Monday, December 1, 2008

Disco Ball and Mirror Matrix


Discoball 1

According to Venice, California historian Paul Tanck, what we now call the disco ball was invented by Arthur Reese, town decorator for Abbot Kinney, founder of Venice of America. Reese seems to have been on the job in Venice from the year of its inception, 1905, and some time in the first or possibly second decade of that century, he designed a many-faceted ball to hang from the ceiling of the famous Venice Ballroom. This postcard from 1910 may or may not represent what we are talking about here. The spheres seem to have some kind of reflective material on them, maybe, but they're not covered solidly.


Someone else says that mirror balls were used in Europe, to repel witches. So that would make them considerably older than the 1900s, by a long stretch.

Discoball 3

In 1912, at the Milwaukee Hospital for the Insane, the sun parlor for TB patients had a faceted mirror ball. Further research reveals that multifaceted mirror spheres first hung from nightclub ceilings in the Twenties. A 1927 German film shows one in a Berlin nightspot, and there's one in the 1942 movie Casablanca. A garden created for the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, 1925, by Gabriel Guevrekian, featured a rotating mirror ball on which spotlights shone at night. As if that weren't enough, water was poured onto the turning sphere from another statue, so the light also played on the rebounding droplets and spray.

Around 35 years ago, I sent away for something advertised in a magazine: a light show kit. The kit included a prism, some sheets of translucent colored paper, and other odds and ends I forget. But the best part was the "mirror matrix," a piece of heavy fabric about ten inches square, with myriad tiny squares of glass glued to it in rows. You could stand by a window, capture sun rays, and manipulate the mirror matrix, causing tiny trapezoids of light to dance all over the room.


Better yet, you could automate the process. Take a high-intensity reading lamp and mask off part of it, so only a small ray comes out, then put a color over it, and focus it on the turntable of your old-fashioned record player. Arrange the mirror matrix on the turntable with a small object underneath, so it isn't flat. Turn it on, shut off the lights, and Voila! Instant light show! I loved that mirror matrix, and kept it until just a few years ago, and it's about the only thing I regret having given away. That was a lovely little item.

This person has taken advantage of modern technology to make a disco ball from those annoying CDs that arrive in the mail.
Discoball 4


Discoball 2 courtesy of Bruno Girin
Discoball 3 courtesy of Vagamundos
Discoball 4 courtesy of Duruk
Record Player courtesy of Couchia
via this Creative Commons license

Discoball 2


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