Scriabin musical color organ, demonstrating synesthesia.
Synesthesia is what happens when the brain mixes up the senses. For example, synesthesia might cause someone to hear colors or see sounds. Most people are born with synesthesia, but it can also happen to people who take illegal drugs such as LSD.
Just as when a person without synesthesia may imagine an apple when the word is said, a person with synesthesia might see the color orange, taste sugar or hear a flute. It does not seem odd to them that they have synesthesia. It's something that's always been there. Most synesthetes (the term for those who have this experience) do not know it's odd until they express the feelings that they have to someone else. Synesthesia can be a cross between any of the five senses as well as emotions.
Some musicians and composers have a form of synesthesia that allows them to hear music as colors. Mozart is said to have had this form of synesthesia. He said that the key of D Major had a warm "orangey" sound to it, while B flat minor was blackish. A major was a rainbow of colors to him. This may explain why he wrote some of his music using different colors for different music notes. Also, why much of his music is in more major keys. Another composer who had color-hearing was the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. In 1907 he talked with another famous composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and they both found that some musical notes made them think of certain colours. Scriabin worked with a man called Alexander Mozer who made a color organ.
I have synesthesia. Oh, before you start sending me get-well cards, let me tell you I have had synesthesia all my life. I thought it was perfectly normal and that everyone had it. Synesthesia is where a person’s brain gets sort of cross-wired and they see numbers in color, or hear musical notes as numbers, or letters of the alphabet as colors, or sometimes sound. For instance, to me the number 4 is brown, the number 8 is orange. The Rolling Stones are red. Red, red, red. Mozart is deep burgundy, Wagner is black. Well, Wagner’s music is black anyway, isn’t it? Rod Stewart’s gravelly voice is yellow. Celine Dion’s voice is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.
Certain pains do not feel painful to me, they feel “sweet”. Certain people’s voices can physically hurt my skin and make me feel nauseated. (I have a co-worker who affects me that way, but I won’t go into that here.)
The colors of the alphabet are wonderful greens, turquoise, magentas, and blues. When I am doing a little painting, there is a certain shade of Winsor green that I can taste in my mouth. It tastes like marzipan. I think more people have synesthesia than they realize. How many times have you said, “It feels like Friday today.”
Scientific studies done 100 years ago showed that people with synesthesia tended to be more creative rather than analytical. They also have difficulties with math. Well, I could have told them that.
Some famous synesthetes include the painter David Hockey, author Vladimir Nabokov, poet Charles Baudelaire and musician Duke Ellington.