I first learned about brain entrainment when I was a senior in high school by reading Mega Brain Power by Michael Hutchison. It was fascinating and I was looking for alternative ways to achieve altered states that did not involve chemicals. Back then, light and sound machines were pretty expensive, like $1000+ and required computers to connect to. I decided to build my own by buying some cheap sunglasses, LEDs, parallel port adaptor, and wire from Radio Shack, and writing the code to turn on and off the pins on the parallel port Used mostly for printers, the pins would put out 5V which was enough voltage and current to power the colored LEDs. I wrote the first code in Visual Basic and then rewrote it later in C++ to progress from high beta brain waves down to delta in 5 s increments, while matching the tones in the audio at the same frequency delta (30 Hz -> 4 Hz -> 30 Hz). I got the lights working well and was kind of amazed that it actually worked. My code for the audio was not as good and so I mostly used it with lights only. The goggles were cheap Rayban Wayfarer knock-offs, had two LEDs in each eye, and the cable ran out the back of the left ear (RJ45 telephone cable) to the parallel port adapter plugged into the PC. I dug through my electronics cabinets last week to try to find the set but I must have gotten rid of them along the way somewhere.
The IQ-Tutor by Inner Quest was one of these early devices that did the same thing that my home-built device had but with adjustments on the fly to go up or down in frequency. No built-in programs or extensibility, but did the trick. Can't remember what I paid for it but I think it was like $100 used. Can't find them any more on ebay or other markets so they may not have had a long life. From the mindmachines.com website:
"The InnerQuest IQ jr was one of the finest mind machines ever produced. The late founder of Psych Research, Rob Robinson, worked with Gayland Hurst, Ph.D. and Rayma Ditson-Sommer, Ph.D. to compile fourteen highly effective built-in light and sound brainwave frequency sessions that during the 1990’s proved beneficial to thousands of light and sound mind machine users worldwide."
Next I upgraded to the Dynamind Mind Machine system which was extensible and PC-based. This was a huge upgrade and got me excited about programming new sessions.
This device was amazing and had a bunch of existing preset sessions with fun names like "mystical journey" and you could create your own sessions with their software. This machine required DOS so in order to keep using it in the late 90s, I had to create a DOS-boot disk, put together an old AT device and install all the drivers manually. It worked and I still have that old PC under my desk!
I discovered the Kasina Mindplace about five years ago and that has been my go-to device. It travels well as it requires no other devices, you can use the ganzfeld goggles and keep your eyes open, and it is super easy to use. It's like the iPod of light and sound machines:
This device is really fun to use. It has 10 min to 1 hour sessions for all kinds of different scenarios including deep meditation, sleep, hypnogogic images, and psychedelic journeys. Really fun. I started pairing this with Neurofeedback to study the effects of the light and sound entrainment to actual brain state changes as measured by the neurofeedback device (I use the Muse S and an app for that).
That's my short history of light and sound devices! I will share more stories about specific sessions in the Kasina Mindplace. I also am starting experimentation with neurostimulation using the Neorythm device, which deserves its own blog.
Here are some cool references to light and sound:
Eric is a traveller, hacker, and experimenter who is currently researching how to become a happier, calmer, and more compassionate human being.