The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

31 August 2006


I've read about synaesthesia, and it's always seemed somewhat remote a concept to me: my own sensory apparatus comes up with questionable interpretations now and then, but it's difficult for me to deal with the idea of a single stimulus working on multiple senses.

Perhaps you have to be born with it, as Terry was:

For a few of us, [musical] notes have colors. Note sequences, particularly as scales and key signatures, even more strongly so. For years I thought I was the only one, until I ran across an article in a magazine describing it. No psychedelic drugs involved; itís just a quirk of how my brain works. (I wonder if the LSD phenomenon may have something to do with allowing people to access that normally undiscovered part of the brain?)

In compositions, the colors I see have subtle hue and density variations based on the key, the structure of the music, the texture and the orchestration. For example, most Egyptian classical music is a rich burgundy purple, because of both the traditional modes and the common lown.

Interestingly, "lown" is often translated as "color," perhaps in the sense of timbre.

Color mapping for PrometheusThe important thing is that these reactions are not the product of suggestion. The score of Scriabin's Prometheus: the Poem of Fire (1910) included a part for a clavier à lumières, a color organ of sorts, although the composer's choices for colors seem inconsistent with the experiences of persons with this form of synaesthesia, and most likely Scriabin did not experience it himself. (Graphic swiped from Wikipedia.)

I'm still baffled by the mechanics of it all, but bewilderment does not preclude fascination.

Posted at 2:26 PM to General Disinterest