“Clavilux”, short story by Robert A. Wait (1929)

The audience stirred in an uneasy manner. The curtain should rise in one minute. The absence of music seemed to bother a few. Others raised their heads expectantly from the bright colored programs in their hands. The buzz of an excited audience suddenly stilled as the rose velvet curtains before them parted, revealing a dapper gentleman in evening clothes smiling down upon them.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” began the blond young Frenchman. “I am Monsieur Du Bois. That is only by way of introduction, for it has no part in this evening’s entertainment. Behind me you observe my instrument of pleasure.”

He gestured toward the main stage. Upon it stood a huge box-like arrangement much like the console of a theatre organ with a regular organ bench and keyboard and pedals, very similiar to the ones found in most pipe organs. It was gorgeously done in gilt and spangles, and the spot lights from above shifted over the machine, as the Monsieur continued his interesting monologue.

“At the back of the stage you will observe a screen so situated that any light rays from my color organ will be reflected to you directly. “In physics we would say the angle of incidence is such that you are in line with the angle of reflection.”

So saying, he reached back to the console of his organ and touched a key. Instantly the theatre was brilliantly flooded with a cool green glow. The screen seemed a bottomless sea of emerald.

“No doubt many of you wonder how the whole audience may be thrown into the line of angle of reflection. I have back there an unusual screen. It is what is known as parabolic in shape, which means it is concave in a very definite mathematical curve. The source of light from my machine throws a diverging beam of light at this peculiar curve and, because of its shape, the screen reflects all of the impinging rays in nearly parallel lines; thus each one of you receives a few rays reflected directly from the light source with no confusing cross interference of one ray with others.”

Seating himself, the young man signalled the spot lights out. Only a dim bulb lighted his keyboard.“The house was as still as a summer calm while greens flowed into purples, flashed into scarlets, and faded to soft yellows and blues.

“You note I do not have any music. I find that music is detrimental to the moods I desire to carry my audience through. Anyway, light and color correspond very closely to noise and musical notes. Color is primarily a function of frequency, not of wave lengths, just as high musical notes are produced by frequencies as high as 15,000 vibrations or more per second. Low notes may go as low as twenty vibrations per second and still be heard by the ear.”

“Reds are light waves of extremely slow vibrations while violets approach the extremely rapid vibrations such as those of ultra-violet light which you all know to be present, yet invisible to the eye. Corresponding to these ultra-high frequencies we have the infra-reds or colors of such low frequency that our eyes will not detect them. Our senses feel their warmth, however, just as they feel the warmth of red rays if either kind is focused by means of a burning glass.”

He turned to his organ with the announcement that his first number would be an overture in color, built up much as an overture is written for music. Before him was a peculiar type of score, similar to, but different from, musical scores.

With a crash of color, if such can be conceived, the overture began and for ten minutes the audience watched breathlessly while colors flooded the screen; reds danced through blues; circles of green sailed through and behind pink and white clouds; black thunder clouds melted to golden mists; blue sky showed through with the flashes of purple and scarlet of birds. Abruptly the theme changed. A cool dark; green with moving lines of brown and patches of greys and blues took on through the woods where birds flickered among the trees. A streak of rusty red across one corner of the picture showed where sly br’er fox had slipped through—a flare of yellow as the traveler again came into the bright sunlight of the open field. Soon the multi-colored roofs of a village floated by and hazy clouds of dust rose from a herd of sheep scampering down the lane.

As the piece ended, the audience sighed in ecstacy. Never had it had that particular side of its nature stirred. As Du Bois rose, applause broke forth, and the spot lights searched out the smiling artist.

“You enjoy it, yes?” He fell into the broken English of his earlier days in the States. “May I explain, friends? This is my color-organ, my clavilux. I revel in its playing just as a pianist revels in his musical masterpieces. In music the artist must skillfully combine pitch with pitch at a certain tempo to produce a harmonious series of sounds. This constitutes a work of art if properly done. I combine color —red, blue, and so on—with form—clouds, circles, squares, and others; this combination I move in a graceful way at certain speeds. Thus the clavilux combines color, form, and motion to delight its player and audience. Even more skill is necessary to play a clavilux or color-organ than is required for a piano. By these consoles of keys I can secure 100,000 combinations of color and form which I can move at will— up, down, around, across. You have all heard sad and doleful music, I am sure. Now I ask you to listen with your eyes to this tragic piece of color—shape.”

Seating himself, the artist again secured darkness and began to weave magic colors and shapes before his spell-bound audience. Predominating were blues and reds, the more somber reds, and finally the very deepest reds or those of extremely slow vibration. Faster the colors flowed, melted into one another, flashed suddenly out—scarlet, then azure, cobalt, cerise, and somber dull grey. Frenzied they boiled and splashed about the screen, shapes jumbling about chasing each other, dissolving into nothing, racing toward the front of the field, speeding off into that blue grey void beyond, slipping into that fierce fiery border of reds. The trend was more terrifying than sad.

