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1915 __ Colour Organ
Alexander Wallace Rimington (1854-1918)
Comment : Electricity opened new possibilities for projected light, which were exploited by the British painter A. Wallace Rimington, whose Colour Organ formed the basis of the moving lights that accompanied the 1915 New York premiere of Scriabin's synaesthetic symphony Prometheus: “A Poem of Fire”, which had indications of precise colors in the score. The composer held that each mode corresponded to a particular shade of colour, and each modulation to a nuance of this shade. Changes from the major into the minor could therefore be accentuated by strong contrasts, on a visual as well as a chromatic level. Scriabin wanted everyone in the audience to wear white clothes so that the projected colors would be reflected on their bodies and thus possess the whole room. Rimington's Colour Organ attracted much attention, including that of Richard Wagner and Sir George Grove. It has been incorrectly claimed that his device formed the basis of the moving lights that accompanied the New York premiere of Alexander Scriabin's synaesthetic symphony Prometheus: The Poem of Fire in 1915. (William Moritz)The evening of June sixth, 1895, in St. James's Hall, London. A large and select audience has gathered to see the first demonstration of “Colour Music,” to be performed on the colour organ invented by Alexander Wallace Rimington, Professor of Fine Arts at Queen's College. There are the Duke of Norfolk, Princess Hohenlohe, Cardinal Vaughan, the painter Alma Tadema, and many other prominent people. On the stage a large white curtain of heavy silk has been carefully draped in deep folds, and down in the center aisle towers a huge cabinet with an attached organ-keyboard.the colour organ, with its elaborate mechanism and its fourteen arc-lights within. The distinguished looking young professor delivers a lecture; then the hall is darkened and the strange performance begins. Wagner's “Rienzi Ouverture” is played by a small orchestral and accompanied by the colour organ. The draped screen pulsates with changing color; there is no form, only a restless flicker, hue after hue, one for each musical note sounded. As the tempo of the music increases, the accompanying colors succeed one another too rapidly to be caught by the eye, while the ear readily accepts and enjoys the most rapid passage in the music. The eye seeks an anchorage, a scrap of form to focus on, but none appears. Questions are whispered, heads shaken. Is there really a color for each note? There must be.Rimington is Professor of Art at Queen's. But it hurts my eyes! The London critics were not kind to Rimington; in other English cities they were even less kind. All commented on the “restless flicker” on the screen, while the music fell smoothly and with clear meaning on the ear. Rimington who, strangely enough, was a painter, realized too late that form is an indispensable factor in a visual art. [...] On March 20th, 1915, Alexander Scriabine's symphonic poem, Prometheus, was performed in New York City. The composition was scored for full orchestra and Tastiera per Luce. Modest Altschuler conducted the Russian Symphony Orchestra and the color organ was supplied by one of the large electric companies. Scriabine had never been specific about the visual part of his work. He had suggested that the entire hall be flooded with changing colored light, but the equipment used in Carnegie Hall on this occasion consisted of a small screen on the stage and a number of colored lamps actuated from a musical keyboard. Scriabine's color scale was the strangest of them all. E and B were Pearly blue, with shimmer of moonshine, and E flat and B flat Steely, with the glint of metal. The performance was not a success. Isadora Duncan was in the audience. As the last note sounded and the last flicker died on the screen, she turned to her escort. “Well.do you still believe in color music?” and he answered, “Give it time! This is only the wail of a newborn". (Thomas Wilfred)
Source : Morritz, William (1997), “The Dream of Color Music, And Machines That Made it Possible”, In Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.1, April 1997.
Source : Jurik, R. (2004), “Going Audio-Visual: right step for live music entertainment?”, Bachelor’s thesis, SAE Institute UK, London.
Source : Wilfred, Thomas (1947), “Light and the Artist”, THE JOURNAL OF AESTHETICS & ART CRITICISM, VOL.V, NO. 4, JUNE, 1947, pp. 247-255
Urls : http://www.awn.com/mag/issue2.1/articles/moritz2.1.html (last visited )

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