Visual Elements in Music

3 Multimedia and the Interplay of the Senses

The desire for a synthesis of the arts was linked to a desire to intensify the encounter with an artwork. The aesthetic sensation was to be increased to reach an all-encompassing sensory experience. Set against the background of the idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk (Richard Wagner), multimedial productions were staged by the end of the 19th century. The intended synthesis was no longer a matter of the imagination, but it could be experienced in a simultaneous stimulation of the different senses.[5]

The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin also dreamed of a combination of all art forms and sensory perceptions. In his project Mysterium, he aimed to combine words, sounds, colors, movements, taste and touch in many different ways. From 1908 onwards, he made first attempts to realize this multimedial concept in his symphony Prométhée—Le Poème du feu, where he was the first major composer to experiment with color light.

Scriabin experienced certain color-sound correspondences. He assigned specific colors to specific tones, or keys and sounds.[6] When visiting a concert in Paris, he exchanged ideas about this with a compatriot of his, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who also had concrete ideas about color and sound which influenced his composing. In his magic opera ballet Mlada (1889/90), he even translated his associations into corresponding color instructions for stage lighting. However, the analogy systems of both artists differed substantially,[7] which in itself is symptomatic for color-tone correspondences as they individually turn out to be very different. For example, Ivan Wyschnegradsky’s list has no matches with Scriabin’s scale except for the correspondence C = red, although he was influenced by the other’s ideas and continued to develop them in his own Temple of Light project. By illuminating a temple’s dome, Wyschnegradsky intended to achieve a synthesis of colors, light, music, and movement.[8]


Timelines:1880 – 1910