WHEN Luke and John, our guardians, introduced themselves as we entered Carlisle Memorial Church to prepare us for going into the Dreamachine, I felt like looking around for Mathew and Mark just to get the complete picture.

The church interior is a beautiful space for the experience and the colours used are inspired by the space itself.

It’s part of Unboxed, a UK-wide festival. The experience has already been to London and Cardiff but I was curious as to how us Belfast folk would take to it.

It’s free and well-resourced and I totally agree that artists, scientists, philosophers and multidisciplinary teams need to be encouraged to let their imaginations fly and be supported to do it. This particular team came up with the Dreamachine.

But what will you find and how do you get to be a participant? Well, you're encouraged to book online for a time slot for the kind of experience you want to go for. It is over 18s only but this isn’t an X-rating.

On booking you're asked if you want the deep listening or high sensory. There is also a short questionnaire about your own sensitivity to bright lights, epilepsy or loud noises, you will not get in unless this is filled in.

People are encouraged to take off their shoes or wear shoe covering and leave mobiles in a locker on arrival. A chair or bean bag waiting area is provided while you receive some health and safety advice. A blanket is provided then you are ushered into the Dreamachine.

It consists of a circle of comfortable built-in lounge seats around the periphery, all with built in-speakers at either side of your head and a recessed oval is in the middle of the ceiling. There are two exits that you can use at any time.

The first experience I tried was the deep listening one. The lights were dimmed, a reminder of the health and safety advice was played and then the sound scape started.

Eyes open or closed, it felt to me like a really comprehensive communal sound bath where I felt really connected to all the other people present, like my whole body had been massaged by the sound – even a niggling foot injury felt pronounced. The music is by Jon Hopkins, a remixed Orbital soundtrack, and gongs feature quite a lot.

Afterwards you're welcomed into a space where you can reflect on the experience either on your own or communally by drawing what you saw or describing your experience.

Reading resources are available if you want to look more deeply into the project. Guardians are available if you want to talk to anyone. Some people were a bit dazed, but everyone had a different experience and there was a lovely integrated feeling which made for a few nights of great sleep.

A few days later I arrived back for the high sensory experience and lots of people were booking and a few people had turned up on the off-chance of a slot.

This time when going into the Dreamachine the health and safety advice included the fact that they will start for five minutes then stop and check that people want to keep going. You also get a face mask that you can put over your eyes if the white light gets too much. You're asked to remember that it’s only white light and the colours and images you see when closing your eyes are made by you.   

What proceeded for me on closing me eyes was a very clear white space with lots of psychedelic patterns, as flashing lights and the same music continued. It changed with the changing of the frequency the flashing lights and the sound. It felt like what you might experience with a virtual reality headset on, or a rave with visual effects, except it was your own brain making the visuals. It may even make you want to get up and dance. The experience is as individual as we all are.

On looking at people’s drawings of what they saw afterwards it’s clear to see that everyone sees different visuals. What this means and where these images come from is one for the researchers to find out.  Curious to find out if Belfast participants are experiencing it differently, the casual reply I got was yes, they do seem to be. What that says about us I’m not entirely sure.

The drawings of participants

The drawings of participants

The project is not just pure entertainment. There is a research element to it on perceptions of sound and visuals, body and belief, time, the power of the imagination and others being added all the time.

The researchers hope to shed light on how we as humans can experience things differently and you can even ask the two experts online – neuroscientist Anil Seth and philosopher Fiona MacPherson – about any aspect of the perception census. There are lots of disability access adaptations that are available as well as sign language and wheelchair access. 

It will be interesting to see their findings. Dreamachine runs in Belfast until September 4 with weekend and evening opening hours as well weekdays. It is best to book online  but if you’re passing it’s worth dropping by and seeing if any seats are free for the next sessions.   

Don't forget that late night art includes all the artists exhibiting in St Mary’s University College from Thursday, August 4 at 7pm as part of Féile. It is great to see this return after its absence for a few years.