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1816 __ Kaleidoscope
Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)
Comment : In 1816, Sir David Brewster proposed the Kaleidoscope as a form of visual-music that became immediately popular. David Brewster named his invention after the Greek words, kalos or beautiful, eidos or form, and scopos or watcher. So kaleidoscope means the beautiful form watcher. Brewster's kaleidoscope was a tube containing loose pieces of colored glass and other pretty objects, reflected by mirrors or glass lenses set at angles, that created patterns when viewed through the end of the tube. Reflective symmetry has been observed since ancient times. Legend claims that early Egyptians would place two or three slabs of highly polished limestone together at different angles and watch with fascination as mandalas were formed by human dancers. It was not until centuries later, however, that this optical phenomenon was encased in one small tube and given a name. Brewster, at 35, was already an established philosopher, writer, scientist, and inventor. His kaleidoscope created unprecedented clamor. Dr. Peter M. Roget (whose illustrious Thesaurus, established in 1834, continues to be the most valued writer's tool next to the dictionary) paid tribute to his friend Sir David's invention in Blackwood's Magazine in 1818: "In the memory of man, no invention, and no work, whether addressed to the imagination or to the understanding, ever produced such an effect." A universal mania for the instrument seized all classes, from the lowest to the highest, from the most ignorant to the most learned, and every person not only felt, but expressed the feeling that a new pleasure had been added to their existence. While Brewster was granted a patent for his kaleidoscope, as well as acknowledgment and acclaim for his invention, he did not realize any remuneration. Others did, however. There was some fault with the patent registration, and before Brewster could claim any financial rewards, kaleldoscopes were quickly manufactured by aggressive entrepreneurs who sold hundreds of thousands with great financial success for themselves. As was the case for so many other great men, this was to be the pattern of Brewster's life: great intellectual achievement without worldly compensation. (Compiled from various sources)
Original excerpt : « Chapter XXII.On the advantage of the kaleidoscope as an instrument of amusement.[...] The ear is not the only avenue to the heart; and thought sorrow and distress are represented by notes of a deep and solemn character, and happiness and gaiety by more light and playful tones, the same kind of feelings may also be excited by the exhibition of dark and gloomy colours, and by the display of bright and aerial tints. The association, indeed, is not so powerful in the ine case as in the other, for we have been taught from our infancy, in consequence of the connexion of music and poetry, to associate particular sentiments with particular sounds; but there can be no doubt that the association of colour is naturally as powerful as that of sound, and that a person who has never listended to any other music byt that of nature, nor seen any other colours but those of the material world, might have his feelings as powerfully excited through the medium of the eye as through that of the ear. [...] The ocular harpsichord (by Father Castel in 1725 or 1726) is a common harpsichord, fitted up such a manner, that when a certain sound is at the same instant exhibited to the eye in a box or frame connected with the harpsichord; so that when a piece of music is played for the gratification of the ear, the eye is simultaneously delighted by the display of corresponding colours. [...] An eye for admiring and appreciating the effect of fine forms, seems, indeed, to be much more general than an ear for music; and we have heard of many cases where the tedium of severe and continued indisposition has been removed, and whare many a dull and solitary hour has been rendered cheerful, by the unceasing variety of entertainment which the Kaleisdoscope afforded. In one respect, indeed, this instrument is superior to all others. [...] Such are the advantages, as an instrument of amusement, which the Kaleidoscope possesses, even in its present imperfect state. To what degree of perfection it may yet arrive, it is not easy to anticipate;but we may venture to predict, bcause we see the steps by which the prediction is to be fulfilled, that combinations of forms and colours may be made to succeed each other in such a manner as to excite sentiments and ideas with as much vivacity as those which are excited by musical composition. [...] These combinations of colours and forms may be adapted to a piece of music, and their succession exhibited on a screen by means of electric, or lime-ball, or other lights to which we have already had occasion to refer. The coloured objects might be fixed between long stripes of glass, moved horizontally or obliquely across the ends of the reflectors; and the effects thus obtained might be varied by the occasional introduction of revolving object-boxes, containing objects of various colours and forms, partly fixed and partly movable. Similar forms in different colours, and in tints of varying intensity, losing and resuming their peculiar character with different velocities, and in different times, might exhibit a distinct relation between the optical and the acoustic phenomena simultaneously presented to the senses. Flashes of light, coloured and colourless, and clouds of different depths of shadow, advancing into, or emerging from the centre of symmetry, or passing across the radial lines of the figure at different obliquities, would assist in marking more emphatically the gay or the gloomy sounds with which they are accompanied. A slight idea of the effects which might be expected from an ingenious piece of mechanism for creating and combining the various optical phenomena, and exhibiting them in connexion with musical sounds, may be obtained by a single observer, who looks into a fine Kaleidoscope, firmly fixed upon a stand, and produces with his two hands all the variations in form and coulour which he can effect by such adequate means, and which he considers appropriate to the musical piece that accompanies them. »
Source : Brewster, David (1819), "The Kaleidoscope — Its history, theory and construction with its application to the fine and useful arts", London : John Murray (1858).
Urls : http://www.brewstersociety.com/brewster_bio.html (last visited )

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