Where Color and Music Intersect: Songs About ROY G BIV
I’m back from a smashingly-good time at HOW Design Live 2013 in San Francisco — did you join us (If you didn’t, check out HOW Design Live online)? Along the way I met loads of color-fans and stumbled on a fun color-thread worthy of its own blog post: ROY G. BIV as a minor celebrity in music.
The modern-day Mack Daddy of ROY G. BIV songs comes from They Might Be Giants’ album for kids Here Comes Science. Whether by design or accident, TMBG has embarked in recent years on a noble mission: enlivening the usually gratingly saccharine world of children’s music with some legitimately toe-tapping tunes. “Roy G. Biv” is no exception, an eminently listenable song about a spry fellow named Roy who dwells, leprechaun-like, inside every rainbow.
Dig the music video by They Might Be Giants depicting a magical elf ROY G BIV:
Slightly more adult in mood is “Roygbiv”, a folktronica track from the enigmatic Boards of Canada’s 2004 album, Music Has The Right to Children. With its fatty bass line and peeping kid-voice sample, this color-and-music tune feels right for unusually hip parents relaxing with a single malt after a more energetic bout with the kiddos (perhaps synced to They Might Be Giants?). Other tracks in the album riff in a color-wise direction, like “The Color of The Fire” and “Turquoise Hexagon Sun”.
Album cover of Music Has The Right to Children by Boards of Canada.
Of course, if you widen the aperture even a little and consider color’s overlap with music beyond “ROY G. BIV”, the field crowds quite a bit. I’ve long been a fan of spoken-word jazz artist Ken Nordine’s Colors, recently re-released in equally witty book form with illustrator Henrik Drescher. (Ken’s voice has an uncannily familiar ring; you may’ve encountered it either in his latter-day role as NPR commentator or much earlier, when he embodied the dulcet tones of “now from our sponsor” messages in the 1960s.)
Colors written by Ken Nordine and illustrated by Henrik Drescher.
Nordine’s take on color and music is cleverly conceived and always spot-on. He personifies each shade — think magenta as a gossip columnist, or the “old old old lady” that is lavender — and never shrinks from the more adult implications of the concept of color (“Flesh, as a color, is an awful mess,” croons Ken before riffing on the wide array of complexion colors, including those bloodied or bruised after unpopular dissent.)
In my HOW Talk, I promised to dig deeper into a few late-breaking color stories that didn’t quite make my book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color. Among the color-and-music tales are the traveling “color organs”, entertainment-caravans traversing Europe and America at the turn of the 20th century. These musical instruments purported to flash the “correct” color to match each musical tone they played. In a future blog post, I’ll look into at least two different heydays of this popular enthusiasm, the Rimington era in the 1890s, followed by the warring Clavilux and Sarabet organs of the 1920s. Below you’ll see Thomas Wilfred, inventor of the Clavilux organ, and one of his sonic-chromatic effects:
Thomas Wilfred, inventor of the Clavilux.
Of course, if you know of a catchy Roy G. Biv tune I missed here, by all means fill us in! I’m tickled by the idea of filling an entire album’s worth of music — maybe a holiday CD to burn? — full of Roy-specific music. Let’s make it happen, color-fans.
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