I have synesthesia.

When I was in elementary school I used to have screaming fits at my mother if she would cover my books with the “wrong” color paper. What you say? Well it goes like this. In NY State, elementary school students in the 1970s were required to cover text books in paper. This way they could be handed down for a few years to the new students without them becoming all shabby. Normally one would use brown or newspaper to do the job but ma was a hippie so she liked to get colored paper from CVS. So why was I screaming my head off? Well to me Math is the color red, Science is the color green, Social Studies is yellow, English is blue. I could not understand why she was covering the books in the wrong colors! I have synesthesia.

Not only do I associate school subjects with colors but also days of the week, numbers, letters and you guessed it: sounds. The number 2 is yellow. Alpha Juno-2 mentasm sounds are purple, 808 snares are white, flutes are yellow, the word brother is blue, etc… It’s said a lot of musicians have synesthesia and that makes sense.

While cross-sensory metaphors (e.g., “loud shirt”, “bitter wind” or “prickly laugh”) are sometimes described as “synesthetic”, true neurological synesthesia is involuntary. It is estimated that synesthesia could possibly be as prevalent as 1 in 23 persons across its range of variants.[12] Synesthesia runs strongly in families, but the precise mode of inheritance has yet to be ascertained. – Wikipedia.org

A few years ago I exchanged emails with a writer doing a report on synesthesia for the NY Times. He asked me to test myself by writing down some color associations, wait a few months, write them down again and compare. I picked the same colors for the same numbers and words 100% accurately.

The reason I wrote this today is Tara Busch on her nice blog Analog Suicide posted an article titled, “Are You a Synaesthesist?“. If your interested in more info about synesthesia head to her story where she has posted some videos on the subject. Head on over: click here

photo credit: studiotamar

15 Comments

  1. There was an interesting article on the BBC News website too the other day – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7545888.stm

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  2. My car’s horn is green. Sirens are usually yellow or orange. Thunder is usually blue. The Orch preset for the Fairlight is bright red. Yeah synesthesia’s pretty sweet.

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  3. I hear the secret to perfect pitch is in color. Forgive me if its in Tara’s article, im too lazy to read it , god damn im hooked on enough blogs.

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  4. Unfortunately I don’t have perfect pitch… far from it. At least as far as Melodyne is concerned!

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  5. Sounds totally awesome, I want it

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  6. d0od! your colours are all wrong.
    maths is blue. science is silver.
    flutes would be a light colour, like a pastel colurs, but the colour would change depending on how they were being played, so would the shape. pink pastel clouds would be soft warm flutes. an 808 snare is jaggy white.
    bass is dark colours, like deep purple or dark blue, phat bass is big round blobs and thin bass is little round blobs.
    =)
    i thought i was a freak till i read this.
    i guess we can all be freaks together =P

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  7. come to think about it… i usually find myself color coding things in cubase a lot. i always choose purple for analog basses or dark blues for digital basses, leads get red, kicks yellow, and so on. think i am going to have to do some more reading up on this. :)

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  8. Yeah to me it´s exactly the same.
    If i hear songs for example, i ALWAYS have a colour in my head, sometimes differnet colors at the same time.
    “Extreme Terror” for example is a mix of yellow and green.
    If i play guitar “Lady in black” is grey, dark blue and red, “greenback dollar ” by hoyt axton is yellow, and so on.
    If i play on a drumkit, i get a total color-flash.
    Shit, perhaps i could write a book about things like this, but i´m fucking lazy, i prefer to make music;)

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  9. I’m intrigued now; so how do you experience these colours? I assume you don’t literally ‘see’ them like someone’s put a coloured lens filter over your eyes? Is it more a feeling, you just find thoughts of red (say) popping into your head at the right time?

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  10. This is a very interesting phenomenon – and not as rare as you might think! Although there does seem to be no real consensus about what colours different sounds are, the ability certainly can be useful for musicians. I actually wrote a post about this recently…
    http://www.podcomplex.com/blog/vision-of-sound/

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  11. Cordelia Sendax August 20, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Hi All,

    I am a student researcher who will be conducting a study this summer at City College New York on the neural mechanisms underlying Tone-Color Synesthesia under the tutelage of Prof. John Foxe, Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program in Psychology.

    Study participation will include the non-invasive electrical recording of your neural activity via electrodes placed on the scalp as you are presented various auditory and/or visual stimuli from a computer monitor. Recording will take a total of 2.5 to 3.5 hours and preliminary behavioral testing, including synesthesia confirmation and documentation of your synesthetic associations will take a total of 4 to 5 hours.

    To qualify for study participation: You must be 18 or older; you must not have color-blindness; and you must not have any prior history with neurological conditions such as clinical depression, ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism, Dyslexia, etc. Subject Compensation will be $12/hr. If you think you may have Colored-Hearing Synesthesia or for more information about this study, please contact Cordelia Sendax at csendax@hotmail.com or at 1-646-872-8346.

    Best,
    Cordelia Sendax

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  12. Hi Cordella, If I were living in NYC I would gladly participate. Good luck with your research. If you discover anything mind blowing please leave us a comment here!

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  13. Kind of forgetting The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.

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  14. Haha, I’m a little late on this one, but I tend to do the exact same with school subjects. English has always been red for me, science green, math blue, etc. It’s funny how things work that way.

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