What is like to see sound? Have you ever wondered? It is a condition called synesthesia, which regularly comes back in science news because it is a fascinating one. Some people are able to see colors when they hear sounds, it’s chromesthesia as synesthesia is a wider phenomenon which messes up with all senses and allow people to see words and numbers in colors or even associate a taste with words.
But back to chromesthesia, someone with the condition posted a video on Vimeo a few days ago to illustrate what it means to experience it, and it’s a lot of fun, not only there are colors but shapes are involved too, just watch the video below… ‘It means that I see colors when I am stimulated by other senses. Touch, smell, words, faces, ideas. It’s strongest when I’m listening to music. I used to think this was a normal thing that everybody had, until my friend Jake told me I was a freakazoid,’ writes Pasquale D’Silva. Honestly, how many people experience this insane fireworks in their head when they listen to music? A recent scientific study by researchers of the San Diego University (David Brang, V. S. Ramachandran) shows that this condition affects about 4% of the general population and that it involves several genes (it runs in families but the genes are still a mystery). But why do people have this? What could be (if any) the genetic advantage to have such condition? Researchers think it is due to an excess of neural connections, an increased connectivity in precise parts of the brain and the fact that hallucinogenic drugs can cause synesthesia-like experiences confirms that the mechanism is present in everybody but suppressed in most of us. Interestingly, if this condition has any hidden agenda, it is probably linked to creativity, as studies show an increased incidence of synesthesia among artists, while ‘synesthetes report spending more time engaged in creative activities’. Researchers have noticed an enhanced memory, an increased processing of color information, a more accurate processing of rhythmic visual stimuli in synesthetes, and concluded that this condition may aid in the detection, processing, and retention of critical stimuli in the world, and may have been retained by evolution because of many benefits to cognitive processing. If there’s still a lot we don’t know about synesthesia, Ramachandran and Hubbard have proposed a connection between synesthesia and creativity, as ‘the gene which produces synesthesia confers a propensity towards metaphor’. And this is the most interesting part, anyone can dream about a condition that makes us more creative. According to this article on Pitchfork, Duke Ellington, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West and Frank Ocean all have some degree of synesthesia, as well as Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige, Dev Hynes,… And to this list you can add Tori Amos, Leonard Bernstain, Robyn Hitchcock, Franz Liszt, Eddie Van Halen, Charli XCX, among many other and according to Wikipedia.
The cases of Syd Barrett, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer and Bob Dylan are still under review! This is a lot of people but nevertheless this is not a condition to be creative, as a lot of talented artists don’t have it. There is certainly a level of coolness associated with synesthesia, it’s now perceived like a superpower or something, and Carol Steen, the co-founder of the American Synesthesia Association, says she’s heard rumors about Beyonce having it, though ‘she hasn’t been vetted yet so I don’t know for sure’… don’t worry Beyonce will make anything possible to become a synesthete at one point, whether she has it or not, after all she also was a vegan for a few days! But Steen gives a good idea of synesthesia by describing Daft Punk’s Fragments of Time’ with ‘charcoal dust drums’, ‘tangy orange to sweet magenta keyboards’ and ‘green-to-orange vocals’… ‘This song is a celestial sherbet’, she adds. Here are other examples of songs described by synesthetes: Lana Del Rey: ‘Lana’s higher voice range (best showcase of this is Lucky Ones) induces an orange to blue hue with a very liquid movement that fades, moves, changes colors and returns to the beat.’ ‘Echoes’ by Pink Floyd:
‘The synesthetic perception is unbelievable and almost overwhelming. It’s hard for me to listen to this song and do much of anything else. It’s so amazing.’ ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Isaac: ‘It is… very, very purple-white-brown with clear oval shapes (that’s the guitar); I really like the song because of this.’ ‘Midnight City’ by Empire of the Sun: ‘I really like Empire of the Sun, they’re kind of similar to M83. I’ve always loved midnight city, to me it looks like a kind of round yellow field of color with really dark blue around the edges, and these little black and white “v”s (they’re the main hook in the song) are floating around in the yellow. I could totally draw a picture of that song and modify it bit to be birds flying into a sunset.’ Paramore/No Doubt: ‘To me, Paramore’s style has always sounded red to me. The first time I heard No Doubt (I think the first song was Spiderwebs) my first thought was “Wow, they sound like a blue version of Paramore’’ Imagine these people on drugs? Not that they need any! And apparently they like EDM music and Explosions in the Sky a lot… but everyone’s experience seems unique and special. Some persons even described unpleasant experiences during performances: ‘The thing with this synesthesia is that if the musician is even a little out of tune the line shatters uncomfortably.
An excellent performance can evoke euphoria but even a good performance with minor tuning problems can be almost physically painful.’… ’Everything has textures, colors and shapes and it can be very unpleasant sometimes and I can’t listen to certain music’ Still, I wish I had synesthesia, or may be reverse synesthesia, which seems to exist too, which would be experiencing music from colors! C H R O M O from Pasquale D’Silva on Vimeo.
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