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Synesthesia

Marina Kozak | Thursday, October 27, 2011

To say that my senses aren’t too sharp is an understatement. I have horrible hearing, sub-par sight and an almost complete lack of smell — not to mention my notoriously bad hand-eye coordination. Instead, I have an extra sense: I can see sound.

I am one of few people who have a neurological condition called synesthesia. Though not entirely useful, it’s certainly interesting to talk about.

“Synesthesia” comes from the Greek “syn,” meaning “together,” and “aesthesis,” meaning “sensation.” It is believed that 1 in 2,000 people have the condition, whether they know it or not. There are many types of synesthesia that combine different senses. In fact, most synesthetes have more than one form — I have two.

One of my forms is grapheme/color: all my letters and numbers inherently have their own colors. When I look at a number, I not only think of its quantitative value but also see, in my mind’s eye, its color. “A” is yellow, “2” is red and my favorite, “17,” is iridescent purple. And though illogical, I hate the number “3” just because it is orange.

My sound/color synesthesia is even more fascinating: I can see sounds — and more interestingly, music.

Let me clarify what I mean by “see.” While there are synesthetes called “projectors” who actually see colors and shapes in their field of view, I do not. I see colors and shapes the same way you recall and get lost in an intense memory. What I see is automatic and uncontrollable, but I can decide whether or not to pay attention to it.

To me, a person’s voice appears as a long, colored, textured band that rises and falls with vocal fluctuations. The higher the sound, the lighter the color and vice versa. On the other hand, a crowd of people talking creates a field of what looks like colored, textured brush strokes, each a fraction of a different person’s voice.

The best part of synesthesia is when I listen to music. While sounds tend to be clear and vivid, music creates multidimensional landscapes with layers upon layers of the different facets of a single sound. These images are so vivid at times that I literally get lost in the music. In fact, I often remember what a song looks like well before I can recall its melody.

My favorite music is heavily manipulated or electronic, specifically synths. To me, the synths appear as a series of densely positioned, taut liquid filled wires in a gradient of warm glowing hues. They fluctuate and bounce with the sounds of the synth, each wire representing a different dimension of that singular sound. And that is just one of the many images I see during a single song.

But all music takes on these colors and forms, which is often my excuse for listening to bad music. It may sound like crap, but it sure looks nice.

So now that you know what synesthesia is, maybe you know that you have it! And if you do, we should all congregate and start a cool club or something.

 

Contact Marina Kozak at mkozak1@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.