Lately Karlsruhe’s art museum ZKM presented a large show on the works of William Burroughs with a lot of wonderful exhibits including the famous dream machine, a device he developed with Brion Gysin, who defines it as “a cylinder with holes in it attached to a record-player turntable. In the middle of the cylinder sits a light bulb. The turntable is set to spin at 78 RPM. Subjects sit in front of the cylinder and close their eyes. The light shines through the holes in the spinning cylinder and flickers on the eyelids.” If you keep looking into it (no matter if you have your eyes closed or not), it has a weird but pleasant psychedelic effect.
John Zorn’s work has been influenced by a lot of non-musical stuff and the ideas of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, their writing and their revolutionary techniques of third mind collaboration are definitely among them. Dreamachines picks up Burroughs’ and Gysin’s innovative style, the absence of linear stories, the cut-up technique and their fascination for so-called routines and neologisms. Especially the cut-up technique has always been a crucial element of Zorn’s music (to the extreme in Naked City) which has always given a dramatic surprise to his compositions.
Dreamachines marks the third part of a trilogy that started with the multi-part suite Interzone in 2010, and was followed by Nova Express a year later. Dreamachines continues Nova Express because it makes use of the same band - John Medeski (p), Trevor Dunn (b), Kenny Wollesen (vib), and Joey Baron (dr) – and it is the jazziest one of this bundle of albums. The first track, “Psychic Conspirators”, presents Wollesen gone mad in front of a relentless rhythm section, like an elaborate Naked City segment that also refers back to an early work like Spillane. The track looks like a typical Burroughs routine, it is a surreal composition which grows, expands, implodes and folds in on itself. “Gît-Le-Couer” (the name of the hotel in which Gysin and Burroughs lived in Paris, which went down in history as the so-called Beat Hotel) is another example of Zorn’s processing of the cut-up technique: it starts very relaxed breathing the cliché intellectual Paris atmosphere of the 1960 before it takes a turn to a typical spooky Dreamers track and then goes back to where it started off. The highlights are “1001 Nights in Marrakech” with its Arabian influence and its dark piano riff and the psychedelic sparkling title track, both having strong soundtrack qualities. Great album, indeed.
Listen to “The Third Mind” here: