The technology was simple, I was told, yet executed with the most meticulous detail. On entering the room, one would not have the faintest notion of what was going on. Yet within those four walls a magician’s hand was at play.
Howl had no name for his device, or even its application. Howl was only interested in the use of his technology, and this is where I came in.
Within those four walls, time stood still or at least in another time and place.
The room was not real, at least not in the way we are used to perceiving reality. Yet there was a trick to this magic and no signs of the machinery at work.
A perpetual state of ‘is’ness, was what I had begun to call it. Howl quite fancied the term. Within those four walls we were able to live a seemingly endless moment, or at least be enchanted.
You see, the contents of the room felt very much real or at least reactionary: if you knocked on wood, you would hear a sound.
Technically, outside the room I would be in the present, and on entering I could be in any moment I chose.
A perpetual state of ‘is’ness; where any moment could be frozen, yet experienced as a whole, fluid reality.
We had only begun discussing how we would go about making use of the machine when it happened.
His body lay there, in suspended animation. Died of natural causes, the report read. Only Howl knew the operations of the machine, which left me with an illusory room stuck in the same place. And what use was that, really?
That was until I met her.
To this day I am unsure of just how real she was. She appeared while I was in the room, taking me by surprise.
She said her name was Maya. She spoke of her maker; she asked if I knew of him. She called him Ahti.
I was fascinated by her reverence for what sounded like Howl, yet puzzled by the name she had given him. Maya had never met Howl, yet Ahti’s name was imprinted in her mind.
She did not speak of the room or the machine. As far as I knew, she had no idea none of this was real. Maya would follow me around, pretend to be interested in what I was doing, hanging on me like a shadow.
Then she began to sing.
Words foreign to my ears fell off her lips, hummed to a tune she would repeat over and over again. I never asked her what the words meant.
The notes registered in the back of my mind, and as I returned home I would hear her voice and those words. Those words would soon reveal their worth to me.
I spent days inside the room, trying to decipher the workings of the machine. Maya watched, unsure of what to make of my strange behaviour.
Pointing to the windows, Maya asked why the sky always looked the same.
The answer descended on me like a hammer to a nail. I had never thought to look outside; convinced the machinations took place within the confines of those four walls.
There it was, staring me right in the face, casting this illusion that created the room. It was ingenious, I thought, to hide it right in plain sight.
On opening the windows the machinery was revealed to me, though I had the faintest clue of how it worked. Still, this was a start.
Maya watched as I examined the intricacies of the machine. There seemed to be some source of power that kept it running, yet it was not plugged into any electrical source.
Batteries? No, they could not possibly sustain an output of that much light.
A strange aura emanated from the centre of the machine, a blue-ish glow that felt both warm and cold. Circular in shape, there seemed to be some sort of material generating power.
Maya walked towards the shape.
Her fingers traced the contours as a strange electric charge disseminated through her body – every strand of hair lifted.
Her eyes shone blue-silver as she turned to look at me. I felt a chill run down my spine as she began to speak in tongues.
Words foreign to my ears began to reverberate across the room: a cacophony of syllables I could not begin to fathom. As moments passed they began to overlap as though her voice multiplied.
My ears began to ache.
I only remember waking up inside this place. The walls were not what I remember, neither was the floor nor the ceiling. Somehow the room had transformed itself. Dust covered the floor, cobwebs lined the ceiling, and the pungent stench of decomposition filled the room.
“Home”, said Maya.
Then I began to recall. The speaking of tongues, those words she sung; they were one and the same. It was Maya who brought me here; I had yet to understand why. In this new room I could no longer place the machine; there was no window and I had no sense of direction.
“Maya, what are we doing here?” I asked.
“Home”, was the only response she would give me.
“Where is this place? Are we still inside the room?”
“Home”, said Maya.
She then began to walk towards the door. I followed.
The door would lead us back to reality, outside the effects of the machine.
Maya opened the door, letting in a light so intense it threatened to blind me.
I stepped outside; this was not the reality I remembered. Once again, the floor was covered in dust, the ceilings lined with cobwebs, and the lingering stench followed us.
Maya walked on.
Walking through what seemed like a broad corridor, I began to notice the inscriptions on the walls.
Again, words foreign to me, yet there seemed to be some purpose behind them.
Like some strange hieroglyphics, the walls began to speak. Perhaps Maya knew what they meant.
“Where are you taking me?”
