Listening to Music

Overview

Listening to music is a tremendously enjoyable experience. I see sound as colors, shapes, and textures, projected onto their source. In other words, if the microwave beeps, I see a little red dot appear near the microwave. If a guitar solo plays from a ceiling speaker in a big box store, I see the little purple globules flying through the air.

With a good speaker system or headphones, the experience is greatly improved and I am literally surrounded by the sounds of whatever I’m hearing.

The colors, shapes, and textures of a sound are completely analogous to the sound itself. Every tiny change in a sound also creates a tiny change in what I see. my experience of hearing sound and seeing sound are inextricably linked; I can’t just listen to music any more than you could eat a hot pepper without tasting it.

For me, listening is seeing, and listening to music is very literally like watching animated abstract art on the most high definition screen you can imagine. Indeed, a lot of my favorite art reminds me of some of my favorite music, and vice versa.

To be clear, I don’t hear sounds when I look at art; that’s called “visually-induced auditory synesthesia” and that’s one kind of synesthesia I don’t have. (More about that here).

My synesthesia does not distinguish between “music” and other sounds; every sound that I hear is both a sound and a collection of colors, shapes, and textures. A sound will look exactly the same whether it is heard in isolation or within the context of a musical piece. (Check out the main chromesthesia page for more examples.) This is an important distinction, as some syntesthetes with chromesthesia only experience it with “musical” sounds.

For me, every sound is an explosion of color.

Examples

I create the cover art for the albums I release and often create visuals that look like the sounds of the music in the album. For instance, here is the cover for a techno album called “Cycle”:

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That’s sort of a simplistic representation of a techno track.

14 responses

  1. Interesting reading about another synaesthete’s experiences. I see color and shapes in my mind’s eye while listening to music, but most other sounds don’t register the same way. When people ask me what it looks like, I point them to the scene in Ratatouille when Remy is tasting a strawberry, a piece of cheese, and then the two combined.
    My synaesthesia is primarily chromographic, and I noticed that we associate the same colors with the letters B, C, D, E, I, M, O, and V.

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  2. Dude! Yes! I didn’t know (or didn’t remember) about your synesthesia! And yeah man, Ratatouille– totally. I remember I about lost my shit in the theater when I saw that. “That’s what I’m talking about!” I remember shouting.
    No kidding about those same colors.. that’s crazy!

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  3. Are there any artists or groups that stimulate more colors than others? For me, Radiohead really sets off the fireworks, as do most of Danger Mouse’s various projects (Demon Days by Gorillaz in particular). Layered textures, unusual timbres and chord extensions seem to be triggers for me. I’ve started trying to reverse the process, writing songs based on color “potency”.

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  4. Love it! For me, every sound has a color and shape, so there aren’t really types of music that have more or fewer colors (except really quiet/empty or really loud/busy music)… Classical orchestral music is pretty boring to me, as it’s almost 100% brown (from the strings). If the chords are cool, sometimes they can make things better to look at.
    The first time I heard Messiaen I almost pooped my pants. The stuff he writes/wrote.. So interesting, timbre-ly and harmonically (I believe he was a synesthete as well).
    Lately I’ve been listening to some very weird glitch music (like Oval) which doesn’t necessarily have *more* color than other types of music, but looks very different from most.

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