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Brion Gysin (January 19, 1916 - July 13, 1986) was a writer and painter.
He 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. He did many experiments with cut-ups while living in Tangiers (where incidentally, he established with the Moroccan painter Mohamed Hamri a cafe called the 1001 Nights in order to employ members of the Master Musicians of Joujouka so that he could hear them as frequently as possible). He shared his discovery with his friend William S. Burroughs, who subsequently put the cut-up technique to good use and dramatically changed the landscape of American literature. Hamri subsequently organised, with Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones, the international exposure of the music of Joujouka.
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" (try it!)
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, Françoise Dufrêne, Bernard Heidsieck, and Henri Chopin.
He worked extensively with the noted jazz soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy.
In the early '60, together with Ian Sommerville, he built what is called the Dreamachine, a device meant to be viewed with the eyes closed. He is the subject of a critically-acclaimed biography, Nothing Is True Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin, by John Geiger, 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 hommages, 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.