Danish-born Thomas Wilfred came to America as a singer of early music, and got involved with a group of Theosophists who wanted to build a color organ to demonstrate spiritual principles. Wilfred called his color organ the Clavilux, and named the artform of color-music projections “Lumia.” He stressed polymorphous, fluid streams of color slowly metamorphosing. He established an Art Institute of Light in New York, and toured giving Lumia concerts in the United States and Europe (at the famous Art Deco exhibition in Paris). He also built “lumia boxes,” self-contained units that looked rather like television sets, which could play for days or months without repeating the same imagery.”
The Dream of Color Music, And Machines That Made it Possbile
Thomas Wilfred’s lumia - his term for kinetic color projections - stand as the earliest surviving color music about which we can make fair aesthetic judgements. Wilfred turned from a flourishing career as a singer to creating color music under the influence of the American architect Claude Bragdon, who relentlessly propogandized for Theosophy and the fourth dimension. Bragdon himself had experimented with color organ mechanisms and large visual music spectacles, such as the “cathedral without walls” in New York’s Central Park in 1916, before patron Walter Kirkpatrick Brice offered to build a studio on Long Island where Bragdon and a society of Prometheans (color music visionaries) could labor at perfecting color music instruments. Wilfred gradually coopted the space and created his first clavilux - a console instrument for projecting lumia - there in close association with Bragdon in 1921.”
Abstract Film and Color Music
In 1922, Wilfred made his first public appearance with his Clavilux, hereby marking a concrete use of light for artistic purposes. “. . .on January 10th, 1922, I played my first public performance at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City; a tense and wonderful evening. But is was with fear and trembling I went out to buy the morning papers the next day. Years on the concert platform had taught me to take nothing for granted. It was quite possible I would have to spend many more years as a wandering troubadour with a crazy idea. The reviews were far better than I had dared to hope. In general the critics accepted lumia as a new art and made allowances for its youth and my inexperience at the keyboard. Kenneth MacGowan wrote in The World: ‘This is an art for itself, an art of pure color; it holds its audience in the rarest moments of silence that I have known in a playhouse.’ ”
Light and the Artist
Wilfred and Clavilux
First Home Clavilux (Clavilux Junior) 1930
In 1930, sixteen of the first Home Clavilux models, were conceived and built (#82-92) by Thomas Wilfred. For fourteen of these Clavilux Juniors, as they are also known, Wilfred commissioned a furniture firm to build duo-stacked walnut cabinets, adorned with art deco steel hinges. . . Units #83-97 had extension keyboards. Two models (#93 and another) were planned for corner installation. Unlike the other units, #82 had a round screen and was installed in a small cabinet and #83 was designed as a colonial corner hutch. Very few examples of these semi-automatic instrucments still exist.
(from: original catalog description)
THE CLAVILUX JUNIOR
The Clavilux Junior, Model P.X”K I00 SW, Unit #89 was built by Thomas Wilfred in his Clavilux Laboratories at 20 West 22nd Street, New York City; and patented in May 1930. This is the seventh unit (#89) of only fourteen Junior Clavilux that were built. It is housed in duo-stacked walnut cabinets, adorned with art-deco steel hinges. The upper section holds a curved opaque screen, while the lower section hold the operational machinery to run the unit: a 100 watt moving lamp, a double cone reflecting system, and changeable color records. The unit also contains an extention keyboard for the viewer to operate, which controlls the tempo, shutter, and three small flood lights; in addition, another keyboard dial can stop any of the factors in the composition. The unit is in running condidtion and has not been altered in any manner; it contains all original parts.