My apologies to those sight- or hearing-impaired readers – I mean no disrespect to you in this article. My intention here is to describe, to the best of my ability, the way I see and hear the world around me.
Do you know what you’re missing? I wager you have no idea, but guess what: you are missing a sense. You are blind, and you are deaf, and you don’t even know it.
“What the heck are you talking about, BeefGriller? I can see and hear just fine!” That’s what you’re saying to yourself, isn’t it? Well, that may be true, but you’re missing out on another dimension to the world around you. I can’t describe it perfectly to you, no more than you could describe the view of a sunset to one who has been blind since birth. But allow me to try.
I have synesthesia – a condition where the stimulation of one sense elicits a response in another. Now, I’ve never been evaluated and diagnosed with it. However, I spent 40 years of my life living with it, and only recently have found a name to give it. I have been told by the few people to whom I’ve tried explaining it that I’m either lying or imagining it, but for me it’s just there.
Now, in particular, I have what is known as sound-to-color synesthesia. In short, I see music. I know, you’re probably furrowing your brow, trying to make sense of that phrase, seeing music, and at best you’re coming up with maybe a sine-wave on an oscilloscope. But you truly are coming up short if that’s the case.
My synesthesia allows me to see music in the form of colors, lights, shapes, patterns, even objects and, in some cases, people. A song’s picture is unique – one song always looks the same to me. If covered by a different band, or even done slightly differently by the same band, it looks similar, but maybe the colors are a slightly different hue, or the lights a little brighter in the corners, or perhaps it’s purple where it once was green. I haven’t noticed any connection between volume, pitch, tone, instrument, note or key and the color, light, pattern, shape or size of what I see. I can say that when I listen to a song enough, it becomes familiar enough to me that I can see differences from, say, one recording to the next. Also, the more I listen to a song, the more detail it reveals to me. My favorite songs become like friends, recognizable at a glance, and as comforting.
It’s interesting to see how music has changed since I was a child – no, wait, that’s not quite right… how similar songs are to each other. The phenomenon of sampling makes so many modern songs look oddly similar. Maybe it’s the background, the canvas of several paintings are cut from the same cloth. Perhaps the color of the shapes in front are dancing in the same pattern. Or, maybe, the peaks and valleys of the hills can be superimposed over one another in a perfect fit, if only one of them is squeezed in or stretched higher.
Another thing I have noticed is that a composer or conductor of a song can be seen in his or her works. The color of Beethoven’s symphonies, for example, tend to be primarily purple and brown, especially in the slower songs; Mozart’s, on the other hand, have more of an orange hue. These are generalities, mind you, as some of Mozart’s symphonies have the most green and blue skylines at times. But when one person writes several songs, it’s as if his or her signature is on it.
When I say that a song is particularly beautiful, I mean that literally – the shapes, colors, patterns and lights of the song fit together beautifully, creating an impressive view. Likewise, a song that I hate will be an ugly miasma of ill-tempered stains, rough edges and shapes that just don’t fit.
Another thing that I have always liked are remixes of songs. When a DJ, producer or songwriter records a new mix, it is a surprise to me as the shapes that were once there are now moving off to the left, a different color, or forming a new pattern. If it is done well, I am pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, if changes are made for the sake of changing them, but without a good, solid, musical reason, then they stick out like loud tie.
Finally, when two songs are mixed together, or mashed-up as it is called lately, they better fit together, otherwise I can see the square pegs not lining up in the round holes. I usually can tell if two songs can be mashed-up successfully, because their patterns will fit, or the colors won’t clash, or, well, you probably get the idea.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, “OK, BeefGriller, so you’re a synesthete. Great. Um, what does this have to do with gaming?” Well, I’m glad you brought that up. I can’t help but use it in my games, and it makes for some interesting themes. But, that will be in a future post.
Does any of this make sense to you? Do you have any questions about synesthesia? Do you know anyone who has an extra sense like me? Perhaps you, yourself, are a synesthete. Please let me know in the comments below.
Author’s note: I do not own the rights to the images in this or any other article on this site (other than the picture in Show Me Your Dice. I did, however, try to find pictures that were in the public domain for this article. If there is any question, the rights to these images are owned by their respective owners.
Matt Dukes (@direflail)
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 at 9:09 AM
I have this too, and it works for me pretty much as described.
It is a lot of fun. 🙂
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 at 3:22 PM
Thanks, Matt. You’re right, it is a lot of fun. I remember talking with you via Twitter about this a few months ago. To date, you’re still the only other person I know with this interesting sense.