The audience was on edge. Hard-headed men breathed quickly and clutched their hats with destructive force. Faster the colors flared and streamed. The screen was nearly devoid of definite visible color now, yet a devilish warm glow played about the flashing forms of pale yellow and green. Perspiration streamed from the brows of half the audience; children cried, men and women shifted uneasily, murmuring and whispering. Still the musician played madly at his keyboard. A scream of terror split the air as the upper console of the clavilux splintered. The screen flared a terrific series of reds and burst into genuine fire.

Clavilux Clavilux short story illustration from Amazing Stories

It all happened in less than ten seconds, and Monsieur Du Bois stood aghast at the turmoil. He shouted for quiet, wildly gesticulating, and falling into French in his excitement. The audience hesitated, whimpered, and slowly sank back to its seats, muttering and gazing at the ashes of the ruined screen. Stage hands had soon extinguished the fire.

Mesdames, monsieurs, I beg of you to calm yourselves. No harm can befall you. I am to blame for your fright. Two things are to blame. First, I have played for you one of the new modernistic compositions entitled ‘Collapse of the Cosmos.’ It has never been played before and is evidently too violent for a beginning audience. The emotion I stirred in you was a blind fear of catastrophe. Many musical compositions produce anger, some fear, others laughter—so it is with the clavilux. Compositions may be written for producing any desired mood. Very little is yet known about the effect of concerts in color on audiences, so you will please forgive if I have frightened you. We are none of us educated in the art of enjoyment of combination of color, form, and motion. May I relieve you with a light composition full of sunshine and laughter? A new screen has been placed by the stage crew. Please?”

Seating himself he ran his fingers over the keys not affected by the splintered console, and the colors flashed out once more. This time bright gay forms danced and floated; warm blues, cool greens, delightful yellows, and fluffy pinks chased about the screen, ever shifting, ever changing in shape, melting and flowing about. Children laughed happily and clapped their hands. Women smiled again and men relaxed their grim features to pleasant enjoyment. Evidently the simple sketch of light color was having its soothing effect.

“May I play my newest composition for you, ladies and gentlemen?” The performer looked expectantly at the calm faces turned up to him. No dissenting voices arose, so he proceeded.

“Musicians are able to distinguish a single pitch from a group of sounds. Notes usually are accompanied by groups of pitches called overtones. Few of you have heard a single pure pitch. Nearly every instrument, has its overtones. “I wish to play for you a piece in color, form, and motion in which I emphasize the “overtones” of those three phases. Doubtless you have heard church organs whose lowest note was a “16 foot,” as the deep tones are called. These may be played by a skilled operator in combining several of the lower and middle notes to give the effect of a very low note which is known as a “64 foot” note. Naturally this has a very low vibration. If an 128 foot note could be produced, it would be apt to wreck the building in which it was played.”

“It is my ambition to produce an extremely low vibration in color by the same general method used in obtaining the low organ note and with the overtones. With this in mind, I wish you to be my judge.”

Colors began to flow as they had never been seen before. Colors that man had never before witnessed splashed and ran across the screen. Forms that the wildest imagination had never before conceived of, jumped and skulked about through the maze of color. Gradually the trend was more and more to the red, and motion and form slowed to a few regularly appearing pulses. Men grew warm about the collar. Women fanned themselves with programs. Children moved restlessly. Still the color flowed. Perspiration trickled down the organist’s face; his features became distorted, his eyes wild. He had glanced at the screen whereon his composition glowed. Too late he realized what was going on. Overtones, to be sure. He’d give them plenty! What was that buzzing in his ears? Drat these hot nights! Where was that heat coming from? That chord again—it was immense! Feel that thrill and wild exultation it sent through you. What was that tumult—the audience felt it too. Well, let them—give them more. That low vibration—what was the combination he had figured would produce it?

Oh, yes, press all the reds and all the violets to cause sufficient interference of vibrations. There, it was done!

The screen flamed. The back stage smoked for a second, flashed into a mass of fire and with a roar the audience rushed for the exits, fighting, screaming, scratching.

He had done it! What was that awful ache in his head—they were wild—the building had caught fire— must have produced that low vibration—heat ray below the infra-reds. Ah, it was well—damn that buzz in the ears—snap, flash—blackness.

Morning found an article in the paper concerning a peculiar performance of the color-organist in which the electric wiring seemed to have caused a fire and frightened the audience. None of the audience could give an accurate or connected account of the affair.

The performer, so the news item said, had fainted under the extreme heat, but he was doing nicely in the local hospital.

“Clavilux”, short story by Robert A. Wait, Amazing Stories v04 n03 [1929-06].

