A vision built for visionaries

Times Staff Writer

The dreamachine -- a psychedelic contraption rumored to provide psychic powers, invoke dream states and cure writer’s block--has a long association with rock. Beck and Iggy Pop each owned one. So did Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs.

Now Sotheby’s is auctioning one as part of its semiannual Legends of Rock sale. Beginning today and continuing through Nov. 10, interested parties can bid on the dreamachine that was built for Burroughs’ 1997 funeral at

Invented in 1959 by author Brion Gysin and mathematician Ian Sommerville, the dreamachine is a motorized cylinder, into which a series of geometric shapes have been cut. In its center is a 200-watt light bulb. When the cylinder spins, it creates a flicker effect that works on the eyelids and affects the brain’s cortical tissue. Sitting within an inch of the spinning object, eyes closed, it is believed to induce a visionary state in about 30 minutes.

The machine up for auction was designed and built by David Woodard, a friend of Burroughs who also built the two dreamachines the legendary Beatnik used during his lifetime. Woodard also built dreamachines for Beck and Pop, although he will neither confirm nor deny that he constructed the one Cobain used before his death.

Woodard had read about the dreamachine in Gysin’s novel “The Last Museum” and in Burroughs’ “The Job,” but it wasn’t until he rented a home in Napa Valley in 1992 that he was inspired to make one.


His landlord was an old friend of Gysin’s and had the templates for the inventor’s dreamachine design. Woodard used them to make one.

When a friend offered to buy it, he built another and thus got in the habit of making them regularly.

The dreamachine on the block has a copper cylinder that’s fitted with rabbit fur and a rosewood base. Bidding starts at $500.


Legends of Rock saleThe price of a good vibe

What: Auction of William Burroughs’ dreamachine.

Where: Sotheby’s online at

When: Today through Nov. 10.

Cost: Bids start at $500.Burroughs’ strange trip