Audiovisual Live Performance

1 Color Organs and Color Light Instruments

A common starting point in visual performance histories is the color organ; the concept goes back about 300 years, which makes its resemblance to some contemporary audiovisual performance tools all the more striking. A color organ is a device that projects areas of light, typically in a variety of colors. It is generally performed in a manner similar to that when playing a musical instrument, and it often is controlled by means of a keyboard. Historically, color organs were sometimes performed with music, but because a number of artists saw the output of the instruments as independent works of art, some color organ performances were silent. However, what is common to most color organs throughout history is that they correlate the performance of light to the performance of sound—whether metaphorically or literally. Some color organ developers have simply used music as a metaphor for the performance of visuals. But numerous inventors, artists, and theorists over the years have developed systems of direct correlation between colors and musical notes.[1] Although various color organs were developed throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of these early inventors focused on the creation of the object itself. Early-twentieth-century color organ/light artists and inventors such as Mary Hallock-Greenewalt and Thomas Wilfred saw their work as twofold: development of an instrument and development of a distinct art form.