are all ocular harpsichords ultimately doomed to failure?


In Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Steven Spielberg uses a hand-sign system for teaching music to deaf children—devised by Zoltán Kodály in the early part of the twentieth century—as an analogy for the way in which man might communicate with a superior alien intelligence. In the visually stunning color-music sequence at the film’s climax, Lacombe (played by the French director François Truffaut) uses a large electric color synthesizer to play Kodály’s code to the visiting spaceship that hovers over him. For Spielberg, we are the deaf children who need to be tutored by a higher power. As one of the actors says when the first contact with aliens occurs: “It’s the first day of school, guys!”

Initially the communication between man and alien is tentative and awkward, and at one point a deep bass note from the alien ship blasts out the window of a control tower. However, in a short while the color-music dialogue has developed into a wonderful symphony of light and sound; the colored patterns flash rhythmically from the spaceship and are answered by a large multi-panelled screen behind the synthesizer.

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