NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1876 __ The Color Organ
Bainbridge Bishop (?-?)
Comment : In 1876, Bainbridge Bishop created The Color Organ, a lighted attachment designed for pipe organs that could project colored lights onto a screen in synchronization with musical performance.The term color organ refers to a tradition of mechanical (18th century), then electromechanical, devices built to represent sound or to accompany music in a visual medium.by any number of means. In the early 20th century, a silent color organ tradition (Lumia) developed. In the 60s and 70s, the term 'color organ' became popularly associated with electronic devices that responded to their music inputs with light shows. The term 'light organ' is increasingly being used for these devices; allowing 'color organ' to reassume its original meaning.The dream of creating a visual music comparable to auditory music found its fulfillment in animated abstract films by artists such as Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye and Norman McLaren; but long before them, many people built instruments, usually called 'color organs,' that would display modulated colored light in some kind of fluid fashion comparable to music. (William Moritz)In 1590, Gregorio Comanini described an invention by the Mannerist painter Arcimboldo of a system for creating color-music based on apparent luminosity (light-dark contrast) instead of hue. In 1725, French Jesuit monk Louis Bertrand Castel proposed the idea of Clavecin pour les yeux (Ocular Harpsichord). In the 1740s German composer Telemann went to France to see it, composed some pieces for it and wrote a book about it. It had 60 small colored glass panes, each with a curtain that opened when a key was struck. In about 1742, Castel proposed the clavecin oculaire (a light organ) as an instrument to produce both sound and the 'proper' light colors. In 1743, Johann Gottlob Krüger, a professor at the University of Hall, proposed his own version of Castel's ocular harpsichord. In 1816, Sir David Brewster proposed the Kaleidoscope as a form of visual-music that became immediately popular.The first specific proposal of a color-music was apparently by a French Jesuit priest, Louis Bertrand Castel. Father Castel made the proposal in 1720, and attempted to build instruments for such an art during later years. The next experimenter to carry his efforts far was an American artist named Bainbridge Bishop, who lived in Essex County, New York Bishop began experiments with color-organs in 1875 and built several during the years following. The showman, P. T. Barnum, was interested in Bishop's experiments and exhibited one of his instruments in the Barnum Museum in New York City in 1881. Another was installed in Barnum's elaborate residence in Bridgeport, Connecticut. (Ralph Potter)In America, around 1880, Bainbridge Bishop constructed an instrument which formed part of an organ and projected combinations of color upon a small screen. Bishop was under the influence of the work of Chevreul and Field, and was aiming at a simultaneity between music and color. At the end of the nineteenth century, several works on the subject of color music were published. Alexander Wallace Rimington (1854-1918) gave public displays of the color organ which he had constructed, and published "Colour Music, the art of mobile colour" in 1911.
French comment : L'écrivain américain Bainbridge Bishop, en 1890, fit trois orgues à couleurs dont on trouve l'explication dans un opuscule : “A Souvenir of the Color Organ, with some suggestions in Regard of the Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light” (1893). (Compiled from various sources)Une série impressionnante de constructions d'orges à couleurs suivit [les réalisations du Père Castel qui s'inspira des idées du Père Athanasius Kircher qui dans sa "Misurgie" écrivait : "Si dans le temps d'un beau concert, nous pouvions voir l'air agité de tous les frémissements divers que les voix et les instruments y provoquent, nous serions tout étonnés de le voir semer des couleurs les plus vives et les mieux assorties"], dont celle de l'Américain Bainbridge Bishop qui, à la suite d'une lecture des ouvrages de Chevreul et de Field, construisit vers 1880 un "orgue qui projetait des couleurs mélangées sur un petit écran. (In Frank Popper, "Écrire sur l'art: de l'art optique à l'art virtuel", Paris : Éd. L'Harmattan, 2007, p. 101 & p. 127)
Source : Wilfred, Thomas (1947), “Light and the Artist”, In the Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, June 1947, Vol. V, n° 4,
Source : Moritz, William (1997), “The Dream of Color Music, And Machines That Made it Possible”, Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.1, April 1997.
Source : Bishop, Bainbridge (1893), “A Souvenir of the Color Organ, with some suggestions in Regard of the Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light”, New York, De Vinne Press, 1893.
Source : Potter, Ralph K. (1951), “New Scientific Tools for the Arts", In in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. X, No. 2, December, 1951.
Urls : http://www.rhythmiclight.com/articles/LightAndTheArtist.pdf (last visited ) http://www.rhythmiclight.com/ (last visited ) http://www.awn.com/mag/issue2.1/articles/moritz2.1.html (last visited ) http://1895.revues.org/document2992.html (last visited )

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