Margaret Watts-Hughes and eidophone

Margaret [Megan] Watts-Hughes [1842 – 1907] was a Welsh soprano singer, scientist and a very early cymatics pioneer. She is mostly known for inventing a device she named eidophone. It consisted of a wooden resonating chamber with an open end across which was stretched a rubber membrane, strewn with sand and other media. By singing into a tube that interfaced with the resonating chamber she was able to create ‘voice figures’ [or. ‘voice-flowers].

On the beginning she experimented with sand and/or lycopodium powder and later she flooded the disk of the eidophone with a thin layer of liquid, water or milk. She found that coloured glycerine produced intricate flower-like patterns in the liquid. She was taken away with the beauty of the forms:

’…I have gone on singing into shape these peculiar forms, and stepping out of doors, have seen their parallels in the flowers, ferns, and trees around me; and again, as I have watched the little heaps in the formation of the floral figures gather themselves up and then shoot out their petals, just as a flower springs from the swollen bud’ the hope has come to me that these humble experiments may afford some suggestions in regard to nature’s production of her own beautiful forms.’

She described visualizations in her book The Eidophone; Voice Figures: Geometrical and Natural Forms Produced by Vibrations of the Human Voice.

Watts-Hughes along with Ernst Chladni [1756 – 1827], German physicist and musician who is known as the father of acoustics, became progenitors of Cymatics.

Later Hans Jenny [1904 -1972], Swiss physician and natural scientist who coined the term cymatics to describe acoustic effects of sound wave phenomena, invented Tonoscope, which was by some opinions very similar to eidophone.

Greenewalt and Sarabet

Mary Hallock Greenewalt [1871 – 1950] was an artist, pianist and inventor. She was interested in the relationship between light, colour and music, therefore she designed and performed with custom electric visual instruments that displayed coloured light [colour organs]. She is best known for her invention of a type of visual music she called Nourathar. She also produced the earliest hand-painted films known to still exist.

Greenewalt was born in Beirut, but she spent the remainder of her youth in the Philadelphia area. As a young adult Greenewalt studied piano at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and then in Vienna. She was a noted pianist, but began in the early 1900s to investigate how gradated coloured lighting might enhance the emotional expression of music.

By 1920 Greenewalt had obtained the first patent covering a colour organ designed to project a sequence of coloured lighting arranged for specific musical programs. In combining light and colour as a single performance Greenewalt believed she had created a new, fine art which she named “Nourathar,” or essence of light. The name for her art, Nourathar, was adapted from the Arabic words for light (nour), and essence of (athar). Hallock-Greenewalt did not produce a strict definition of correspondence between specific colours and particular notes, instead she argued that these relationships were inherently variable and reflected the temperament and ability of the performer.

Nourathar was mood lighting, a method for colours shifting with the emotion of the music. Public demonstrations of Nourathar were more like site-specific installations than concert performances. The set-up could change drastically from theatre to theatre, with numerous adjustments in the auditorium space. Her goal was an entire electric illumination of auditorium, shifting between all available colours and all levels of brightness, under the immediate and subtle control of a single interpreter who is mediating between inspiration and instrument.  She encased the complex iterations of her apparatus in finely-wrought consoles, which were always called Sarabet – named after her mother. In 1946 she published a book on her invented art of “light-colour playing” called Nourathar: The Fine Art of Light-Colour Playing.

Illustration of the patent Sarabet

When she first began to pursue her idea of light-music, theatrical lighting was not developed on a high level, therefore she had to design many of the components herself. Her most famous invention was an improved rheostat, which allowed her to dim or brighten electric lights across 267 levels of gradation; she had remote-controlled coloured gels and reflectors etc. She received nine patents from the US Patent office. Mentioned before non-linear variety of rheostat was infringed by General Electric. She sued them and won in 1934.

Greenewalt also lectured on music and served as a delegate to the National Women’s Party, she was a suffragist and was standing up for her sex as well as her art. All of her writings, blueprints, drawings etc. she left to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.