William Burroughs Conversation continues – 4 (Flicker)

“Peter Orlovsky legs crossed mysterious-haired, W.S. Burroughs with camera & hat shading Mediterranean sun, myself white-pants earnest smoking, Alan Ansen resolute visiting from Venice to help type new apocalyptic cut-up material overflow from Naked Lunch, Gregory Corso’d been gambling at casino with Francis Bacon, Corso here sunglassed & Minox’d, Ian Sommerville assisting sound-collage electronic & stroboscope alpha-rhythm & Dream Machine experiments with Bill & Brion Gysin then in town, Paul Bowles squinting in bright mid-day light seated on ground, company assembled outside Burroughs’ French-door’d room on garden, my Kodak-Retina in young Michael Portman’s hands, Villa Muniria, 1 Calle Magellanes, Tangier July 1961.” ( photo and caption by Allen Ginsberg

Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs conversation (from 1985) continues from here

Ted Morgan (from the audience) : Allen, if you want to keep going (chronologically) you can move (on) to Tangier

WSB: Ok, yeah, quick, yeah, get going.

AG (to GC) : Tangier. 1961 – Gregory you were there, Peter Orlovsky was there, Bill..  Timothy Leary came visiting.

WSB: He did indeed with his mushrooms.

AG: Right, psilocybin

WSB: Yeah, the psilocybin.

AG: And Bill had two young gentlemen attending him, one was Michael Portman a very.. a kid who I thought was extremely beautiful but narcissistic, and kind of rude to me and Peter, because,  I think. .. we weren’t sure what our relationship was to Bill at the time, or were a little rocky, we hadn’t seen him for a long time, and he’d become so distinguished that we were now…

WSB: I had not become distinguished at all!

AG  Yes you had. You had already published Naked Lunch

WSB: Just barely, Yes, well anyway..

AG:  So we were a little nervous.

WSB: Yeah.

AG: And Bill was at his..

GC (to AG): You were.  I saw the look on your face. It was different.

AG:  Yeah.

GC: When you looked at him you didn’t joke around with him anymore.

AG; Yeah. So I had… Bill was no longer smitten with my beauty, I think.

GC: Right.

Ian Sommerville (1941-1976) – photo by John “Hoppy” Hopkins

AG:  And there was Ian Sommerville, who was a brilliant young English kid who was interested in electronics. Brion Gysin was there and had been experimenting with his Dreamachine, which was a stroboscope-style flash-on-the-eyeball which hitting something like thirteen to seventeen…

WSB: No,no

AG: ..flickers a second set off alpha rhythms.

WSB: The alpha, the alpha rhythm.  It has to be very precise. I think that’s between eight and thirteen flashes per second.

AG: Maybe, I seem to remember the figures were thirteen to nineteen, but..

WSB: Yeah, well no I don’t think so.

AG: So Ian Sommerville was helping Bill experiment with photography, with recording, and..

WSB: Well, this was not going on in Tangiers, that was later in Paris, and they had one of these things that they used..to set up….

AG: Recording?

WSB:  No, The Dreamachine?

AG: Yeah

WSB: ..they set up in a window for Helena Rubinstein

AG: Yeah, but they’d already set up one for..in Michael Portman’s room..?

WSB: Oh yeah, but that was just a little play one.

AG: Ian Sommerville had built that?

WSB: Well, it was just a cut-out thing..

AG: Yeah.

WSB: ..and you’d put a light in the middle of it, and then put it on a turntable.

AG: It was like a revolving lampshade with slots in it, so that, as it revolved around a brilliant light, it would flicker on your eyeball and set off, or connect with, your alpha rhythm, in such a way as to create picture-images, (sort of like LSD) if you closed your eyes and leaned into the light. Is that right?

WSB: Well, more or less, You see, this is ..this is  all described in  (W) Grey Walter‘s book, Flicker,  and the..

AG: The book is called  The Living Brain.

WSB: The Living Brain,  yes.

AG: Your copy of which I have in my bookshelf in New York to this day.

WSB: Well he, he made this discovery about flicker (and actually, of course, the one that we were fooling around with there was just a play or a toy. When they started making good ones, you know, really effective ones, they cost about $5000. It really is a precision piece of equipment  (well, like the.. these little things you can get to get your alpha rhythms, well, they aren’t any good at all, and real good brainwave equipment costs an awful lot of money)

AG: And it’s calibrated for a fee..

WSB: Well, exactly, yeah, that’s what I mean.  See, it’s comfortable, yeah.

AG: Well, actually, I have used one of those, with LSD experiments in Stanford in ‘59.

WSB: One of the big ones.

AG: One of the big ones that..

WSB: Who was that guy that’s still active out in Berkeley?,  some Japanese, so active with feedback?

AG: Tod Mikuriya?

WSB: No, that wasn’t the name at all.  He was so active with feedback, you know, getting people to lower their blood-pressure and all that… and…

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately nine-and-three-quarter minutes in and continuing until approximately thirteen-and-a-half minutes in

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