Visual music, sometimes called “colour music,” refers to the use of musical structures in visual imagery, which can also include silent films or silent Lumia work. It also refers to methods or devices which can translate sounds or music into a related visual presentation. An expanded definition may include the translation of music to painting; this was the original definition of the term, as coined by Roger Fry in 1912 to describe the work of Kandinsky.
Visual music also refers to systems which convert music or sound directly into visual forms, such as film, video or computer graphics, by means of a mechanical instrument, an artist’s interpretation, or a computer. The reverse is applicable also, literally converting images to sound by drawn objects and figures on a film’s soundtrack. Filmmakers working in this latter tradition include Oskar Fischinger (Ornament Sound Experiments), Norman McLaren, and many contemporary artists. Visual music overlaps to some degree with the history of abstract film, though not all Visual music is abstract. There are a variety of definitions of visual music, particularly as the field continues to expand. In some recent writing, usually in the fine art world, Visual Music is often confused with or defined as synaesthesia, though historically this has never been a definition of Visual Music. Visual music has also been defined as a form of intermedia.
Since ancient times artists have longed to create with moving lights a music for the eye comparable to the effects of sound for the ear. – Dr. William Moritz, the best-known historian of visual music writing in English, his speciality being the work of Oskar Fischinger.
Sometimes also called “color music,” the history of this tradition includes many experiments with color organs. Artist or inventors “built instruments, usually called ‘color organs,’ that would display modulated colored light in some kind of fluid fashion comparable to music.” Several different definitions of color music exist; one is that color music is generally formless projections of colored light. Some scholars and writers have used the term color music interchangeably with visual music.
The construction of instruments to perform visual music live, as with sonic music, has been a continuous concern of this art. Color organs, while related, form an earlier tradition extending as early as the eighteenth century with the Jesuit Louis Bertrand Castel building an occular harpsichord in the 1730s (visited by Georg Philipp Telemann, who composed for it). Other prominent color organ artist-inventors include: A. Wallace Rimington, Bainbridge Bishop, Thomas Wilfred, Charles Dockum and Mary Hallock-Greenewalt.