This film is part of Free

ABC in Sound

Hand-drawn sound experiment by Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy.

Animation & Artists Moving Image 1933 2 mins


Inspired by advances in sound recording and fascinated by the production of synthetic sound, Hungarian artist and Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) explored the idea of reverse-engineering an alphabet of sounds from the visual representation they produced by the grooves on gramophone discs. Taking this a step further, after the release of Rudolph Pfenninger’s Tönende Handschrift (Sounding Handwriting), he produced this film of ‘visual sounds’ which showed the image of the track that was passing through the sound head of the projector - so that the audience could directly compare the image with the sound that it made.

In later years Moholy-Nagy recalled that the soundtrack for Tönendes ABC “used all types of signs, symbols, even the letters of the alphabet, and my own finger prints. Each visual pattern on the sound track produced a sound which had the character of whistling and other noises. I had especially good results with the profiles of persons”. In this it differed from its companion piece, Oskar Fischinger’s Early Experiments in Hand Drawn Sound, which used purely abstract shapes in the same way; Moholy-Nagy even wittily uses the word ‘Handschfift’ printed onto his soundtrack. The films were shown together at the London Film Society on 10 December 1933 and the combined print donated to the newly formed BFI, where it was recently rediscovered.