Mobile Painting: Art’s Newest Expression (1922)

Clavilux

Attempts have been made to coordinate color and music color and music, but thus without encouraging results. The color-organ, or Clavilux, invented by Mr. Thomas Wilfred, and presented recently in New York at the Neighborhood Playhouse, differs from these experiments, despite its name, in that its compositions are played in silence and depend for their effect entirely upon a combination of color, form and movement.

The color is produced by refracted light, which is projected upon either a plaster wall or a ground glass screen in luminous, mobile patterns. These patterns or images are capable of extraordinary transformations in all their elements whether of color, form or movement, independently of each other and in varying tempo.

It is difficult to realize precisely what this amazing range in visible effects means; especially when we consider that few natural phenomena change in all their visible elements at the same time. Sunsets come nearest, perhaps, to such simultaneous changes of color, form and movement; but the comparison does little justice to the ordered and significant arrangements possible by means of the Clavilux. It is, in fact, a peculiar characteristic of these images that they cannot well be compared to anything; and while this adds to the difficulties of describing them or philosophizing about their aesthetic possibilities, it unquestionably accounts, in some measure, for their strangely stimulating and imaginative quality.

The performances of the Clavilux were given not only without any musical accompaniment, but in total darkness. This increased the intensity of the experience and permitted the faintest hues and gradations to become apparent. Mysterious effects were indeed often achieved by very subtle and barely perceptible hues which emerged from the surrounding black in vague masses, changing gradually into deeper tones and more clearly defined shapes until they achieved distinct forms in brilliantly luminous colors which now moved in new rhythms, changed into other forms or faded and disappeared again.

Sometimes a form would arise, ascend slowly and then remain poised while new forms would come into being and revolve in front of the first figure, with very remarkable effects of depth and perspective, while, at the same time, the figures remained always transparent. The most complicated configurations seemed to be achieved with the same facility as the simplest, so that the compositions had a kind of magical continuity, one figure flowing imperceptibly into another, precisely as one color became transformed into another, without any apparent breaks or changes. The emotional intensity with which these images affect us is striking; they stimulate the imagination, and hold us fascinated and entranced throughout.

At times the basic themes or designs upon which the compositions are built seem merely abstract conceptions, often very beautiful in form and movement; at other times they seem to be definite symbolic shapes. The colors, being produced by refracted light instead of by pigment, are luminous and thus heighten the abstract effect.

Clavilux

In consequence, the mobile designs become suggestive in strange ways of many beautiful phenomena, either because of a similarity of color effect or, more often, because of a similarity of rhythm and movement in the basic forms. Thus we may have fleeting visions, or rather fleeting recollections, of an eclipse, a comet, visions of icebergs or again of great fires, beautiful changes, as of chemicals reacting upon each other; ethereal effects of swaying, gossamer, cloud-like forms: of motions that remind us of elemental things—of breathing, of the rise and fall of geysers, or of fountains, of the flowing of water, or the dissipation of smoke, of dancing figures, of revolving flower-like forms, turning slowly, of clouds fading and disappearing.

Throughout all these varying transformations the images have a tremulous vibrating character that animates their forms and adds to the dynamic nature of our inner reactions. The figures in their evolving movements are not necessarily suggestive of definite natural phenomena, but often give very vivid impressions of abstract or generic movements, as reaching, sinking, fading, rising movements that might indicate release, grasp, dissolution, involution, evolution, enveloping, revealing, turning, winding, seeking, floating—innumerable fundamental movements which impart amazing fascination to the mobile designs as they develop before us.

This general terms are both vague and abrupt compared to the actual compositions they are intended to interpret. Nevertheless, it will be seen from even this brief and random description that the Clavilux is capable of an infinite range of variation, to a degree which pigment and canvas could not possible attain in the expression of motion with its inevitable echo in our emotions. For, at best, painting is a static result and however unbalanced the masses in a painting may be in order to suggest motion, the picture remains fixed at precisely one moment of an extended action.

The progression possible by means of moving pictures has, of course, completely effaced this difficulty. But moving pictures have been concerned, thus far at any rate, with a literal apprehension of things, so that, in effect, they have merely tended to complete the work of the camera by overcoming the static nature of a single picture. In consequence, moving pictures are more literal even than photographs, and, generally speaking, more lacking in aesthetic qualities.

The Clavilux, while it possesses in perhaps even more perfect degree the quality of movement that characterizes the cinema, promises to develop in a diametrically opposite direction; so that in place of literal representation we will have abstract forms of a symbolic nature, or equally abstract forms unqualified by any derivative or superimposed significance.

In art it is unquestionably true that where most is sacrificed, most is gained. The cinema, which sacrifices nothing of external similitude, has gained precisely nothing, and has revealed nothing. It is not yet an art. The Clavilux is a language as abstract as music, and its effects promise to be as overwhelmingly rich and satisfying to mankind.

The progression which we see upon a motion picture screen is the literal representation of actual movement. The progression which the Clavilux reveals is the visual realization of emotions. This will seem more inteligible of we consider music to be the oral realization or oral interpretation of inner feelings. In this sense the compositions of the Clavilux are more nearly related to music than to any other art—but this does not imply any relationship between color and sound.

Clavilux

The Clavilux is comparable to music because of the intensity, power and range of its emotional effects; mainly, however, because its images appeal to our feelings with the strange and compelling immediacy of a direct language, requiring no mental translation to become emotionally intelligible.

Modernism in painting has largely concerned itself with achieving this result. Despite its innumerable schools, painting has always been representational. It remained for Expressionism to conceive of painting in a wholly new manner which sought not only to escape from the imitation, in pigment, of visible things, irrespective of the ulterior significance to be derived from them, but which essayed the far more difficult problem of directly expressing inward states, moods, or emotional reactions.

In a very general way, it may be permissible to say that while painting has been able to express itself only through an interpretation of the appearance of things, music has concerned itself directly with the significance it wished to express.

It is the aim of Expressionistic art to widen the range of painting in order to make it co-extensive with music. If it has failed it is not because composers are greater artists than painters. The modernists having largely freed themselves from the representational limitations of painting have faced something far more serious, its static quality. They have generally found themselves struggling desperately for expression through the use of broken or otherwise subverted forms, which seldom created an emotional reaction and never sustained it.

For in order to sustain an emotion it is necessary to suggest with some fidelity its entire development. Just as we are completely at a loss, in looking at most modern work, to comprehend how the artist arrived at his conception, so we are equally at a loss to carry it on imaginatively. In consequence we consider the work without significance, whereas actual it is merely an unrelated aesthetic conception of possibly very great merit, Emotions being illusive and volatile, are best expressed by a medium which is mobile and flowing, Expressionism may thus attain an unsuspected development by means of the Clavilux, which has given us the wholly new conception of mobile painting.

In so far as modern art is concerned with purely abstract aesthetic relationships of form and color, it will be possible to use the Clavilux with equally rich possibilities. Precisely what may result it will be difficult to foresee. Aesthetically we have nowhere ventured very far in this direction, possibly because, at bottom, we wish art to remain a medium of interpretation rather than an end in itself.

Mr. Wilfred played several compositions of abstract forms which, considering the newness of the medium, were very satisfying. Conceivably these might be developed along more intricate and subtle lines of a far vaster scale with very imposing results. Indeed, it is one of the hopes of Mr. Wilfred to develop the Clavilux into a orchestra of instruments and, in place of the screen, to use a plaster wall of great height and width. Figures of perhaps one hundred feet could be developed, in glorious effects.

And, while all these developments take no account of other arts, it will be possible to use the Clavilux with perhaps amazing effectiveness in the new stage craft, where strange and magnificent things will be accomplished; with music and the dance, as a new form of accompaniment, or conversely, these things may be used as adjuncts to the Clavilux.

“Mobile Painting: Art’s Newest Expression”, Roderick Seidenberg, International Studio, March 1922.

Folloneras

folloneras

Hoy, viernes 19 de junio, se presenta en Madrid, a las 20h en Café Molar, el fanzine Folloneras de ¡Hostia un Libro!, en el que ando por alguna página hablando de señoras que arman follones sonoros. Por donde no andaré es por la presentación, porque no estoy en el mismo espacio-tiempo, pero vayan ustedes si pueden y me cuentan. Hay también una exposición, y con suerte hasta les dan algo de comer.

100-y-pico páginas y más de 70 colaboraciones entre artículos, relatos, poemas, ilustraciones, fotografías y cómic dedicados a todas aquellas mujeres que ya sea a base de empujones y guantazos físicos, conceptuales o verbales han destacado culturalmente por su amor al follón.

Más información

Human footprints on digital ground

“Spanish artist _blank´s self-proclaimed obsession with the sound-image relationship culminates in a live performance that involves listening to images and watching sounds. Her multilayered exercise based on straightforward conversion from one format to another, the experience of watching exactly what you are hearing and vice versa is the purest form of (digital) synesthesia. Despite the automatic audio generation process, “I wouldn’t say that there’s no artistic manipulation at all,” says _blank, “because there’s always a manipulation, or some conscious decisions.”

_blank’s work, with its curious background story that is essential to understanding the artwork, emphasizes another feature of the events: the artist-participant interaction. Nerone refers to this interaction as an “essential factor in the festival experience,” and encourages audience participation in daily dialogues with the artists and the professionals, saying: “The interaction is an important process for both sides, as artists are many times positively influenced by the dialogue generated with their audiences.”

Sibel Tinar, FLIC Magazine.