Optophonic Piano

The Optophonic Piano

The Optophonic Piano projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series of revolving painted glass disks, filters, mirrors and lenses.

A working replica of the Optophonic Piano along with a disk were donated to The Centre Pompidou in Paris by Dimitri Baranoff-Rossiné, Son of the artist. The exhibition on show is a permanent exhibition at the museum.


Imagine that each key of a piano or an organ keyboard stops at a chosen position, or makes a specific element of a set of transparent filters move, more or less quickly, transperced by a beam of white light, and you will have some idea of the instrument invented by Baranoff-Rossiné.

There are various kinds of luminous filters; plain coloured ones, optical elements such as prisms, lenses or mirrors; filters including graphic elements and, finally, filters with coloured shapes and defined outlines. Add to this the possibility of modifying the position of the projector, the screen frame, the symmetry or asymmetry of the compositions and their movements, as well as their intensity. You will then be able to reconstitute this optical piano that will interpret an infinite number of musical compositions. The key word here is interpret, because, for the time being, the aim is not to determine a unique rendering of an existing musical composition for which the author did not foresee any light being superimposed. In music, as in any other art, one has to take into account elements such as the talent and sensitivity of the musician in order to fully understand the composer’s thoughts. The day when a composer composes music using notes that remain to be determined in terms of music and light, the interpreter will have less freedom, and on that day, the artistic unity we are discussing will probably be closer to perfection.

Video Credits: 3D Visualization of the Optophonic Piano by the ITMO University. A big thanks to Tatyana Merkulova, Anna Spiridonova and Olga Kolganova from the National Research Institute.


For a long time now, artists have sought to combine the perceptions of several of our senses so that we can feel the integration of simultaneous sensations, modified in time in accordance with a concerted rhythm, a particular artistic impression. Let us recall the trials in optical sound simultaneism that have been done to date.

At the end of the XVIIth Century, a well-known philosopher, Eckhardthausen tried to transcribe popular songs in coloured composition.

In 1734, a mathematician, Abbe Castel, tried to give an optophonic concert using coloured records appearing above a harpsichord where each key corresponded to a record. This process can be used to characterise the alphabetic translation of music by colour, that is equally expressed by the fantasy of Arthur Rimbaud: A = black, E= white, I = red, U = green.

After Abbé Castel, we find numerous attempts of this kind : by the artist Tchourlionis in Finland, Francois Kupka in Czechoslovakia (1912), Léopold Sturzwage (see ‘Paris Evenings’, July and August 1914), Arthur Ciaceli in Italy, the musicalist movement in Paris, Viking Eggeling in Sweden, Hans Richier in Berlin, Blanc-Gatti in Paris (1922), the great opto-phonic concerts in 1922 at the Grand Opéra of Moscow and the Meyerhold theatre, Wilfred in America in 1925, and Z. Peschanek in Prague. They were carried out using coloured projections, triggered by levers or contact switches. Some effects obtained thus were quite pleasant, but the artistic results were insufficient. They were coloured beams and not colours.

Multiple settings find their simplest expression in opera. This form of art is so old that we no longer any attention today to the fact that there is a superimposition. Only certain modern futurists would rise up against such a mixture, pretending that each art should be sufficient to itself. The most complete trial that has been achieved in this field dates from around 1895. A French poet, P.N. Roinard, had a rather strange play put on, in which the basic feeling of each scene was symbolised by a colour, a flower and a scent. The “Art Theatre” did not have any follow-up. Nearer to us, Loi Feller achieved marvellous stage effects using play of coloured lights, combined with choreographic ensemnbles. Let us remember, finally, that great artists such as Léonard de Vinci, Jean Sébastien Bach, and Skriabine, were tempted by the combination of music and colour.

Baranoff-Rossine’s optical piano, projecting in space or onto a screen, colours and moving shapes, varied to infinity, depends absolutely, as in the sonorous piano, on the operating of the keys. All the previous seekers had not been able to decompose it in its intimate elements: it is in fact quite arbitrary to want to translate a musical note by any specific colour.

