Trace the ancestry of the multimedia console back to Thomas Wilfred.

Innovation often reveals itself as one long, circuitous process. Or at least it seems like it when we rediscover people like Thomas Wilfred and his early-20th-century multimedia inventions. 

As part of their “Original Creators” series, the Creators Project recently remembered Thomas Wilfred. Coming to America in 1916, the Danish musician invented several devices that manipulate light through a projector in real time, which is almost antiquated language to describe what we know as user interfaces and videogames—controllers and consoles tracing increasingly complex light onto a screen. 

Light is the artist’s sole medium of expression. He must mold it by optical means, almost as a sculptor models clay. He must add colour, and finally motion to his creation. Motion, the time dimension, demands that he must be a choreographer in space. —Thomas Wilfred

The Creators Project on the Clavilux and the Lumia Box:

Around 1920, Wilfred created the Clavilux, the first color light projection gadget designed for audiovisual shows. Clavilux was a kind of organ that produced fluid light forms instead of music, and it was created to enable the silent compositions of Lumia. This device debuted in New York in January of 1922, and at the time it was considered the beginning of effective light use for art purposes. Clavilux would then lead to a new genre of art: kinetic art.

While at first it was used mainly for public performances, Clavilux then started to project color and light arrangements onto a canvas, creating dramatic and mystic effects. Wilfred also created Clavilux Jr., a home version of the device that could be operated by unskilled hands.

In 1930, Wilfred developed the Lumia Box, a television-like device that could generate a non-repeating cycle of light visuals for 650 days or longer. It was from there that the artist’s work went from performance and entertainment to a more contemplative exhibition format.

If the image seems dead in the past—play Auditorium, just one game that Wilfred’s ghost seems to haunt. 

[via The Creators Project]