PSALM'N'LOCKER - Op. 01, Music for Dreamachine

I was super pumped to see this new release of "Music for Dreamachine" on Yerevan Tapes, as I've been making and using Dreamachines for over 20 years. The Burroughs/Gysin continuum is a huge part of my life, and the Dreamachine and other visual/auditory flicker-production techniques are always worth a try in my book.

For those not familiar with the concept, the Dreamachine creates stroboscopic flicker patterns that you can use to stimulate alpha wave activity in your brain. This in turn can induce states of relaxation, meditation, creative headspaces, visual hallucination patterns, and occasionally outright visions if you're lucky. Or maybe unlucky. There are contemporary eyeglass/headphone-based devices like the Brain Machine or PSiO that create similar sound and light flicker patterns, or you can just hold a little strobe light up to your (closed) eyelids for a similar effect, but the old-school Dreamachine has to win for style points. You can build your own for cheap, too--you just need a janky old turntable, a hunk of thick posterboard, and something to cut holes. You can find lots of information and DIY plans at Interzone Creations. I made my own for years, which weren't pretty but worked fine, and I upgraded to a sexier "classic" template made by 10111.org via Important Records a few years ago which makes me feel like I'm vibing with the Beat Hotel lineage.

The Dreamachine functions by inducing steady flicker patterns in the alpha range, around 7-13 flickers per second. But how does one emulate these effects with music? Almost any kind of music seems to enhance the experience, but there have been a few efforts more closely aligned with the experience, like Throbbing Gristle's "Heathen Earth" album and the Hafler Trio/Psychic TV "Present Brion Gysin's Dreamachine" release. Those recordings feel intuitively-connected to the Dreamachine experience, encouraging a kind of cinematic relationship. With the new head-mounted class of related gadgets, headphones often provide sounds made more mathematically from binaural beats, an aural-perception effect created from the difference in two closely-related pitches. If you produce beats in the 7-13 Hz range, you're potentially stimulating the alpha band, and you'll perceive that as a sort of rumble or heavy vibration. If you move the results up a few octaves, they'll be audible as extremely low pitches audible around the bottom extreme of most playback systems.

Fundamentally a drone piece with gentle shifts in texture and weight, PSALM'N'LOCKER's "Music for Dreamachine" splits the difference between bland mathematics and soundtrack dramatics. This piece is quite deliberate in creating low-frequency beats through difference tones produced by 2 Bontempi air organs that are slightly out of tune from one another. But it also ebbs and flows musically, sounding both inspired by and designed to enhance the shifting geometric patterns associated with the Dreamachine. The reeds of the small organs carry overtones of their own, further complicating the location of precise beats as their relationships vary at different intervals, but they make for a musically-satisfying timbral pallette compared to the more medicinal qualities of pure sine wave-based binaural work. One hears the difference tones as rumbles, gurgles, or sometimes as very low notes that seem to be felt more than heard, and if you stay the recommended minimum distance away from the speakers, you'll also find that you can locate different beating effects within the complex field of sound simply by moving your head around. The beats often manifest as insectoid kinds of sounds, especially recalling the stridulation of crickets. And the piece is carefully recorded with a pair of nice microphones into a portable reel-to-reel machine--I'm guessing that the recordings stayed in an analog signal path from creation to duplication, and the final consumer copies sound lovely on cassette.

All told, Luca Garino and his PSALM'N'LOCKER project have made a fine solo debut--this piece is creative, thoughtfully-executed, and a pleasure to experience. If you're into good drone-based music, you're sure to enjoy this album regardless of your proximity to stroboscopic paraphernalia. And the packaging is especially noteworthy, too--Yerevan has produced this as a one-sided tape to eliminate a side break in the middle of this 28-minute piece, a smart decision. The artwork, also made by Garino, is reproduced on luxurious opaque vellum paper, evoking the light-manipulation attributes of the Dreamachine, and producing a striking composite image as two separate photos fold to become visible together on the cover. Dream on.

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