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Some who have considered the question, have decided that sight and sound are so fundamentally different, that any theory of a correspondence must be abandoned.

    Attempts have been made from time to time to build up theories of colour based on analogies drawn from sound. The sensation of sound, however, is more particularly connected with time, that of sight with space; and these facts necessitate a fundamental difference in the organs devoted to the reception of sound-waves and of light-waves; and, on account of this difference between the eye and the ear, all such musical theories are quite worthless. Thus, our perception for colour does not even extend over one octave, while in music seven octaves are employed. When two musical sounds are mingled, we have accord or discord, and the ear of the practiced musician can recognize the separate notes that are struck; but, when two masses of colored light are mingled, a new colour is produced, in which the original constituents can not be recognized even by the eye of a painter. Thus, red and green light when mixed furnish yellow light; and this yellow is in no way to be distinguished from the yellow light of the spectrum, except that it is somewhat paler and looks as though it had been mixed with a certain amount of white light. Again, in music the intervals are definite and easily recognized relations, as for example, that of the fundamental with its fifth or octave; we can calculate the corresponding intervals for colored light, but they can not be accurately recognized even by the most skillful painter. In painting we are constantly obliged to advance from one colour to another by insensible steps, but a preceding like this in music gives rise to sounds that are ludicrous. These facts, which are susceptible of the most rigid proof, may suffice to show that a fundamental difference exists between the sensations of vision and hearing, and that any theory of colour based on our musical experience must rest on fancy rather than fact.

Ogden N. Rood, Modern Chromatics 1879, 303-304

    I hereby affirm my denial of all adherence to that group (if such exists) which supports the doctrine of correspondences, determinable by scientific analysis, between colours and sounds. Analogies! Ah! well, analogies there may be. There is an analogy between Mendeleeff's table of the elements and the Diatonic Scale. However, I do not observe that the note C conveys an impression of Helium, nor that the note C', an octave higher, is distinctly reminiscent of Neon.

Adrian Bernard Klein, Color Music: The Art of Light 1930, vic

    [Thomas] Wilfred had been struck by the divergences in the ways in which Newton and Father Castel treated the distribution of colour in relation to musical sounds. He noted that Newton's do was red and his fa green, while Castel labeled the same notes blue and yellow respectively. He was also aware the Goethe had firmly rejected the possibility of a direct comparison between colour and sound, and that the enterprises of Bainbridge Bishop, Alexander Wallace Rimington and Scriabin had all more or less ended in failure. It was with these examples in mind that he turned his attention to an art of light in which sound and music were either completely excluded or admitted as mere accessories.

Frank Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 1968, 161

Copyright 1998–2001 Fred Collopy. This document was last updated on 3/17/01; it is located at