Saturday, December 6, 2008


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.

... Wikipedia

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.


Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Sounds like a blessing!

Firefly said...

Cool. It must be an interesting sensation.

VioletSky said...

Sounds really amazing that you can see so many colours. Though is it not overstimulating, at times?

Carl said...

cool. Wish I could see music. Maybe then I coud play more than 3 chords on a guitar without getting confused!


Leslie: said...

You and I have talked about this before, and I think you told me what colour my name is. Now I've forgotten....what is it? :)

RiverPoet said...

I have synesthesia but didn't hear about it until I was in my 30s. I have often described smells in terms of color - which makes people look at me funny!

I never thought much of it, because my brother is the same way. I think it makes us pretty unique and cool! You, too!

Peace - D said...

Ah well.

My Mondays are blue.

Josie, you and HAL 9000 would have great computer fun..

HAL: "I can tell from your voice and colour harminics, Josie, that you really like me."

"Yes, I like you. You can detect my Synesthesia.

HAL: "Yes, it's radiant. Oh, I love the colours."

"What is your favourite colour, HAL?

HAL: Puce

"HAL, that's a gay colour...I wouldn't have thought...

HAL: "I haven't been feeling so well since that Dave came around by the airlock.
"I am losing my orientation, Josie. I am coming apart, Josie. I can feel it. I can feel it.
"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true..."

"I'm not Daisy."

I know.

I am a HAL 9000 computer. My first instructor was Mr. Arkany. He taught me to sing a song. It's called "Daisy." Oh, that Mr. Arkany was so nice...

But I kind of liked Dave...

Hal: (voice slowing down) It wasn't all bad, was it, Dave?

Josie: Find me a pod!

Jo said...

LGS, yes, in many ways it is, strangely enough.

Firefly, yes, but I was born with it, so it doesn't seem different to me.

VioletSky, no, because I have always had it, so I'm used to it.

Carl, you paint, so I suspect you do have it in some form!

Leslie, your name is pale blue/turqoise with a border around it, and my other friend who spells her name Lesley is a pale blue.

RiverPoet, smells in terms of color. Oh, yes! And I'll bet you can taste colors too. Definitely!

Ivan, you are too funny! Omigosh! Do you mean Mr. Arkadin? He lost his memory, just like HAL 9000! Heh, heh.

Russell said...

Remember Chicago's song "Color My World"?

Anonymous said...

Interesting! I remember seeing a segment on 60 Minutes about Synesthesia a few years ago. I don't think I have it, though I always see the days of the week in colors.

In your case, it obviously contributes to your creative, artistic endeavors. And that's a good thing!

willow said...

My favorite song from my childhood is "The Spectrum Song"! You can relate!

Carl said...

Wow! YOu may be right. Your comment stuck with me all day and I realized. I tend to describe color groupings in paintings in musical terms i.e. That combination of colors is jazzy or bluesy etc. Minor keys and 7th chords etc. I think it works the other way too. I feel certain colors if that makes sense when I think about certain chords. Hmmm.

Sadly I am still a terrible musician.


marain said...

I have a colleague whose voice really hurts my ears and causes my skin to crawl, and there are some people that when I look at them it hurts my eyes. Is this synesthesia? Very interesting post, in any case. I hope you will write more about it sometime.

sex said...







dudit said...

My number 8 is a purply red. It's 7 that's orange. Hm.

Audrey said...

I think I know what you are talking about. My husband and I talk about how when we were growing up we always thought that clear pepsi tasted the way that modeling clay smelled... No one ever understood what I meant about that until I met him.

The Pink Cowboy said...

I do have the condition but never commented on it for fear I would be ridiculized. I play the piano. C Major is always red, F Major is green, A minor bluish gray. Yogurt feels like the polished texture of steel. The scent of a banana is like being in a drunken state. Suntan lotion is very melancholic and sad. I hope I do not sound too crazy.

Anonymous said...

@Audrey, that's not synesthesia. Taste and small are almost one and the same.

Anonymous said...


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