Excerpted from "The Dream of Color Music, and Machines that Made it Possible" by William Moritz
In Fischinger's Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s, one of the few people involved in a pursuit similar to his own was Charles Dockum, who had begun to build color-organs in the late 1930s. Dockum's MobilColor Projectors could produce hard-edged or soft imagery, since it used prepared image sources that could be modulated in color and movements. Both Fischinger and Dockum received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation through the Baroness Rebay, curator of the Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Painting, and she specified that each spy on the other to make sure that he was really working on his grant project. While Rebay's grants helped Fischinger animate films like Radio Dynamics and Motion Painting, Dockum's money went into preparing a larger and more complex projector that would allow multi-layered motion in several directions--a projector destined for the Museum, since the rival Museum of Modern Art had a Thomas Wilfred Lumia on display.
When Dockum installed the new MobilColor in the Guggenheim Museum, the Baroness was shocked to learn that it required one or two operators to perform it (whereas Wilfred had developed automatic self-contained Lumia). The projector was consigned to storage, and a few years later dismantled, with the light units used for track-lighting in the galleries and the rest of the mechanisms trashed. This meant that all of the compositions that Dockum had created uniquely for that instrument were also effectively destroyed--about 10 year's work! The animator Mary Ellen Bute shot a reel of documentary footage that preserves about 10 minutes of short excerpts from Dockum's performance on the Guggenheim MobilColor, enough to show that it really did perform complex layered imagery.
Dockum spent the rest of his life, into the mid-1970s, building another model MobilColor, and composing about 15 minutes of material that can still be performed on it, at his old studio in Altadena. While these compositions are brief, they show three diverse types of imagery--geometric forms, vibrating dot patterns, and soft sensuous trails--and above all demonstrate why someone would want to go to all this trouble when film and slide projections are so simple: the light intensity from the MobilColor is quite simply astonishing, the vivid shapes and colors magically hang in the darkness with a "living" glow more "real" than any image projected through cinema.
Complete article is online at AWN