Sight, Sound and Beyond

Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind by Heinrich Füger, (1817).

The one thing I love about keeping this blog is that I can talk about things that I normally find difficult to discuss with most people.  Very few people that I come in contact with find my topics of discussion to be interesting.  Hey, you can’t please them all right?

This past weekend I found myself thinking about color music.  It is exactly what it’s name suggests.  Color music involves a music accompanied by different colors.  One I was about 10 years old, I went to my first laser light show that was held at my school.  The show was one of the many different events that were held during Science Discovery Week.  I absolutely loved Science Discovery Week because it was a time that satisfied my curiosity of how things work.  I am not sure how the Laser Light Show fit into the schedule of events but you know, there is a science to everything.

Anyway, the show consisted of different colored lights projecting on a large  screen while techno music played.  The different lights moved around the screen rapidly, creating all sorts of cool designs.   I was with my mother who wasn’t all that impressed because “it’s just a bunch of lights dancing all around.”  I found it quite fascinating to watch though because it featured two of my favorite things: color and music.

I have always wanted to attend an event that involved the use color organs.  These instruments produce different colors when different keys are depressed.  Imagine sitting in front of a keyboard playing your favorite tune while seeing all these different colored lights flash before your eyes as you play.  That would be totally wild wouldn’t it?  I became interested in color organs when I started studying Scriabin’s 1910 Symphony called Prometheus.  The piece is scored for large orchestra, mixed chorus, piano, organ and color organ, which is better known as the tastiera per luce (keyboard for light).  Scrabin’s vision of this work was that while the music was being performed, different colored lights would “flood” the concert hall, thus creating the ultimate synesthetic experiences.  Prometheus was the Greek Titan who defied Zeus by giving fire to mankind.  Scriabin saw himself as a kind of Prometheus of some sort.  Just like Prometheus was the bringer of fire, Scrabin saw himself as the bringer of this new kind of musical experience.

Although, Scriabin played a major role in the history of color music, it is important to know that color music and color organs existed long before he did.  One of the earliest color organs invented was created by Louis Bertrand Castel.  I love how his last name is so close to mine!  Okay, I know I am getting off topic.  Sorry!  Back to Castel.  A French Jesuit priest and mathematician, he built what is known as the Ocular Harpsichord around 1730.  Since electricity didn’t exist in the 18th century, Castel’s modal operated by the use of levers and pullies.  Candles stood behind different glass colored windows.  The winders were covered by curtains which would briefly lift up when the performer struck a key.  I imagine that it was quite remarkable invention since German composer, Georg Philipp Telemannhad traveled to France to see it and from what I have read, he even wrote some pieces for it.  I wonder what some of my piano scores would sound like on the Ocular Harpsichord.

If Scriabin and many other color music enthusiasts lived in the 21st century they would have felt like they were in paradise.  Look how far technology has come?  I have to admit that I would love to be able to play one of my pieces on a color organ and splash the concert hall with different color lights.  It would be much more grand than anything I could possibly imagine and about a million times better than the laser light show I attended when I was a kid.

Here is a cool youtube video I found that can give you some idea of what color music is like.

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Comments on: "The Bringers of Color Music" (2)

  1. Marvin Rosen said:

    Wonderful post!
    The color organ would be wonderful for all students to experience! Imagine the excitement they would have when not only hearing music but seeing wonderful colors as well! This would definitely be another way to bridge the music of yesterday with today. Students would think the combination of the 2 would be cool, just like you did when you were about 10.

    • Thanks for visiting Marvin! Yes, I agree with you that students would think that color music is cool, but I even think that some adults could get a kick out of it too! I am so glad you like the post. Thank you for the positive comment!

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