Have you ever seen someone wearing a painfully coloured T-shirt and thought to yourself; “Man, that’s a loud shade of green!”?
Well, if that person suffers from synaesthesia, they might be thinking “Man, that’s a green shade of loud!”
Synaesthesia is when stimulation of one sense involuntarily stimulates another sense. In this article I’ll be talking about musical synaesthesia – when hearing music can make you see colours.
As many as 1 in 23 people have some form of this phenomenon – A friend of mine who does describes high register piano notes as pink and low ones as deep reds and blacks. She even sung a song in yellow when she was in my studio once – it’s fascinating. With no formal musical education, she is able to estimate the pitch of a sound by the colour.
Though not all synaesthesia sufferers (though as far as I’m aware there’s no suffering involved barring your musical friends constantly asking “What colour is this song?!”) agree on a universal colour code for music. Classical Composers Liszt and Rimsky Korsakov famously disagreed on the colour of certain keys, for example.
They universally agreed on louder tones bringing brighter colours and higher tones bringing smaller and lighter patches of colour.
It was described to me by my previously mentioned friend as like seeing the world through a filter – as such, she is unable to watch the new 3D movies that come out, since the sound messes with the filtering on the 3D glasses! So I guess there’s another reason for calling her a synaesthesia sufferer.
Music is difficult to define – different people see sound in different instances, with some only hearing it to music whereas others can turn a dropped plate into a lush palette of swirling colour. It tends to be melody rather than percussion that triggers it, though.
It’s amazing what the human brain is capable of cooking up accidentally. It can turn techno into teal, rock into red and blues into… also red, apparently.
So next time you write a piece of music, you might want to ask… is this song colourful enough?