Maya turned to face me, “where are you taking yourself?”
What did she mean?
She offered no explanation as she turned and continued walking. I did not bother to ask, my mind now seeking knowledge of the writings on the wall.
Though I could not understand the language, there was something about the shapes that communicated to a primal sense.
Like staring at a flame, there is no meaning to it, only warmth and colour. It was much the same with the inscriptions, but just what was it trying to tell me?
Laughter – somewhere in this corridor a gecko chose to mock the moth that had been blinded by the flame.
Like the turning of a page, as Maya and I walked through the threshold we found ourselves immersed in an entirely otherness; an “is”ness in itself yet not what we had acclimatized to.
I felt something snap along my spine, as though clasping at it – a parasite. Where had Howl taken me? Why me? These are the first thoughts that are shot down by blank barrels. Now, where do I want to take myself?
Maya had turned to face me once again – an expression on her face. Is that all we ever communicate?
Beyond the otherwise meaningless words we weave and seam meaning into, intermingling conflicting symbols, juxtaposing Jungian archetypes – you don’t see cats chase their tails. You see language. You see gestures. You seek communion.
For a moment I held Maya in my arms – in my mind. Why do we clasp so viciously what has never been apart from us? The whole is complete within and without the whole that exists within and without itself.
What appeared before me I could describe in only so many words – jungley vines and canopy stretching across my peripheral vision. The air was thick with dust. The dust settled on dirt, brown muddy earth. I had no sense of time save for a wristwatch that lied on its face.
Maya led me along the littered pathway, her footsteps predicting mine. An invisible line was drawn between us. To my naked eye she was the Pied Piper to my vermin existence; crawling through the seemingly infinite paths – only one leading to the proverbial cheese.
I have had a glimpse of this.
Maya stopped moving.
Her footsteps predicted mine.
Have you ever felt the page turn as a draught sneaks over, revealing an isolated instance – jamais vu? Déjà vu, for a moment I was convinced that all of what would follow that moment I would be ready for.
Maya tugged at my arm.
“Do you know?” she asked.
“Do I know what?” I countered.
“Why your Sun gives way to the Moon at night?”
“Gravitational forces – caught in orbit.”
“Those words mean nothing.”
“Gravity? What goes up comes down. Like karma – what goes around comes around.”
“Karma,” Maya smiled, acknowledging the word, its meaning, significance and application.
Maya tugged at my arm.
“Where do you come from?”
“We are outside.”
“Outside of here.”
Maya let her head fall toward her shoulder, her hair spilling over her face – an arborescent silhouette wavering with the wind.
“Home,” she said and planted her foot firmly into the littered soil.
Her hair no longer covered her eyes, now piercing through mine. Maya found a passage, following my instinctual movements, characteristic nuances and affected mannerisms, to unravel the nature of my behaviour.
In this way we would often happen to eclipse each other, yet Maya always led.
“This is not my home,” the thought vocalized itself.
“Do you remember home?” Maya asked.
“I remember an address, a phone number, a bookshelf and a bedside table. I remember breakfast on a Sunday morning. I remember mowing the lawn,” I replied, kicking the litter of dirt and leaves off my feet.
“What is a Sunday?”
The thought took a while to draw its conclusive definition – the concise, assimilated meaning. It lingered, like an earworm tickling the contours, squirming through my equillibrium.
“Sunday is the day you go to the beach instead of going to work. Sunday is time spent with family. To some it means going to Church, and to others it is their one day of rest,” I put it simply.
“Why cloud your mind with words?”
“I need them to communicate.”
“They say nothing. Tell me, what does a Sunday feel like?” Maya’s tone grew adolescent.
“What does any day feel like? Forget Sunday. Why are we here?” my patience snapped.
“Why are we ever here? We choose to be.”
“I did not choose to come here. You know this. Where have you brought me?”
“Look around. Does anything look familiar?”
The air smelt the same – pungent – and the ground remained littered. It was only around Maya that I felt any familiarity.
Through Maya I would connect the dots, I explained to myself.
“Maya, what do you see?”
What appeared before me I could describe in only so many words – palmyrah on barren, dry land, hard sun: a light that threatened to blind me.
“Like you, I see what I am looking for,” Maya spoke.
“I’m looking for a way out.”
“How will you know when you are on your way?”
I knew how to answer what I thought was a question arising from Maya’s curiosity, yet I kept quiet. The curious Maya would reveal more to me than one who had heard all my answers.
