Color Sound
Color Sound
Color Sound
Color Sound
Color Sound

Color Sound

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White Short Sleeve - CMYK print
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“Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.” ― Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Karl Gerstner - Color Sound /  Algorhythm
​​"I cannot see why sensation should be less precise than thought. The scientist designs conceptual models, the artist perceptual models." —Karl Gerstner

Karl Gerstner’s 1970 exhibition titled ‘Do-it-Yourself-Bilder.’ Featuring a body of work titled “AlgoRithmus” consisting of die cut plates in various colors which can be rearranged to create different images. The title, alluding to the mathematical concept of the algorithm, refers to the innumerable design possibilities that come about by turning and turning the individual pages.

The circular punched-out shapes are designed in such a way that they merge into one another in any combination with zero degrees. Gerstner invites the viewer to actively intervene in the design process and manipulate the image as they see fit. That is why he preferred to speak of an “art object” instead of a picture.

"Kandinsky: in general, then, color is a means of exercising a direct influence on the soul. The color is the piano key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano key with all its strings."

Color Organ
The term color organ refers to a tradition of mechanical devices built to represent sound and accompany music in a visual medium. The earliest created color organs were manual instruments based on the harpsichord design.

By the 1900s they were electromechanical. In the early 20th century, a silent color organ tradition (Lumia) developed. In the 1960s and '70s, the term "color organ" became popularly associated with electronic devices that responded to their music inputs with light shows.


The term "light organ" is increasingly being used for these devices, allowing "color organ" to reassume its original meaning.

Louis-Bertrand Castel’s “Ocular Organ”
The dream of creating a visual music comparable to auditory music found its fulfillment in animated abstract films by artists such as Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye and Norman McLaren; but long before them, many people built instruments, usually called "color organs," that would display modulated colored light in some kind of fluid fashion comparable to music.

Ancient Greek philosophers, like Aristotle and Pythagoras, speculated that there must be a correlation between the musical scale and the rainbow spectrum of hues. That idea fascinated several Renaissance artists including Leonardo da Vinci (who produced elaborate spectacles for court festivals), Athanasius Kircher (the popularizer of the "Laterna Magica" projection apparatus) and Archimboldo who (in addition to his eerie optical-illusion portraits composed of hundreds of small symbolic objects) produced entertainments for the Holy Roman Emperors in Prague.

The Jesuit, Father Louis Bertrand Castel, built an Ocular Harpsichord around 1730, which consisted of a 6-foot square frame above a normal harpsichord; the frame contained 60 small windows each with a different colored-glass pane and a small curtain attached by pullies to one specific key, so that each time that key would be struck, that curtain would lift briefly to show a flash of corresponding color. Enlightenment society was dazzled and fascinated by this invention, and flocked to his Paris studio for demonstrations. 

The German composer Telemann traveled to France to see it, composed some pieces to be played on the Ocular Harpsichord, and wrote a German-language book about it. But a second, improved model in 1754 used some 500 candles with reflecting mirrors to provide enough light for a larger audience, and must have been hot, smelly and awkward, with considerable chance of noise and malfunction between the pullies, curtains and candles. Besides, the grid color-for-note graph does not really correspond to how music is heard and felt: a symphony floats in the air, surrounding, and blending, with notes and phrases that swell up gradually from nothing, vibrate at intense volumes sometimes, and fade away smoothly. Nonetheless, Castel predicted that every home in Paris would one day have an Ocular Harpsichord for recreation, and dreamed of a factory making some 800,000 of them. But the clumsy technology did not really outlive the inventor himself, and no physical relic of it survives.


"Albers: if one says 'red' and 50 persons are listening to him, they will be imagining 50 reds. And no doubt: all these reds will be very different."

Pythagorean -  musica universalis - “Music of The Spheres”
The musica universalis (literally universal music), also called music of the spheres or harmony of the spheres, is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies – the Sun, Moon, and planets – as a form of music. This "music" is not thought to be audible, but rather a harmonic, mathematical or religious resonance. The idea continued to appeal to scholars until the end of the Renaissance, influencing many schools of thought, including humanists. Further scientific exploration discovered orbital resonance in specific proportions in some orbital motion.


The discovery of the precise relation between the pitch of the musical note and the length of the string that produces it is attributed to Pythagoras. The Music of the Spheres incorporates the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or "tones" of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in inverse proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios.

In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear. Subsequently, Plato described astronomy and music as "twinned" studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.

The three branches of the Medieval concept of musica were presented by Boethius in his book De Musica:

  1. musica mundana (sometimes referred to as musica universalis)
  2. musica humana (the internal music of the human body)
  3. musica quae in quibusdam constituta est instrumentis (sounds made by singers and instrumentalists)

Boethius believed human music could reveal the order of cosmic music that reflects the beauty of God the Creator.

"Goethe worked in his green room. In the blue one he welcomed guests he didn't like. So that they would leave soon."


Mary Hallock-Greenewalt
Mary Elizabeth Hallock’s arrival in Philadelphia in 1882 at the age of eleven set into motion a forty-year career as a musician, inventor, lecturer, writer and political activist. Born in Beirut, September 8, 1871 to Sara (Tabet) Hallock, descendant of an aristocratic Syrian family, and Samuel Hallock, a U.S. consul, she was educated in Beirut and Philadelphia. A gifted musician, Hallock graduated from Philadelphia’s Musical Academy in 1893, and in 1897 studied piano in Vienna with Theodore Leschetizky. In 1898 in Johnstown, New York, Hallock married Dr. Frank L. Greenewalt, thirty-two years old and a physician-in-chief at Girard College. The Greenewalts had one son, Crawford, born in 1902. 

Greenewalt, a pianist noted for her interpretation of Chopin, began in the early 1900s to investigate how gradated colored lighting might enhance the emotional expression of music. By 1920 Greenewalt had obtained the first of many patents covering a color organ designed to project a sequence of colored lighting arranged for specific musical programs. In combining light and color as a single performance Greenewalt believed she had created a new, fine art which she named “Nourathar”.

The name for her art, Nourathar, was adapted from the Arabic words for light (nour), and essence of (athar). Unlike earlier inventors of color-music such as the painter A. Wallace Rimington, Hallock-Greenewalt did not produce a strict definition of correspondence between specific colors and particular notes, instead arguing that these relationships were inherently variable and reflected the temperament and ability of the performer. Her earliest attempts at creating this art entailed her construction of an automated machine where colored lights were synchronized to records. This produced an unsatisfactory result, leading to her development of an instrument that could actually be played live.

Her color organ, which she named "Sarabet" after her mother, required her to invent a number of new technologies. Although awarded eleven patents, Greenewalt spent a number of years pursuing patent infringements, finding recourse in the courts in 1932 with a judgment in her favor. Greenewalt’s professional activities also included lecturing on music and serving as a delegate to the National Women’s Party, which was instrumental in winning women’s suffrage. After retiring from the concert and lecture stage, Greenewalt published Nourathar: The Fine Art of Light-Color Playing in 1946. She died on November 26, 1950, in Wilmington, Delaware.

“If, when a musical instrument sounds,” Kircher wrote, “someone would perceive the finest movements of the air, he certainly would see nothing but a painting with an extraordinary variety of colors.”