A = black, E = white, DO = violet, R’ indigo… poet’s fantasy. Oboe = green, flute = blue, trumpet = red, these are purely litterary reconciliations that, even if they might be exact, are incapable of moving us. Between sound and light there are harmonies that are otherwise precise, drawn from their very structure: in a musical composition we distinguish the three following basic elements; the intensity of the sound, the pitch of the sound, the rythym and the movement. This will be one of Baranoff-Rossine’s merits to have been able to extract these elements from music to bring them closer to similar elements existing or able to exist in light.

Research has moreover enabled us to find others that are just as simple. One should not mistake the Saphites optical piano with its luminous effects, luminous organs, and coloured projections. These are primitive and incomplete instruments, giving a limited number of coloured beams, and not colours. Rossine’s optical piano produces luminous colours, varied to infinity, simultaneously united with the abstract and concrete shapes (decorations and images) in a static and dynamic state, successive and simultaneous. All these results, moreover, can be increased by developing the pianitst’s technique. The quality of the luminous colour is far above anything that we have imagined previously. The shapes and colours are richer than in a kaleidoscope and their choice depends on the will of the player; the projection frame can be varied to infinity. Thanks to his optical piano, Baranoff-Rossiné has created a new art form that as a consequence has its own unity, and it does not involve purely and simply superimposing one phenomenon on another.

(We have respected the use of the 3rd person in this autobiographical text.)


” La Ruche “, Paris, 1912.

Kristiania (Oslo) et Stockholm, 1916.

Théâtre Meyerhold, Moscou, 16 et 18 Avril 1924.

Théâtre Bolchoï, Moscou, 9 Novembre 1924.

Riga et Berlin, 1925.

Manifestations au Studio des Ursulines, Paris, Février – Mars 1928.

Studio 28, décembre 1928 – février 29.

Exp. : ” Kunst-Licht Kunst “, Stedelljk van Abbémuséum, Eindhoven, 1966.

” Lumière et Mouvement “, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1967.

” Wladimir Baranoff-Rossiné “, Galerie Jean Chauvelin, Paris, 1970, n° 51.

” Russian Avant-Garde 1908-1922 “, Léonard Hutton Gallery, New York, 1971, n° 7

” Baranoff-Rossiné ” , Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris 1972-1973, n° 40.

” L’Or des Années Folles “, Salon des Indépendants, Paris, 1975, n° 48.


V. Baranoff-Rossiné, Brevet d’invention n° 626.435, Paris, 25 Mars 1926 ; Saint-Aignan, ” La Revue Moderne ” , 15 Mars 1933, p. 27 ; J. Michaut, ” Paris et le Monde “, 1934 ; Léon Degand, ” Art d’Aujourd’hui “, n° 1, série 5, février 1954 ; Jacques Chapiro, ” La Ruche “, Paris 1960 ; Frank Popper in ” L’Oeil “, n° 144, décembre 1966 ; M. Hoog, ” Cimaise ” n° 85 & 86, mai 1968 p. 88 ; Frank Popper, ” L’Art cinétique “, Paris, 1970, p. 157 ; J. Cl. et V. Marcadé in Catalogue ” Wladimir Baranoff-Rossiné “, Galerie Chauvelin, Paris 1970 ; ” Decorativny Iskoustva “, n° 6, Moscou, 1970, p. 14 ; Frank Popper, in ” L’année 1913 “, Paris, 1971, p. 394 ; V. Marcadé, ” Le Renouveau de l ‘art pictural russe “, Paris 1972, Janvier-février 1973 ; ” Match “, n° 1273, 20 janvier 1973. “Payouchaya Radouga” (“L’arc en ciel Chantant”) Boulat Galeyev, Edition de Tatarie (Kazan) 1980.

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