This place seemed to be an inbetween, in transit, an “is”ness that is not quite, still, quiet, vacuous, an incomplete left for the imagination. Yet I could not impose the longing for home within the pulsating vessel; the way to will it to be unknown to me.
“Do you know where to find Ahti?”
“I have known.”
“Will you take me?”
“I have taken you.”
“Then where is Howl?”
I knew Howl was dead, his corpse rotting away, giving in to the ebb and decomposition of time. Ahti was alive. I had no basis for this belief, yet I believed in it convinced that Maya would take me to her maker. Still, Maya insisted she had already done so.
“What is Howl?” asked Maya’s naivette.
I could not bother answer.
Maya’s inability to comprehend simple functions of language meant she was not a perfect being; her face reflected symmetry, yet in conversation she was always the receptive, never rising over my voice, never reciprocating in full, always leaving the end open to any means of diverting sense or deriving meaning.
Then she began to sing.
“Ahti, naam. Ahti, naam. Ahti, naam”
Each syllable raised a hair, as with every repetition the words familiar. Maya sought her maker in reverence, not in form; she found meaning in the sound, not the function. To her Ahti was as much a state of mind as Howl was to me an acquantaince.
While the latter entered and exited my life a bag of blood, bones and flesh, the former always resided within the seat of Maya’s mind. I began to understand what had been, seen, heard and breathed within the confines of those four walls.
These four walls? Suddenly the vastness of my surroundings struck me. How sure was I that I was awake? Is there any real measure of lucidity?
A pin-prick silence unsettled me. In dreams the implausible took centre-stage, yet here I found my self at the centre with no bearings, no leitmotif or symbols to weave meaning into this play of absurdities.
Maya had begun walking, her voice distant, faint, monotonous: naam … naam.
I followed, reciting along with her, hoping by some miracle to reach this Ahti state of mind. Perhaps then clarity would dawn upon this residual muck of memories, with no reference or measure of time – stagnant, losing what little significance I had imagined: naam … naam.
“Look!” Maya pointed to the horizon.
A blue orb seemed to be setting, its colour more apparent with its descent, what was below obscured. A mammoth shadow traced its shape behind the arboroscent blue lines playing along its contours, seeping back to its source, curiously circling the peak as the shapes disintergrated into themselves.
“Is that the Sun?”
“Sunday?” she mused, “No. It is the night.”
As the word left Maya’s lips the darkness pronounced itself, a hum growing louder from the ground as though the blue orb was rolling beneath. Feet against the cooling ground, a shiver spiralled along my nervous system: spine, nape, neck. I felt the blue lines caress the contours of mind – the aboriginal expressions of cranial stress.
“When will the Sun rise from the East?” I turned towards Maya.
She let her hair fall along with her face over the curious slant of her neck; for a moment I felt blue lines run through her veins.
I realized then I had not slept. It was not that I felt no need to; the promise of waking up to the familiar no longer comforted me – there was only Maya and night.
“Sleep,” said Maya.
What appeared before me I could describe in only so many words: a polynauts map of the universe. Lights. Each individual light permeating its stain against retina, inverted dimensions revert back to pre-reptilian-nervous-breakdown. I felt a snap along my spine.
“Awake?” asked Maya.
I rose from the littered earth, a dearth of suspicion sedimented in sudden retrodisposition, and looked for what was presumably the source of light: the blue orb I had envisioned setting into stone.
Maya never appeared unclothed. She watched as I stretched limbs that hardly felt weary, and yawned air that tasted of dust. Coughing, retching, I began to stumble over the littered earth seeking equilibrium.
Had I any reason to believe this was still oxygen? That these littered leaves speak for photosynthesis? The premise was lost to me.
I had seen I in a spectral decay spiralling inward, outward, thru and through plural dimensions – time, space – escaping the continual: a sleight of hand.
Maya tugged at my arm.
“Do you see what you were looking for?”
Nowhere in the sky could I find the blue orb, save for the blue of sky – it couldn’t be. The sun shone bright; Maya cast in a silhouette – a yin of light, yang of shadow.
Her eyes never bore into mine, neither did they ever tire of my futile attempts to shake some sense out of her. It may surprise you, that in what seems such short a time I would feel so hopeless.
The sense of time, or lack thereof, the immediate effect: that moment you rise on an unknown morning of a non-existant day – you had no reason to believe 24 hours had passed.
