Twilight Arc (2016)
16mm color film (Desmet tinted black and white film printed on color stock), silent, 12 minutes, 2016
Twilight Arc is a 12 minute 16mm film tinted using a lab process called the Desmet method. The film is by Jenny Perlin and the tinting is performed by color timers Chris Hughes and Laura Major at Colorlab, Maryland.
The film is tinted according to the musical scale given colors in the late 18th century by the mathematician and Jesuit priest Louis Bertrand Castel. Laura and Chris have agreed to tint the print using the colors ascribed to the scale. From that scale, the lab technicians have absolute freedom to choose which colors when and the duration of the color on different sections of the film.
The Castel color scale is from 1734, invented by Louis Bertrand Castel, whose efforts to create the first color organ gained him notoriety but no working device.
Other scales not used in the Desmet process but described in the content of the film include the Rimington color scale dates from 1893, according to Alexander Rimington’s “Colour Music” and his (successful) color organ. Alexander Scriabin’s color scale dates from 1911 and was applied and performed in his work “Prometheus: Poem of Fire.”
Other elements referred to in the film are the texts "Colour Music" by Alexander Rimington, Bainbridge Bishop's 1893 book "A Souvenir of the Color Organ, with Some Suggestions in Regard to the Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light."
A section of the film is devoted to the unsung work of the Philadelphia-based inventor and pianist Mary Hallock-Greenewalt, who also invented a unique way of presenting color, light and music. In addition to her work promoting the art of Nourathar (color music) and her instrument the Sarabet (a color organ named for her late mother, Sara Tabet), Hallock-Greenewalt studied to be an electrical engineer and received twelve patents for her inventions. Her color organ was designed to have a direct response to the feelings and emotions of the performer herself, rather than necessarily adhere to a fixed color scale.
There were many other color organ inventors whose work is not part of the film, for example, Thomas Wilfred, whose invention of the new art form he called "Lumia," was celebrated. From the 1920s through the 2000s, Wilfred came as close as anyone to bringing his invention called the Clavilux into the mainstream. Claude Bragdon, an American architect and theater designer, also celebrated the new art form in his work and his 1918 book Harnessing the Rainbow. Another inventor, Zdenek Pesanek, explored color organs, neon, and sculpture to inform his work and to find a new kind of art that responded to the quickly changing technological landscape of the early 20th century.
As part of this project, I researched the archives of Mary Hallock-Greenewalt at the Historical Society of Philadelphia, and conducted extensive research into the histories of the other inventions in the film. Another area of research was into the life and work of pianist and composer Alexander Scriabin, whose intense investment in the relationship between color and music brought him to the composition of "Prometheus: Poem of Fire," in 1910 which has a part for color organ written into the score. "Prometheus" was premiered in 1911 without color organ and with a "Chromola" in New York at Carnegie Hall in March 1915, one month before the composer's untimely death.
The dreams of these inventors were carried forward into the experimental films of the 20th centuries (eg. Whitney Brothers, Stan Vanderbeek, etc) the computer art and light shows for musical performance (see the current show of computer films from the 1960s on view at the Museum of the Moving Image), to blockbuster films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1976), to radical experiments in theatrical lighting like Laterna Magica in Prague, and even into the technologies of screen savers and light-response audio speakers available widely. While not understood as the inventors had hoped as a separate art form, the color music is part of our everyday life.