Sound to Color Synesthesia

Synesthesia is the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.  Synesthesia can take many forms.  One that may interest audio enthusiasts is Chromesthesia, or sound to color synesthesia, which is a type of synesthesia in which heard sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke an experience of color.

Synesthesia is considered a perceptual difference, and though sometimes called a neurological condition, is not considered a handicap and does not interfere with daily functioning.  Most consider it a gift or a “hidden” sense.  Many who experience it become artists and musicians to take advantage of it to the full extent.

There are many famous musicians and composers have experienced this sensation including Tori Amos, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Eddie Van Halen, Patrick Stump, Billy Joel, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Olivier Messiaen, and Jimi Hendrix.

Clearly experience with this condition would affect how you interpret, hear, and make music, and may affect what components you find satisfactory, as well.  Below you’ll find some of our Audiogon users’ experiences with it.

Dynami28: Has anyone experiences Synesthesia? To be more specific Auditory Synesthesia? From what I understand, it is quite rare. At least when it isn’t induced by hallucinogenics or other narcotics.

For those of who don’t know what it is, it is basically a swapping of sensory perception. Like tasting sound, hearing colors and so on. As you may have guessed I can, at times, (not always, it’s not some superpower) see sound traveling through the air like 3D ripples propagating in water…… A gift? I’m not so sure, it can make driving quite difficult when it kicks in. So let me know what you think….. disease or gift? Any extra information on this condition (Synesthesia) would be greatly appreciated.

I tend to equate my visuals to ripples in water – but in 3D. The lows have bigger ripples, while the highs are more like vibrations on the surface of the water. And most definitely the air seems thicker – like you could drink it.

Raytheprinter: Like seeing big fat deep sounds coming toward you about a foot or two from the floor up, while higher sounds seem to float a little higher in space and around ear level or a little higher. They are so real that you feel like you can cup one of the pretty little notes in your hand when they go floating by you, but not quite. Is that the same thing?

Elizabeth: I get strong visual bursts of color patterns only if I am ‘surprised’ by a noise or sound. The sound does not have to be loud, but it has to be a complete surprise. And I have to be relatively relaxed too. The burst lasts only a moment, but it fills my visual field completely. Never two the same, but most have a general kaleidoscope quality or a similar small repeated pattern across the visual field. It hits like a bolt of lightning. This has been happening for my whole life (I am 63). I have no other types of crossed senses.

Alexwgoody: I used to have a piano teacher who experienced it and saw chords as rainbows with different notes as different shades of colors. He was incredibly gifted at using that to figure out complex chords from an entire orchestra or jazz band very quickly. It is truly incredible, and I wish I could experience such a thing.

nonoise: I think I may have experienced it once, when a youngster at school. Someone had thrown an apple at me, and I put up my foot to block it and with the aid of adrenalin, everything went into super slow motion and there were ripples emanating from my foot along with the apple pieces. The super slow-mo was due to the adrenalin rush but the ripples left me wondering. It may have been the sound coming out visually as a side effect.

Do you think that maybe due to your job and the inherent danger, the amount of adrenalin you experience is higher than normal and at a more constant rate? This may be a result of your conditioning but not the only one as the piano teacher mentioned lived a relatively sedate life (I would imagine).

mapman: When I was a child, I was fascinated by records playing and learned to make accurate predictions of variations in sound heard by studying the modulation in the record grooves. For example, I could place the needle in the correct location to hear a certain portion of a song I had heard prior. I can still do it to some extent but am not as well practiced these days. This was more an exercised in cognitive association of patterns than what I understand synesthesia to be though.

As you can see from above, some have stronger visual color associations, while others who experience chromesthesia see more of a movement or spacial pattern.  Maybe this is how things like the blues and mellow yellow came to get their names.  Have you experienced anything like this?  How does it affect your listening experience?  Comment below to join in on the discussion.

4 thoughts on “Sound to Color Synesthesia

  1. brian_beck says:

    Some of you may remember Robert W. Fulton, founder of FMI. Fulton was famous for his very natural sounding speakers in the 70’s and 80’s. He founded the whole speaker cable and interconnect industry. He was also a gifted listener who visualized sounds as colors. He “saw” the reproduction of instruments through an audio system in terms of how colors were shifted. He wrote a short flyer or brochure describing those colors. I have that document and it will be posted in an upcoming commemorative website on Fulton.

  2. Gammajo says:

    This is discussed thouroughly as well as many other exciting topics in Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I consider this book required reading for any informed audiophile. He also has videos at musicophilia.com

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