Lumia and The Art of Visualizing Music

 Lumia and the Art of Visualizing Music  

Silence of the Lumia – To Be or Not To Be

WILFRED LUMIA :2.png                                                      Wilfred (Opus 161)

What does blue sound like? This is not trick question, but a contemplative introduction to an aspect of Lumia that exists in the realm of synesthesia, a psychological phenomena where two independent senses overlap to create unique converging sensory effects such as tasting color, hearing taste, smelling light or listening to music as a multi-colored experience. It is the last phenomena that is of interest as many Lumia artists have created animated Lumia compositions by incorporating music and ambient sound compositions presenting an evocative art form known as visual music. Within rock & roll performances visual music is already an item with its mostly frenetic-paced strobing lightshows. This discussion is more about the Lumia / music format defined by its stately, slow movements which is as much of an influence as is the music that cloaks the Lumia.

Lumia and Visualizing Music 

 Lumia is a form of light art that looks like textured smoke. It was invented in the 1920s by Danish artist Thomas Wilfred who developed the Clavilux, a light projector that presented Lumia performances in public recitals throughout the United States and Europe. Igor Stravinsky’s Fire Bird for the New York Philharmonic (in 1919) was Wilfred’s most widely known performance of this type. Wilfred’s continued Lumia compositions were also created for use in architecture and theater as scenic and visual accompaniment to storytelling.


Lumia projections are very special if presented in a very slow undulating movement as the light forms unfold, shape shifting from one sensuous image to another. Seeing a Lumia is like seeing a Rorschach Test, famous for its ink blot splats that are interpreted by whatever you perceive the picture as. With Lumia, its “splats” are reflected light and once seen, its interpretations become a personal narrative of the viewers imagination.

Often to extend the visual presence of Lumia a musical track accompanies a Lumia animation which is no different that adding a musical score to a film. When music is played with a Lumia composition, it adds a narrative, emotional and dynamic presence to the abstract moving light as the mind attempts to synchronize the sound and visuals being presented.

     1TRANSCENDANCE.png                                                        photo by Louis M. Brill

Transcending Three-Dimensional Drama 

Within the context of this Lumia – Musical convergence as watched by its audience there is a transition where it appears the music is driving the Lumia imagery. Here the audience’s experience becomes transcendent of both the music and the visuals as they are blended into a singular experiential moment. It is as Wilfred noted, “the Lumia presentation becomes a three-dimensional drama unfolding in infinite space.” The drama of course is internalized by the viewer’s imagination as they hear the music, giving shape and purpose to what they see in their mind’s eye as a final contemplative narration. More interesting is when the music controls the color creating a more reactive Lumia presentation as a true example of visualizing music.


1877 – Bainbridge Bishop creates his first color organ  with lighting instruments attached to a pipe organ. In performance, the organ would project light onto a screen in accompaniment to the music.

The inclusion of music with color as an aesthetic collaboration has always been a consideration where color theorist, artists and philosophers have forever argued over this converging relationship. Color and music have always been thought of as a singular experience, from Aristotle who suggested a connection between sound and color to Newton’s considerations when he postulated that, “C being the lowest note in the octave should correspond with the lowest color in the spectrum. Modern times has given us computer programming where software and custom coding can control lighting effects accompanying a musical concert. Finally there is ‘gut instinct’ of the personal taste of the light show artist’s intuitive interpretations of the music with whatever color schemes feel ‘right’ to accompany the music.

Silence of the Lumia   

It should also be noted that while I am a firm believer in Lumia with a musical accompaniment, Wilfred’s view of that relationship was opposing as he stated, “Silence is one of Lumia’s most valuable characteristics and I am convinced that its most important compositions will always be played in silence.” It is here that I disagree with Wilfred’s preference in silent Lumia and lean towards its presentation as more of an audio-visual experience. In building a library of Lumia compositions there is definitely room for the occasional silent Lumia presentation, but as a child of the 1960s growing up with rock & roll, psycedelia and new age music, the combination of both Lumia and music makes for an entertainment that is more compelling and impactful than either experience (to me) played separately.

Defining a Lumia show is sometimes challenging in trying to box its presentation into a singular style or format. As a light form in motion, it tends to defy any single label. Some see it as a form of animated modernistic painting, others see it as a kinetic art sculpture and when sound-tracked, a form of visual music.

As Lumia shows multiply and mature as an art from, so are its merits in developing a specific grammatical lighting language. Here the imagery is punctuated by its shifting form and varied illumination levels, constantly morphing its shape as its colors fade and brighten from the music’s softness and crescendo. This is not a case of strobing disco lights, but an aesthetic opportunity of merging light and music in a synchronized form where it becomes an entertainment in its own right.

Why is this important? Public lightshows are returning to a new generation of audiences as a popular entertainment with a vast pallet of presentation forms including mixed media, projection mapping, lasers, and wet cells or liquid lights, all formulating variations of visual music, each with its own preferred music and sense of presence. Within this visual lightshow spectrum is Lumia – sometimes known as the meditative light of mystery. Showcasing its presence as a visual medium is much about its presentation format and finding its “voice” that does justice to its evocative nature. As Lumia becomes more visually prominent as an art form, silent or sound driven, its free flowing forms become a ballet of motion that becomes “music to the eyes.”


without sound:                                                                                                                                       (Wilfred’s Opus 140 – 1948)

with sound:


comments on this essay are welcome:

Louis M. Brill is a light artist and has been “dabbling” with Lumia as an art medium for the last several decades.

His Lumia work may be viewed as follows:

To review his blog:



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