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The Gift of Synesthesia: Music Inspired by Our Other Senses

Synesthesia is a unique condition in which a person experiences a blending of their senses, such as seeing colors when they hear music or tasting shapes. While the exact cause of synesthesia is unknown, it is believed to result from increased connections between different areas of the brain.

While some synesthetes find their experiences to be a hindrance, others see it as a gift. Regardless of one's perspective, it is a fascinating condition that has captured the attention of researchers and artists alike.

In this article, we will delve into the science behind synesthesia, exploring the different types, the theories surrounding its causes, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of the condition.

3 Types of Musical Synesthesia

There are numerous types of synesthesia, each with its own unique blend of senses. Some of the most common types related to music include:

  • Chromesthesia: This type of synesthesia involves seeing colors when hearing music. For example, a person with chromesthesia might see red when listening to a certain bass line or green when hearing a high-pitched violin solos

  • Auditory-Tactile Synesthesia: This type involves the perception of music as having a physical sensation on the skin. For example, a person with an auditory-tactile condition might feel a certain texture or pressure when listening to music, as if they were physically touching the sound.

  • Spatial-sequence synesthesia: This type of synesthesia involves the perception of music as having a physical location in space. Spacial sequencing types might hear a piece of music and see it moving across their visual field, as if it were a physical object.

These are just a few examples of the many different types of synesthesia music that exist. While each type may present differently, they all involve a merging of two or more senses in unique and sometimes unexpected ways.

3 modern musicians with musical synesthesia

Many great composers throughout history have had synesthesia. Scriabin, a Russian composer and pianist, would see colors while playing the piano, and would write notes according to these hues. Similarly, Messiaen, a French composer and organist, would associate specific colors with musical notes, and Rimsky-Korsokov, a Russian composer, used his synesthesia to help him compose by combining the sounds he heard with the colors he saw in his mind.

This trend continues in the 21st century, with many contemporary songwriters using synesthesia to inspire their music. Here are just a few of the well known examples.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin is an electronic musician and producer who is known for his experimental approach to music. He has been described as having a form of synesthesia that allows him to see music as shapes and patterns. This unique ability has inspired much of his music, which is characterized by its intricate rhythms, unusual time signatures, and innovative use of sound design. Aphex Twin's music has been highly influential in the world of electronic music, and his work continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams is a singer and producer known for his hit songs "Happy" and "Get Lucky." He has been open about experiencing synesthesia since childhood and it has had a significant impact on his music creation process. Williams has stated that the colors he sees when listening to music serve as creative inspiration for his songwriting and helps him to identify the emotional tone of a song. Through his work, Pharrell Williams has demonstrated that synesthesia can be a powerful tool for creative expression and has helped to bring awareness to this fascinating condition.

Billy Eilish

Billy Eilish

Billie Eilish is a singer-songwriter who has gained global recognition for her unique style of music. According to Eilish, her synesthesia has been with her since childhood and has had a profound impact on her music. She has stated that the colors she sees when she hears music influence the emotions and themes in her songs. Eilish has also mentioned that her condition helps her to better understand and connect with her music, which is a central part of her creative process. Through her music, Billie Eilish continues to inspire and captivate audiences around the world.

Tapping into synesthesia for musical inspiration

Creating synesthesia music with AudioCipher
Creating synesthesia music with AudioCipher

Our music software, AudioCipher, was designed to help producers bridge the gap between words, music, and their imagination. By typing in words and generating MIDI sequences, you can create a direct mental association and simulate synesthesia.

Many musicians use the relationship between sound and other senses to inspire their musical creativity, even if they don't have synesthesia.

For example, a musician can use their imagination to create a vivid mental picture of the sensations they associate with different sounds. They can use this mental image as a source of inspiration when composing or improvising music.

You might imagine that a particular chord progression sounds like a sunset, and use that visual association to influence the overall mood of their composition. This type of sensory association can be a powerful tool for musical creativity, regardless of whether the musician has synesthesia or not.

In addition to imaginative association, a musician can also use their understanding of the physical properties of sound to inform their musical choices.

For example, they might experiment with different instrument timbres and textures to create a particular mood or atmosphere in their music. They can also use their knowledge of the physics of sound to explore the relationships between different pitches and rhythms, and use this understanding to create innovative and engaging musical compositions.

By using their imagination and understanding of the physical properties of sound, musicians can create music that evokes sensory associations in their listeners, even if they don't have synesthesia.

Theories Surrounding the Causes of Synesthesia

While the exact cause of synesthesia is unknown, there are several theories that have been proposed. Some of these include:

  • Genetic factors: Research has shown that synesthesia often runs in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the condition.

  • Over-connectivity in the brain: It has been suggested that the increased connections between different areas of the brain in synesthetes may result in the blending of their senses.

  • Brain development: Some researchers believe that synesthesia may result from differences in the way that the brain develops during early childhood.

Despite these theories, much about the causes of synesthesia remains a mystery. Nevertheless, researchers continue to explore the condition in the hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of how the brain processes sensory information.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Synesthesia

While the experiences of synesthetes can be unique and sometimes extraordinary, they can also have their challenges. Some of the potential benefits of synesthesia include:

  • Enhanced memory: Synesthetes may have better memories due to the rich sensory associations they make with everyday experiences.

  • Improved creativity: The blending of senses in synesthesia can lead to more abstract and imaginative thinking.

However, there are also potential drawbacks to the condition. These can include:

  • Overwhelm: For some synesthetes, the intense sensory experiences can be overwhelming and even distracting.

  • Difficulty communicating: It can be challenging for synesthetes to accurately describe their experiences to others, which can lead to feelings of isolation.

For this reason, experiments with blending your senses together should be approached carefully and slowly. This will allow you to gauge which forms feels comfortable for you. Once you get in the groove, you'll be amazed by the new types of inspiration that come to you!


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