The ‘Optophonic Piano’, Vladimir Rossiné, Russia and France. 1916


The Optophonic Piano
The Optophonic Piano

The Optophonic Piano was a one-off electronic optical instrument created by the Russian Futurist painter Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné (Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine – Russia, died Paris, France 1944). Rossiné started working on his instrument c1916. The Optophonic Piano was used at exhibitions of his own paintings and revolutionary artistic events in the new Soviet Union, Rossiné later gave two concerts with his instrument (with his wife Pauline Boukour), at the Meyerhold and Bolchoi theatres in 1924. Rossiné was influenced by the ideas of Alexander Scriabin who connected sound and colour with music to produce a aesthetic synthesis – this current formed an important, almost mystical theme within Russian electronic music; through the photo-audio experiments of the 1930’s until the ANS Synthesiser (itself named after Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin- ANS) in the 1940s.

Painted glass disk of The Optophonic Piano
Painted glass disk of The Optophonic Piano
Detail of painted disk
Detail of painted disk
Vladimir Rossiné left the Soviet Union in 1925, emigrated to Paris where he continued to hold exhibitions of paintings and concerts of his instrument.The Optophonic Piano generated sounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series revolving painted glass disks (painted by Rossiné), filters, mirrors and lenses. The keyboard controlled the combination of the various filters and disks. The variations in opacity of the painted disk and filters were picked up by a photo-electric cell controlling the pitch of a single oscillator. The instrument produced a continuous varying tone which, accompanied by the rotating kaleidoscopic projections was used by Vladimir Rossiné at exhibitions and public events:
“Imagine that every key of an organ’s keyboard immobilises in a specific position, or moves a determined element, more or less rapidly, in a group of transparent filters which a beam of white light pierces, and this will give you an idea of the instrument Baranoff-Rossiné invented. There are various kinds of luminous filters: simply coloured ones optical elements such as prisms, lenses or mirrors; filters containing graphic elements and, finally, filters with coloured shapes and defined outlines. If on the top of this, you can modify the projector’s position, the screen frame, the symmetry or asymmetry of the compositions and their movements and intensity; then, you will be able to reconstitute this optical piano that will play an infinite number of musical compositions. The key word here is interpret, because, for the time being, the aim is not to find a unique rendering of an existing musical composition for which the author did not foresee a version expressed by light. In music, as in any other artistic interpretation, one has to take into account elements such as the talent and sensitivity of the musician in order to fully understand the author’s mind-frame. The day when a composer will compose music using notes that remain to be determined in terms of music and light, the interpreter’s liberty will be curtailed, and that day, the artistic unity we were talking about will probably be closer to perfection…”Extract of an original text by Baranoff Rossiné (1916) Copyright ©Dimitri Baranoff Rossine 1997 – Adherant ADAGP –
Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné. Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine - Russia, died Paris, France 1944
Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné. Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine – Russia, died Paris, France 1944


zdocuments of the collection of Dimitri Baranoff Rossine. Copyright © Dimitri Baranoff Rossine Paris 2010

Pravda. 2002.06.20/13:21

2 thoughts on “The ‘Optophonic Piano’, Vladimir Rossiné, Russia and France. 1916”

  1. Are you sure that this instrument was producing sounds ? Several pieces of information found on internet let me think the contrary. The name of the instrument is perhaps misleading ? It could be interpreted as “piano for optophonic shows” (with music simultaneously played by other means) or as “optodynamic piano” (in a quote, Baranov-Rossine compares the possibility of “living pictures” to the fact of “giving speech” to the painting) ?

    Another point : I think it could be more suitable to choose 1923 or 1924 for the date of this invention, instead of 1916. Baranov-Rossine had the idea of associating pictures and music since 1916 (or even 1909 ) but it seems that the first experience in 1922 in Sweden was with an instrument without keyboard and named “optophone”. The patent filed and the first demonstration seem to date from 1923.

    My sources :
    * The (official ?) website about Baranov-Rossine don’t say that the instrument was producing sounds
    * The website of the Centre Pompidou in Paris presents a reproduction made in 1971 by the assistant and the son of Baranov-Rossine. It is not said that the instrument was producing sounds and a 1924 Rossine’s letter describes the instrument as a tool for a dynamical painting.
    * This biography (by a student in Ecole du Louvre in Paris) (see pages 130-131) says that the instrument “does not produce sounds but projects coloured patches on a wall” (…) “according to the lighting pianist desire”.
    * The Odessa Review (Baranov-Rossine is born in the present Ukraine) says that the title of the patent (received in 1926) was “mechanical device for the composition and combination of images and colors”.

    Excuse me for my broken English and thank you for this wonderful website.

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