Bringing a piece of literary arcana and '60s memorabilia to life has unexpectedly turned into a thriving business for offbeat Los Angeles composer and builder David Woodard. The 34-year-old entrepreneur builds and sells The Dreamachine, a psychedelic contraption that first made its appearance in novels by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. Like many readers, Woodard assumed the device was fictional-that is, until 1991, when his landlord (an old friend) slipped him the templates of the original design.
The Dreamachine consists of a museum board or copper cylinder with holes in it attached to a turntable, in the middle of which sits a 200-watt light bulb. When the machine is turned on, the cylinder spins. The resulting flashes of light result in a simple light show, creating a dreamlike sensation.
Among devotees, who range from college students to eightysomethings, the machine is rumored to provide psychic powers, invoke dream states and cure writer's block. On a darker note, it also has been rumored to cause epileptic seizures and prompt suicides. Kurt Cobain was said to have been using The Dreamachine intensively right before he killed himself.
Woodard builds the $500 to $4,000 machines, and clients, including Iggy Pop, Beck and various museums, learn about the machines through Woodard's site (www.davidwoodard.com) or word-of-mouth.
"My clients are very brave souls," Woodard says. "The Dreamachine is a literary artifact, so it has that appeal. And there is an element of perceived danger. Universally, people are drawn to things that seem to tempt fate."
Pamela Rohland, a writer from Bernville, Pennsylvania, shudders at the idea of doing anything, especially exercising, before dawn.