’t it?!”

We all had copies of Here to go, which had come out that year or the year before. And a year or two before that, there had been the Research magazine issues with Throbbing Gristle and Burroughs and Gysin and all the rest of it.

We’d all read religiously these things which were quite hard to get in those days. Gysin was one of the main people who, personally, I found much more interesting than Burroughs. And there they both were wandering around this gallery. And there was an actual Dreammachine which none of us had ever seen before – with a few people from the temple of Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth (TOPY) encamped around it and not letting anybody else get to it.

Burroughs was walking around in what I now know to have been a methadone haze. Grauerholz was sort of shepherding him around the exhibits, and he was peering somewhat myopically at these framed versions of pages from the cut up diaries.

Gysin was happily chatting away to anybody, ironing his pink trousers.

I went over to him and I said very briefly “have you never thought about putting the Dreamachine out as a kit?” He said no, and I said, “can I have a go?”

At that time we had started Touch, which is now a record label, but then it was a multimedia thing. We had cassettes, magazines and books and all the rest of it.

Gysin replied: “Oh yeah, of course.”

Then I started writing to him. To get the original plans from him and it developed from there.

Quite memorable, meeting someone like that. Much taller than I thought he was going to be as well [laughter].

Brion Gysin and Ramuntcho Matta - The Final Academy - London 1982

Pictured: Brion Gysin and Ramuntcho Matta – The Final Academy – London 1982 (probably – it’s from a Super 8 recording)

Why were you at the B2 Gallery? Were you part of an in-group, the “cognoscenti”!?

Well, I mean, it was very loose. I knew Gen [Genesis P-Orridge] – not very well, but I knew Gen and one of my best friends from Newcastle had been David Tibet, who wrote a large part of Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth manifestos. We were the first people to publish the manifesto, in Touch magazine.

Tibet moved down to London and became one of the people who invented a lot of Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth stuff because he had such a huge knowledge of Crowley and he basically plugged all that into it and so I used to go and stay with him. 

I knew Gen a bit but not that well. I never joined Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth. But I knew him, and he knew me. It was very loose and of course, when I’m talking about me, I’m talking about about me and the people involved with Touch

We were very much outsiders. We were never really part of that sort of inner circle for one reason and another – part of which was: I lived in Newcastle at the time. I wasn’t in London all the time. 

There were links – it was mainly through the mail. I knew the Cabaret Voltaire people, I knew Gen but we were never really part of the – like you said – cognoscenti.

Andrew M. McKenzie and Genesis P. Orridge

Pictured: Genesis P-Orridge and Andrew M. McKenzie. Brighton, 1989.

Did you ever meet Gysin again?

Twice. When he came to London, and I also went to Paris and met him. I went to the apartment very briefly. 

And there were letters – never very long – about my long struggle to get the Dreamachine published. I would ask him for various pointers and all the rest of it. But it took 5-6 years to get it done, by which time he’d died. So he never actually got to see it.

Brion Gysin in his flat

Pictured: Brion Gysin, right, in his flat in Paris. The Centre Pompidou can be seen through the window

Famously the Dreamachine has never been commercially viable. Did you have any commercial success with it?

Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not, no no no.

It was put out on a Belgian record label and it had a book with it and it had the Dreammachine rolled up in a big tube, and the record shops didn’t want it because they had nowhere to put these big tubes.

But it was there if anybody actually wanted it. People had heard about it, and nobody had actually seen it. Now they had a chance to actually get it. And they stayed away in their millions.

A few years ago it came out again. I sort of revamped it and it came out again in the ‘States. But because of some sort of ridiculous disagreement, I haven’t even seen a copy of it.

But anyway, it’s all based on the actual specifications that were given for the machine that Carl Laszlo had built. He had, like, five made up and they were like Swiss watches. They were beautifully done. I mean absolutely incredible.

Gysin got one to have in his apartment. Carl Laszlo kept one, which he put in a special room. And another one went to an art gallery in America. And it moved from there to a French gallery, I believe.

I got [the pattern] from Carl Laszlo’s engineer. [Laszlo’s] been dead for years now. You could write a book about him. He bankrolled Gysin and Burroughs for a while. He also financed Geiger – his American manager was also the manager of Annie Sprinkle, who I know very well, so that’s how I got in contact.

Back then, it was just this impossible to see, thing. You couldn’t buy one.

Gysin was all for me doing this. But I don’t think he had any faith that I would ever get it done because he’d had so many problems himself.

In his lifetime he never managed to make it a commercial venture, which is what he always wanted to do. There should really be a book about Dreamachine business horror stories. But it won’t be me that does it.

Carl Laszlo, left, and Brion Gysin.

Pictured: Carl Laszlo, left, and Brion Gysin. Aluminum Salon, Sonnenweg 24, CH-Basel. 1970s.

Did you use the Dreamachine yourself?

Yes, of course. I must have made, I wouldn’t say hundreds, but many tens of Dreamachines. 

Many, many scars on my fingers come from cutting through very thick plastic or cardboard to make these things. I still have a box full of very, very long electrical flex to hang light bulbs from.  I haven’t actually had one installed for ages.  

When I was setting up the exhibition in Amsterdam, that was the first time anybody had heard the sound that goes along with them. Then, I made many, and I made them out of metal as well. Which was dangerous, not just for me, but for people actually looking at them because people ended up with the ends of their nose chopped off. 

What was the exhibition in Amsterdam?

It was the first time [1988] that the sound properties of the Dreamachine had been publicly demonstrated, and there was a big performance of it in Aorta, Amsterdam, on about four different levels, with all these Dreamachines going around. People could, for the first time, really see them, because everybody had heard about them, but nobody had ever really seen them.

The place had been a squat. It had been the old offices and printing press of the NRC Handelsblad, which is one of the major newspapers in Holland. The place where the printing presses were, was completely empty and it was three very big levels – a huge space.

I had a multi channel version of the [Dreamachine] record that is now available [Soleilmoon release].

Gen and I had discovered that when you’re making all these Dreamachines, you end up trying different kinds of material.

In London, John Gosling – who was one of the worker bees at Genesis’ Temple of Psychick Youth – he made a big metal one. I mean really big, and there are pictures of me and Gen standing with this thing.

When we discovered that the Dreamachine cuts up sound, I then took binaural recordings of this phenomena, and layered them in accordance with the (now deceased) Z’ev, who was pretty much an expert on the Kabbalah. The numeric way that I layered all these sounds were done according to the Kabbalistic value of the word Dreamachine.

So they’re all layered in this very special way, and there’s a surround sound version. If you listen to it on headphones, it won’t create the same effect as the Dreamachine, but it will definitely strengthen it.

So the sound [in Aorta] was just everywhere and it was all slightly different, so you could wander up and down and there were nine Dreamachines all going round and they all had different designs on the inside, and you could go up and you could look at them.

The sound was just extremely loud and very immersive. That was the very first time anybody had heard the sound because the Carl Laszlo machines had a perspex shield around them – so there was no sound – it had nothing to do with sound at all.

And there was a pirate TV program that we put together in Amsterdam at about exactly the same time, which was the first time anybody had ever seen any videotape of it, and actual interviews with Gysin.

But I was still trying to get the damn thing made as a kit.

I’d said to Gysin in the gallery: “I don’t think it’ll be that much of a problem to get them made”.

And I don’t think I’ve ever been as wrong about anything in my life as that. And believe me, I’ve been wrong a lot in my life.
It was like six years of my life basically trying to get this thing done.

It’s a bit sad that nobody ever, ever realizes that it was done then, and that [the Dreamachine] had actually been available [in 1989].

Video: The 2016 re-release of the Dreamachine kit

For you to spend so much time on the Dreamachine kit, you must have felt passionate about it? What was it that drove you to put it out there?

It’s two sides of the same coin. You can either use the nice word which is persistent, or you can use the other word which is stubborn.

Of course it was horrendous. Trying to get anybody to do this was just unbelievable.

I used to say maybe there’s a curse of Gysin. Because every time I tried to do anything with Gysin it all went pear shaped. It all went completely belly up.

Printers would take one look at it, they go “no way, we can’t do this”. Endless conversations with people trying to get this done and trying to get that done.

I promised him and it got released [in 1989]. And it was re-released a few years ago by an American company [2016] – it was printed like a laminated restaurant menu. It’s not paper anymore, so it’s a lot more durable. And it also has the original painting that he wanted to be on the inside of the dreamachine. I didn’t have that when we first did it in the 80s.

But it’s completely out of my hands. I haven’t even seen a copy of the re-released version. But it’s out there.

Other people have put it out but they all seem to be using a slightly wrong pattern.

Gysin approved [my version]. The difference from the ones that you find floating around on the Internet is not very big, but it does make a difference, because there is mathematics involved with it. It’s generally the middle hole, the very middle hole, which is not the right shape. That, of course, is the one that you’re going to be more likely to look at than all the other ones.

It’s not that big a difference, but it is. If we’re going to be right about it, we may as well be right about it. I got the original ones and calculated it all out. I also rechecked those calculations, because by that time I’d heard all sorts of stories about Ian Somerville and I thought, well, “let’s just check this”.

And of course – the sound element. It’s such an obvious thing.

It’s done, you know? It’s not impossible to see [the kit Dreamachine] now, and it’s not impossible to see it as it was intended.

I promised that it would be done. I’ve kept my promise.

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