Dissociated, with only these words foreign to my ears as refuge, I found myself dissolved into the arborescent. Blue of sky coursed through my veins. As with Maya, I could see it in my own flesh.
What was green had turned cold, yet the intensity of the sun cast an illusory heatwave. The ability to discern the room from the machinery had escaped me.
“Maya. Help me.”
“I have helped you.”
What appeared before me I can describe in only words foreign to my ears: bathed in the arborescent, a drop in the causal ocean, wavering radiant light – these and the paraplegic syllables that stumbled off her tongue. Maya held me captive in this synthetic womb.
Eyes closed, the blue of sky began to narrate its birth as the green of I gave way to dissolution. Picture-puzzle-pattern-door – where had I heard that before? What appeared was not just before me, but ebbed and flowed in continuum.
With no limbs and no neural reverence for vital organs, invisible hands played with dimension. Light felt playful. Depth as though a hole were torn in the fabric of this veil. Yet the light most stole my attention. Blue of sky condensed, drops tempting the gaping mouth of the void, rising perspired by a light that threathened to blind me.
Maya stood with her back turned toward me. As I rose I noticed she was observing something, her feet restless.
“Is this your Sun?”
Maya turned aside; blue of sky stained retina. The blue orb. The source of light. She had led me into the core of the machine. I peered down into the crevice the shape had called home.
Had Howl any influence on how the machine manifested itself within the room? How could I tell if this was the machine at all? Howl had never described this place. Howl had told me so little. Yet I assumed he knew the intricacies of the machine.
The answer descended on me like a hammer to a nail. This room sealed Howl’s existence just as I had found myself here. Blue of sky seeped through skin, infused keratin, hairs raised – I felt a snap along my spine.
“Ahti?” I asked.
Maya’s face lit up as the blue veins ran rivers meandering down her neck, pulsating as though circulating light. Yet as I stood the silhouette she had come to adorn slipped only for a moment, revealing a grimace – almost wicked.
“Naam, naam” she sung, each syllable in contradistinction as though split between her lips.
“Ahti is here?” I hoped desperately, unwilling to give up my conviction – unable to accept a fate I had already witnessed.
“Ahti, naam. Ahti, naam” words foreign to my ears followed as tributaries emerged across her face, blue of sky mingling with the shades of skin: lips, contours, luminescent.
Luminous, luminescence or luminosity? The only words that help describe are those uttered by minds provoked by experiences outside of my self.
I felt borrowed. I felt trapped.
“Maya, did Ahti ever speak of home?”
Her gaze turned inward, evading my eyes in plain sight. Maya drifted into a haze whenever I mentioned Ahti again. There was no use of referring to Howl. There was little use of Maya anymore.
How was I so sure Maya had any idea of what was beyond this place? She had never seen the light of a day under Sol. She held in reverance what Howl considered a toy to play with the mind, exploring the fringes of the unconcious.
“Where I am from – where Ahti is from – the blue of sky is not because of the source of its light, it is only one of many frequencies that adorn the sky, seeping into the plumage of cloud, and below lies the sea, where reflecting waters hold the heavens above with nothing but the wind holding them apart” I began to ramble, the slow crumbling of hope making fantasy of yet an ordinary world no more intriguing than this space, save for the fact that I was alone, none of my kind to busy my mind from the painful acknowledgement of imminent death.
“There was once water here. All of what appears before you was once alive. Ahti gave life,” Maya consoled me.
“Then where has it gone?”, to his grave, I imagined.
“Naam, naam. That is why we sing”
Maya held out her hand, now glowing blue-silver, conducive, blue of sky shot through my arms, clasping, an invisible hand twisted spine as a Rubik’s cube: picture-puzzle-pattern-door to the seat of mind. Words familiar: naam, naam
We began to sing.
© Imaad Majeed (2012)
Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’s systems adviser Ian Sommerville created the dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’s book, The Living Brain.
Dreamachine, as per Wikipedia: a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli.
In its original form, a dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record turntable and rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. A light bulb is suspended in the center of the cylinder and the rotation speed allows the light to come out from the holes at a constant frequency of between 8 and 13 pulses per second. This frequency range corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing.
A dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optical nerve and alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. The user experiences increasingly bright, complex patterns of color behind their closed eyelids. The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the user feels surrounded by colors. It is claimed that using a dreamachine allows one to enter a hypnagogic state. This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes.