Color Organs

4 Different Functions of Color Organs in the Early Twentieth Century

In the twentieth century, color organs were further refined in three ways:

1. Color organs were produced that continued to set a color against a tone in order to simultaneously hear and see music or to create a visual counterpart to the music. The following are only five of the numerous devices produced in the first two decades: James M. Loring (Musical Chromoscope, 1900) and Charles F. Wilcox (1916) left the concrete color-tone correlation open. The most important criterion in their analogy seemed to be a pleasant effect, a purely visual stimulus that had no deeper aesthetic value — comparable to today’s chains of lights at a fair — and served to entertain. What Wilcox introduced was the use of film projection, whereas Loring’s Musical Chromoscope stood for simply constructed instruments that the inventor hoped would be widely distributed.

2. Alexander Burnett Hector (Apparatus for Producing Color Music, 1912) perfected the fixed color-tone correlation through complex calculations, while at the same time Ernst Barthel (in ca. 1910) realized that such an instrument had no aesthetic value.

3. The example of engineer Preston S. Miller (1915) shows that theory and practice of the color organ are not always realized in personal union. The instrument he designed was nothing more than a machine for producing colors that he developed not to demonstrate his own model, but to render Alexander Scriabin’s luce voices in Promethée — Le Poème du feu, op. 60 (1910).