The Reverse Color Organ (RCO) is an interactive tool that enables users to hear the sounds of colors. In collaboration with programmers and composers, Ellen Hackl Fagan has been developing the RCO since 2003.

Now, our mission is to learn more about the association that people create between the world that they see – and the world that they hear. We have developed this web-based application to create a playful experience for users who are interested in exploring the relationship between color and sound. In the process, we intend to use data generated by this application to understand synesthesia on a deeper level.


Phase One

2003  RCO Collaboration with programmer/composer Michael Feldman using Max/MSP initially on desktop.

Viewers used a Wacom tablet to search through individual paintings to hear sonic equivalents.

2003 March   Performed at Hartt School of Music, Artistic Collaborations, Contemporary Players. World Premier. Hartford, CT.

2004  October, MFA Thesis exhibition, Ecstatic Paint and The Reverse Color Organ. Hartford Art School. Performed as an interactive piece set within a sculptural environment. Hartford, CT.

November  Performed in an installation at RADIUS, Ridgefield Guild of Artists and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. The piece was titled Ecstatic Paint and The Reverse Color Organ. Ridgefield, CT.

Phase Two

2004 Received a grant from The Stamford Museum & Nature Center and moved the Reverse Color Organ from the desktop/Wacom tablet to an iSight webcam interacting directly with paintings installed on the wall. Programmer/composer Konrad Kaczmarek of Harvestworks created the aural landscape and the upgrades in the Max/MSP interface. Colors now triggered the sonic response, measured in HSLs.

Performances: Ecstatic Paint and The Reverse Color Organ in collaboration w/Konrad Kaczmarek

2004-2005  Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Creative Contraptions, Stamford, CT

2005  Interactive Media Tech Conference, Chelsea Museum of Art, NYC

2005  Mercer County Community College, The Listening Eye: Organizing Chaos and The Reverse Color Organ, Trenton, NJ 

2006  Duke University, Raleigh, NC. Embracing Chaos and The Reverse Color Organ

2006  E G Arts, Synthesize, Ridgefield, CT, also performed Community Sing where viewers sound out paintings in unison, determining how quickly the sound moves from cacophony to harmony through flocking/schooling behaviours.

Phase Three

2008 Introduced The ColorSoundGrammar Game at Figment, Governor’s Island, NYC

The ColorSoundGrammar was performed at open studio events and other invitational art events from 2008-present. Data gathered from the CSG Games gets organized and becomes the palette for paintings from 2010- present.

Performances for CSG Game:

2008 Figment, Governor’s Island

2008 CWOS, New Haven, CT

2009 ColorSoundTheory, Naugatuck Valley Community College

2011 Kickin’ It, Soapbox Gallery, Brooklyn, NY.

2011 Hacia Afuera, Art for Change. Harlem, NY

2012  CSG moved onto the computer,  in collaboration with Michael Cole

2012-13 CWOS, New Haven, CT

2012-14 Harlem Open Studios, NYC

2015 Whitney Center, Sharing Resources, Hamden, CT

Reverse Color Organ

2009 Collaboration with Judson Wright, takes RCO from Max/MSP platform and moves it to open source Processor, Java and sine waves. With Judson we began using HSLT’s paired to sine waves to create a sonic equivalent to colors. Judson then mapped the color measurements to a musical scoring program so that it could be performed by musicians who were able to read music.

Performances for RCO

2009 Harlem Open Studios, NYC

2009 CWOS, New Haven, CT

2011 Bronx Art Space, Synthetic Zero, NYC

2011 New Art Center, NYC with orchestra

2012 CWOS, Cove Street Studio, New Haven, CT

2013-15 Judson Wright has the RCO performed as a video at several venues in Europe, demonstrating the images/colors being selected by a driven mouse in the video off of my paintings, then triggering sheet music. Squardi Sonari Festival in Rome, Italy, with Ennio Morriconi, curator.

Phase Four

2012  Collaboration with cognitive scientist Michael Cole creates programmed version on the computer for the CSG Game. Then adds in the RCO as a droid app on the phone.

Phase Five

2016  RCO goes into new phase of development as a web-based app  in collaboration w/programmer Joshie Fishbein and Michael Cole.

Launch on April 29, 2016 at ODETTA for Creative Tech Week

On view at FLUX Fair, in Harlem for May 2016

Featured in a solo exhibition public art work, "What Does Blue Sound Like?" at the New York Public Library Mid-Manhattan Branch Windows on Fifth Avenue, April-June 2017

ROYGBIV on Instagram for Creative Tech Week, May 2018