Athanasius Kircher – Combinatorial Music, Augmented Face-Substitution & Projection Systems Illustrated in the 17th-Century
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Cassetta Mathematica – Athanasius Kircher
Siegfried Zielinski’s chapter on Athanasius Kircher in respect to media archaeology in his book Deep Time of the Media would be hard to beat, exploring as it does the essential contributions Kircher made in the areas of combinatorial music, visual projection techniques and augmented reality among many others. Regardless of whether you subscribe to the now commonly held view that Kircher was a serial plagiarist who rarely credited his sources or not, there is no mistaking the incredible task of overseeing the illustrations alone created in his collected 16,000 pages of life time published works. It’s likely that Kircher’s genius was in the synthesis of knowledge on optics, acoustics and mathematics,which he collected from globe-trotting Jesuit priests, into a coherent classification system that lead to novel inventions and fantastical proposals – many of which are still being explored today.
Icon Wheel [ or Metaphor Machine] – Athanasius Kircher
Amplification System – Athanasius Kircher
In Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae  Kircher explores the nature of light, lenses, mirrors, sundials, astronomy and gives early descriptions of the camera obscura. One extremely interesting image in the light of recent well-known cam tracking face substitution work is the Icon Wheel, or Metaphor Machine as Robert Hooke called the invention. The mechanism was designed as an apparatus to metamorphosize faces in order to create an allegorical transformation of the observer. On entering a chamber the observer first sees the sun, then their own head, subsequently their transformation into a range of animals. Other illustrations reveal a range of projection techniques for images and text in darkened rooms using different systems of lenses and catotrophic lamps. In other sections elaborate illustrations outline optical effects with mirrors where kinetic models and marionettes are made to appear to come to life.
Organ Musurgia Universalis – Athanasius Kircher
Alphabetum – Athanasius Kircher
Kircher’s Musurgia Universalis  explores sound, music and musical scales in relation to mathematical principles and astronomical readings [often derived from Pythagorean teachings] There are diagrams of water-powered automatic organs, systems for transmitting sound to remote places, eavesdropping devices using sound spiral conduits and examples of combinatorial compositional aids to create proto-generative music such as the arca musarithmica. Another combinatorial music composing device, the cassetta mathematica, [or organum mathematicum] uses rotating discs housed in a wooden box to generate compositions.
Arca Musarithmica – Athanasius Kircher
Realising the possibility of endlessly unique musical sequences using random combinations of elements, Kircher remarks on the arca musarithmica ‘Its is apparent from that which is put forward here the infinite number of possible combinations, which are given by the different ordering of the five columns. Assuredly there are so many that had an angel begun with the combinations at the dawning of the World, it would not be finished today’