Brion Gysin  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Brion Gysin (January 19, 1916 - July 13, 1986) was a British writer, painter, and musician born outside of London, Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

Brion Gysin is best known for his rediscovery of Tristan Tzara's cut-up technique while cutting through a newspaper upon which he was trimming some mats. In Tangier he established a restaurant called the 1001 Nights with Moroccan musicians from the village of Jajouka. The musicians performed there for an international clientele. Gysin also experimented with cut-ups while living in Morocco and shared his discovery with his friend William S. Burroughs in Paris in 1958 where they both lived at the Beat Hotel at 9 rue Gît le Coeur. Gysin told Burroughs that writing was fifty years behind painting. Burroughs subsequently put the cut-up technique to use in his prose. An experiment that culminated in "Interzone" and dramatically changed the landscape of American literature.

Gysin helped Burroughs with the editing of several of his novels, and wrote a script for a film version of Naked Lunch which was never produced. The pair collaborated on a large manuscript for Grove Press titled The Third Mind but it was determined that it would be impractical to publish it as originally envisioned. The book later published under that title incorporates little of this material.

As a joke, he contributed a recipe for marijuana fudge to a cookbook by Alice B. Toklas; it was unintentionally included for publication, becoming famous under the name Alice B. Toklas brownies.

A consummate innovator, Gysin altered the cut-up technique to produce what he called permutation poems in which a single phrase was repeated several times, with the words rearranged in a different order with each reiteration. A memorable example of this is "I don't dig work, man."

Many of these permutations were derived using a random sequence generator in an early computer program written by Ian Sommerville.

He also experimented with permutation on recording tape and, in 1960, was asked by the BBC to produce material for broadcast. The results included "Pistol Poem", which was created by splicing together the sounds of a gun firing recorded at different distances. That year, the piece was subsequently used as a theme for the performance in Paris of Le Domaine Poetique, a showcase for experimental works by people like Gysin, François Dufrêne, Bernard Heidsieck, and Henri Chopin.

He worked extensively with the noted jazz soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy.

Together with Ian Sommerville he built what is called the Dreamachine in the early 1960s. This is a device meant to be viewed with the eyes closed. He is the subject of a critically-acclaimed biography by John Geiger titled, Nothing Is True Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin and, features in Geiger's book "Chapel of Extreme Experience: A short history of stroboscopic light and the Dream Machine". A monograph on Gysin was also published by Thames and Hudson. Also of interest is a collection of homages, Man From Nowhere, by Joe Ambrose, Frank Rynne, and Terry Wilson. In addition to substantial texts by the authors, Man from Nowhere contains tributes to Gysin by Marianne Faithfull, John Cale, William Burroughs, and Paul Bowles.


  • To Master A Long Goodnight (Creative Age Press, New York, 1946)
  • Minutes to Go (with William S. Burroughs) (Two Cities Editions, Paris, 1960)
  • The Exterminator (with William S. Burroughs) (Auerhahn Press, San Francisco, 1960)
  • The Process (Doubleday, New York, 1969)
  • "Brion Gysin Let The Mice In" (With Texts by William Burroughs & Ian Sommerville) (Something Else Press, Vermont, 1973), ed. Jan Herman
  • The Third Mind (with William S. Burroughs) (Viking, New York, 1978)
  • Here To Go (Interviews with Terry Wilson) (Quartet Books, London, 1982)New edition Creation Books 2003
  • Stories (Inkblot Publications, 1984)
  • The Last Museum (Grove Press, New York, 1986)
  • Who Runs May Read (Inkblot/Xochi, Oakland/Brisbane, 2000)
  • Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), ed. Jason Weiss (posthumous)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Brion Gysin" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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