Origins III, 1900 – 1930


Did you know? is an out of the box column with different surprising stories, to share knowledge around all the influences of video mapping! For this second article, HeavyM selected for you original inventions and concepts of pioneers who took the first steps, looking for a communion between light and sound. Back today to 1900 – 1930’s: the new technical progress started to invest daily life, musical colors instruments are more powerful! Now performed on stage for shows and concerts, driven by artistic ideas such as futurism, abstract art and kinetic art.


1915 > Luce

Written and built by the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin

The only performance of this color organ was Prometheus concert or the fire poem at Canergie Hall, New York. Scriabine built a very precise music / colors analogy system, to produce real-time musical notes and colorful projections.. Luce was one of a kind show: the first to associate orchestra, piano, organ and color keyboard. A symphony of lights, to move the audience … Somewhere else!










Sheet music Prometheus: The Poem of Fire © Jean-Christophe Roelens, Lendroit éditions

Association of keys and colors © Wikipedia










Performance Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, 1997 © Olivier Lussac,


Performance Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, 1997 © Olivier Lussac,


1915 > The Audion Piano

Invented by the American engineer Lee de Forest

This inventor nicknamed himself “the father of the radio” and filed more than 300 patents! For the first time, a manual keyboard combines triode lamps and audions (vacuum tubes that will later be the first components of electronic amplifiers). The mecanichal progress: the ability to produce complex sounds resembling to violin, cello and woodwind instruments. He is one of the optical sound fathers, with Phonofilm, 1919, soon bought by the Fox for Warner Bros to realize the first singing films.





Audion Bulbs as Producers of Pure Musical Tones, The Electrical Experimenter, December 1915 ©



Lee de Forest © Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.



1918 > The Sarabet

Made by the American-Syrian pianist Mary Hallock-Greenewalt

Unlike many inventors, Mary didn’t establish strict analogues between sounds and colors/ She integrated a random synchronization possibility, depending on the musician’s personality and competences. 9 patents have been registered to create the Sarabet, including the rheostat, first modulator of electric current intensity! She called her art Nourathar, (Light Essence in Arabic), The Fine Art of Light-Color Playing .



Mary Hallock Greenewalt with her Sarabet © Red Bull Music Academy Daily


1922 > The Optophone

Imagined by the Viennese writer, photographer and visual artist Raoul Hausmann

This dadaist drew a sensory machine with a photoelectric cell, to transform sounds into colored lights and vice versa. The patent exists but the instrument has never been achieved. In 2004, Peter Keene, an artist fond of of science and technology history, conducted an extensive research to replicate Raoul Hausmann’s optophone.



Raoul Haussmann updated by Peter Keene, 2004 © Peter Keene


1924 > The Ophophonic Piano

Presented by the futuristic Russian painter Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné

This instrument was played for the first time during a “colorful opto-visual concert” at the Meyerhold Theater, Moscow. From the outside, it’s a classical piano, but it hides a completely new mechanism: transparent discs painted by the artist, prisms, lenses, mirrors. A moving colors broadcast to the beat of the keyboard music!

He seeks to « give a never seen before free flow to the dynamics of lighting colors, something we were only dreaming about. That’s where reality lies in. An vast field of action for pictorial creation. In one second, billions of paintings, a universal kaleidoscope of the will. Music certainly is a compromise with the audience. The real goal – the end in itself – is a living painting over time and not deaf-mute », letter from Baranoff-Rossine to the Delaunay of December 19, 1924.










Painted glass disks of The Optophonic Piano ©



Optophonic Piano, reconstitution by Jean Schifrine, 1971 © Philippe Migeat – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP


1925 > The Sonchromatoscope

Directed by Hungarian pianist and composer Alexander Laszlo

This color organ is made of a mixing console, a slide projector, spotlights and changing color filters to intensify or dim the light. The different slides can project moving colors and also reveal forms! This invention allowed Laszlo to produce Color-Light-Music, an extravagant musical-visual show, during a German tour from 1925 to 1926. He wanted to share with the audience the color associations he perceived when he was playing piano.



Sonchromatoscope, Alexander Lazslo © Marco de Biasi


Matthias Holl, Color – Light – Music by Alexander Laszlo, 1925 ©


1926 > Clavilux “The light played by key”

Built by Danish musician Thomas Wilfred

Clavilux is an electric machine made of 4 metal lockers with rotating systems and small iron or glass sculptures in it. The keyboard projects and reflects a filtered moving light, thanks to the wheels and sculptures game. Wilfred, with this new machine, produced Lumia, abstract light performances that the audience compared to aurora borealis. He is considered as the pioneer of light art and has influenced many plastician artists.










Thomas Wilfred’s concert with his Clavilux, 1922 ©

Thomas Wilfred Sitting at the Clavilux, Model E, 1924. Thomas Wilfred Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn ©


1928 > The Spectrophone

Designed by the Czech sculptor Zdeněk Pešánek

Interested in kinetic art, he used a Petrof keyboard and added a projection sculpture as a forms control system. Each key can light one of the three preset colors (red, green and blue) to create a dance of circles and colored dots. In 1929, he built the kinetic sculpture Edisonka for Prague Power Station, considered as the spectrophone’s automated version. With 420 light bulbs, luminous kinetic shows were happening in the street every evening.


Thomas Wilfred’s Lumia compostions Opus 140. © 2014


To be continued, 1930-1950’s


– Séverine for HeavyM Team


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