Color Organs

2 The Improvement of Color Organs as a Result of Technical Innovations in the Nineteenth Century

The color organs of the nineteenth century are characterized less by aesthetic than by technological progress: candles were replaced by brighter lamps. As early as 1789, Erasmus Darwin suggested using Argand lamps (advanced oil lamps) as an improvement on Guyot’s Musique oculaire.[3] Bulbs with carbon filaments appeared after 1840. Electrical contactsreplaced the mechanical coupling of the keys with lamps — in 1893, William Schooling spoke of an “electrical color-organ.” For those instruments that linked individual notes with individual colors, the color-tone analogy was in most cases the same as in Krüger’s 1743 color harpsichord.

In addition, models were developed to demonstrate color harmonies, such as, for instance, D. D. Jameson’s apparatus for colorific exhibition and W. F. Philippy’s Farben-Instrument, but also instruments that alternatively enabled the simultaneous perception of sounds and colors like Bainbridge Bishop’s Color Organ. A new development was the gradual dissociation from concrete models of analogy toward the increasingly prevalent idea of free color play (mobile color) as an art form, which was pursued by Alexander Wallace Rimington (Color-Organ) and simultaneously by William Schooling as well as H. Beau and Bertrand-Taillet (piano-like device for switching on and off electric light fixtures). Fréderic Kastner’s Pyrophone occupies a special place — it was also not based on a concrete analogy, but on the physical phenomenon of singing flames.