In many ways, Terence McKenna was a performance artist. With his distinctive voice and self-deprecating humor, he could make even his goofiest ideas sound compelling. One of his great performances took place on February 26 and 27, 1993, at the Transmission Theater, San Francisco, in a multimedia techno-rave event called Alien Dreamtime, which combined McKenna’s improvised meditations with the neo-psychedelic visuals of Rose X, and ambient techno improvisations by Space Time Continuum and didgeriduista Stephen Kent.
As one blurb put it, “This event dissolves distinctions between performance art, rave, shamanic ritual, and inspired oratory. Terence McKenna pulls out his multimedia mojo bag and becomes raver, storyteller and psychedelic tourguide bringing all on a howling, transdimensional ride into some inexplicably weird territory.” Howard Rheingold in the Whole Earth Review called the performance “a phenethylamine-drenched, techno-primitive extravaganza.”
I wouldn’t go that far, but the video is definitely interesting to watch.
Many reports of experiences with DMT — the primary hallucinogen in ayahuasca — have in common what chemist Daniel Perrine calls “a fairly bizarre claim” to be communicating with discarnate entities. These entities are often referred to as elves, a term first popularized by McKenna — specifically, “self-transforming machine elves,” “tryptamine Munchkins,” “hyperdimensional machine-elf entities.” In contrast to other psychedelics, McKenna says, DMT uniquely opens “an unanticipated dimension that involves contact with an alien intelligence.… Organized entelechies present themselves in the psychedelic experience with information that seems not to be drawn from the personal history of the individual or even from the collective human experience.” And he writes: “But in the Amazon and other places where plant hallucinogens are understood and used, you are conveyed into worlds that are appallingly different from ordinary reality. Their vividness cannot be stressed enough. They are more real than real … and you realize that you are not looking in on the Other; the Other is looking in on you.”
McKenna believed that DMT was the tool that could be used to communicate with these other-worldly entities. Poet Dale Pendell writes that, for McKenna, “DMT opened the door to an entirely new dimension of reality, a dimension wholly Other … The entities Terence encountered were alien. Like any good explorer, he tried to interact with them, to listen to what they had to say and to come back with a report.” McKenna was, as one biographer put it “the Magellan of psychedelic head space, and humanity’s first ambassador to the hyperdimensional machine elves of the Eschaton.”
Apart, of course, from Amazonian shamans, who had been visiting this world for centuries.
Alien Dreamtime is divided into three movements, each reflective of McKenna’s ethnobotanical theories: Archaic Revival, Alien Love, and Time Wave Zero. Samples from the performance turn up on tracks by Shpongle, Infinity Project, 1200 Mics, and others. Google Video has once again done us the great service of making the entire video available for review, without requiring that it be chopped into ten-minute segments. If you want to watch this on your large-screen monitor — I recommend it — you can buy the DVD here. A transcript is available here, and an excellent brief biography of McKenna is here.